Intoxicated with second love!

Modest man, grand vision Ashutosh Gowariker

Modest man, grand vision Ashutosh Gowariker  

H is infectious smile could mislead you into believing he is an innocent boy next door who hasn't a clue to life's gigantic problems. But behind the gentle exterior, Ashutosh Gowariker hides an extremely observant mind and tenacious spirit. He is supremely confident of pursuing their ideals to their logical end. Unlike many other filmmakers of his generation who are motivated by loud outbursts for public attention, Ashutosh is an immensely shy, soft spoken and punctual man with no smug pretensions of superiority and surprisingly, no interest in maligning people from the industry.

For someone generally acknowledged as one of the finest directors of the present era, it is difficult to believe that had it not been for his failure in an entrance exam for architectural engineering, he would never have become a filmmaker. Despite growing up in the lap of film fraternity, showbiz held no attraction for Ashutosh as he wished to create buildings and not moving images. Of course, like all youngsters he too watched films for their larger than life appeal but it was only after classmates Aamir Khan and Deepak Tijori introduced him to the surreal world of drama and acting that architecture's loss became filmdom's gain.

Initially, theatre was just an avenue to escape the drudgery of classes but as the applause got louder, Ashutosh was hooked since acting gave him power to create a new persona whenever he stepped on stage. While this discovery of ‘life within life' led to serious introspections about human existence, it also raised disturbing questions about adopting audio-visual medium as a full time career. However, what resolved his dilemma about a film career was an offer by Ketan Mehta for a role in his film “Holi” as it reaffirmed Ashutosh's faith in his own abilities. In a way, Ketan had paid a huge compliment to Ashutosh's prowess and so when his father too advised him “to give it his best shot”; he took the plunge without hesitation.

Unobtrusive observer

Working in “Holi” as well as other projects gave him an unhindered view of the art of filmmaking and he started venerating studios as institutions of learning. He recalls that “as an unobtrusive observer on the film sets, I would always imbibe the finer points of direction” and therefore “when Deepak Tijori offered me his film to direct, I felt no apprehension taking the creative responsibility”. The man who came into films by chance was now firmly settled for a long innings!

Along with Tijori's “Pehla Nasha”, Aamir too offered “Baazi” to Ashutosh but when both films bombed at the box office, he was so badly shaken that he withdrew from the limelight. Ashutosh remembers “going into a shell and constantly soul searching about what went wrong with my depiction.” For a long time, “I blamed audiences for not understanding my craft but gradually it dawned that my scripts as well as their execution had been flawed and I needed to improve my story telling skills.” This insight made him vow to make a film that would be universally acceptable and though he spent time acting in serials and films, he never lost focus of his ultimate destination behind the camera.

Convinced he'd direct again only when he had a narrative borne out of his own vision, Ashutosh's quest “for a multi-character story where there would be several protagonists against a common enemy” gave birth to “Lagaan”. In a cricket obsessed country, he played a master stroke by juxtaposing all the thrills and tensions of a limited overs cricket match around a historical event of 1890s when cricket had just begun to evolve in several Indian kingdoms. Yet for all its trappings of valour, sacrifice, romance and patriotism, the story didn't appeal much to Aamir Khan when Ashutosh first narrated it to him!

Eureka moment

However, when he gave a complete script narration, Aamir was so awestruck that he decided to produce it himself. According to Ashutosh, “My Eureka moment was selecting eleven players with different occupations but each contributing to team's success in his own style.” Sensitively underlining the beauty of Indian secularism, “Lagaan” allowed him to pay tribute to several outstanding Indian cricketing personalities whereby if ‘Kachra' was the great leg spinner Chandrasekhar for local audiences; he was a downtrodden labourer for international viewers. Smashing worldwide success, numerous awards as well as Oscar nomination of “Lagaan” made Ashutosh a household name across the globe, someone whom Bollywood fraternity now rejoiced in calling its own!

Though “Lagaan” enhanced his stature, it also raised expectations. He didn't disappoint as his next two films “Swades” and “Jodhaa Akbar” became successful cult films in their own right. Ask him which was the most difficult film of the three to make and you are stumped when he says it is “Swades”. Ashutosh opines “‘Lagaan' and ‘Jodhaa Akbar' had bigger canvasses yet they were more taxing in terms of production hassles. But in an emotional drama like ‘Swades' you need to create moments and that required dexterous synchronisation of camera, action and words.” In spite of his long stint, Ashutosh confesses “feeling insecure before every shot” and credits many an accolade to God for giving him the right artistes to play the appropriate characters in his films.

Despite the low box office collections of his last two films – “What's Your Raashee” and “Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey” – he isn't ready to blame the viewers since “audiences don't let you down; you let them down by bad storytelling”. For someone who has seen depths of despair as well as pinnacles of joy, he has a remarkable fortitude to survive the barbs of the Bollywood jungle where you are only remembered by your last hit. A keen supporter of corporate funding for films, Ashutosh Gowariker is non-committal about his next venture except that it would be on by early 2012. But his smile conveys that the wait might be worth its weight in cinematic experience as well as box office returns.

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