As “Jodhaa Akbar” readies for release, director Ashutosh Gowarikar shares his views on the making of this royal saga.
It is one in the night and Ashutosh Gowarikar is busy mixing, unmindful of, what is expected to be the biggest risk of his career. It is not that he hasn’t flirted with the unfamiliar in the past. At the ideation level “Lagaan” and “Swades” were not safe by any Bollywood standards but with “Jodhaa Akbar” he is treading the expansive yet dangerous territory where fact meets fiction.
Taking a break, Ashutosh reflects on the ‘epic romance’ – releasing a day after Valentine’s Day – something the media, the historians and the common man missed in the history books and even folklore.
“To me every film is a risk. My focus has always been to tell a story as engagingly as possible. After ‘Swades’, I wanted to tell a love story and when my friend Hyder Ali, narrated this plot of a 16th Century love story between a Moghul emperor and a Rajput princess, it fascinated me. In the absence of historical material I felt we have taken this alliance as political for granted. I have tried to see it in a new light. The story is rooted in history but then we have imagined a lot as nobody knows what happened in the privacy of their chambers,” says Ashutosh.
Who was Jodha?
Some historians have questioned the very existence of Jodha Bai and some are of the view that it was Jehangir who had one of the wives by this name.
Ashutosh says he has heard of it. “The historians are divided over name not the person. Most of them agree that Akbar married the daughter of Raja Bharmal of Amber but differ over her name.”
He relates his research. “I started from the top. Abul Fazal’s ‘Ain-e-Akbari’ and ‘Akbarnama’ have no reference to Jodha Bai. The name also doesn’t find mention in Jehangir’s memoirs. Similarly, there is no mention of Jodha Bai in Bada’uni’s ‘Muntakhib-al-Tawarikh’.”
He also went to Aligarh Muslim University, one of the biggest centres for the study of medieval history. “There also I was told that there is no historical reference to Jodha Bai. However, when you study Rajput history there is a mention of Jodha Bai in the works of K.L. Khurana, A.L. Shrivastav and Munni Lal. At the same time in ‘Kachchawon ka Itihas’ she is mentioned by the name of Harika Bai. In another book she is called Manmati and Shahi Bai.”
History also tells us that there was hardly any concept of a couple in Moghul royalty. Emperors had many wives, some to consolidate political alliances and others for physical needs. “The perception of togetherness keeps on changing with times. What we know for sure is Jehangir was born out of this wedlock,” argues Ashutosh.
On Jehangir having one wife with a similar name, Ashutosh points out what historian Jadunath Sarkar says. “Uday Singh of Jaipur married his daughter to Jehangir. Her name was Mira Bai but she was also known as Jodh Bai and not Jodha Bai.”
At the end of this historical discussion, Ashutosh says he appeals to the historians to appreciate the fact that he has used the name which is etched in the public memory.
Has it something to do with ‘Mughal-e-Azam’, where Durga Khote played Jodha Bai? “Not really. Go to Agra and every guide will tell you Akbar’s wife was Jodha Bai. If they are passing wrong information, why aren’t they removed? We have structures like Jodha Bai Ka Rauza in Fatehpur Sikri.”
Moving on to other aspects, Ashutosh says he has captured important incidents in the life of Akbar.
“I have tried to unravel why only Akbar is called ‘the great’ among those who ruled India. His childhood was spent on battlefield, didn’t have any formal education still he had such remarkable earthy knowledge that left many speechless. Besides being a staunch Muslim, he had great respect for other religions. He was also against prisoners of war.”
Ashutosh wanted to shoot the film in real palaces but heavy tourist traffic made it impossible. “Then we decided that Nitin Desai will recreate them at his studio in Kajrat. He has taken care of minute details.” Similarly the jewellery department has been taken care of by Tanishq whose designers have created real jewellery after studying the miniature paintings of the period. “The royals used different jewellery during different hours of the day. What they wore in court was remarkably different from what they wore in private.” Ashutosh clears that it hasn’t affected the budget. “We had to complete the film in Rs.37 crores and now the film is ready for release and we have spent 40 crores.”
Contrast this to the small-budget risk-free cinema and Ashutosh agrees that new trends and formats are emerging in the industry. “We are fast becoming part of world cinema. Ninety and 100-minute formats are a reality. But personally, I can’t do without 180 minutes interspersed with five songs!”
On the choice of actors, Ashutosh says Hrithik and Aishwarya were his original choice for the central roles. “And I must say both have gone out of their way to understand the nuances of the role and at the same time have brought their own personal charm to the historical characters.”
With “Jodhaa Akbar”, Ashutosh has come a long way from the days of “Pehla Nasha” and “Baazi”, and he acknowledges his growth as a director.
“I have moved from simplistic stories to more mature ones. I look for an element which enriches me and enriches the audience. Irrespective of the canvas, I am fascinated by personal ethos.”
Noted architect Lucy Peck, who has come up with an INTACH guide on Agra and Fatehpur Sikri, says Jodhabai Ka Rauza in Fatehpur Sikri is the best preserved part of the zenana in the fort ensuring complete privacy. "However, whether it belonged to Jodha Bai is a matter of pure speculation. It is the work of some guide in the 19th Century. There is no historical document to prove it. What we do know through empirical research is Akbar married the daughter of Raja of Amber and Jehangir was born out of this wedlock. Jodha could be an honorific name that has come through folklore," says Lucy.