A splendid stroke

ASHU, AS the director of ``Lagaan'' Ashutosh Gowariker is called, has a rather fascinating story to tell about how he hit upon the cricket idea for ``Lagaan''. You see, when I set out to write my script I wanted to depict a group of have-nots battling oppression. But the idea was slightly cliched. So I decided to relocate the story into an earlier era.

``That's where the British Raj came in. But I didn't want to write a historical about the Freedom Movement or the Partition. Maybe some sixth sense told me `Gadar' was on the way'', he laughs joyfully as the phones at his residence in Bandra (Mumbai) ring non-stop.

Ashu's father fields the congratulations and queries on behalf of his suddenly-famous son, while Ashu's two sons run around excitedly. Ashu's mother is a trained classical singer. Though she doesn't sing professionally she has sung for ``Lagaan''. The musical heritage is revealed in the way music has been used in ``Lagaan''.

In fact Lataji who has sung a mesmerising devotional in the film, says, ``Unko music ki bahut samajh hai.''

The man who made history in more ways than one, still seems uncomfortable with compliments. Maybe the long hard struggle from actor to flop director of ``Pehla Nashaa'' and ``Baazi'' has made him wary of success. On hindsight Ashu feels both his earlier films failed because his scripts weren't polished enough.

Ashu played roles in Ketan Mehta's ``Holi'', where he first met Aamir Khan, Mahesh Bhatt's ``Naam'' and Ramesh Behl's ``Indrajeet''. In fact Amitabh Bachchan still remembers Ashu in that film. ``Oh God, I'd rather forget it,'' groans the creator of a modern day masterpiece.

Admitting that he turned to direction after his primary passion, acting, came to a dead-end, Ashu says, ``I didn't join any institute for learning direction. Nor did I want to spend three years of my life assisting a director. So I picked up tips and indicators for direction by observing directors at work during my acting days.''

Ashu seems to be largely detached from the hurly-burly of hypedom. ``I'm pretty much stunned by the response to ``Lagaan''. I expected audiences to like it, but not to this extent. Essentially I wanted to put forward a very simple idea. Where there's a will there's a way. I wanted to make a fable on the triumph of the human spirit. Once I thought of cricket I connected with the little mind games that the colonists played with Indians. In this way cricket became representative of a much wider conflict which the audience senses, though everyone may not be able to define it.''

When asked what he would like to make next Ashu sighs, ``Well not a murder mystery or an actioner. I've already done that in `Pehla Nashaa' and `Baazi'. And certainly not a period film. It will definitely be a film in an entirely different genre. And by the way, the rumours that I'm making a film on football called `Bagaan' are completely false, Ashu chuckles.