“Oscars are the Olympics of cinema,” says director Ashutosh Gowariker

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By Neeru Saluja

He’s the most celebrated director of Indian cinema. Bringing together India’s most loved sport that is cricket and the spat with British Raj, he took his film ‘Lagaan’ to the Oscars and made us proud. Known for his films Swades, What’s your Rashee, Jodha Akbar and most recent Mohenjodaaro, director Ashutosh Gowariker is now returning to his roots as an actor.

In Sydney for the screening of his latest Marathi film ‘Ventilator’ brought by Last Minute Productions, Ashutosh Gowariker is once again winning hearts. The film is produced by actress Priyanka Chopra and focuses on the typical Marathi community.

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We got an exclusive interview opportunity with the acclaimed director who took out time for us before the screening on his maiden Australian visit. With the iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge in the background, we delved into a long conversation where the intelligent yet humble director talked about his comeback into acting, his love for history and Lagaan at the Oscars.

After 18 years, you are making a comeback to acting. How did it all happen and what convinced you to take a step away from direction?

It’s been wonderful to get back into acting especially when I have been reluctant. I never thought that I will find time for it or I would ever get myself distracted from direction. When the director of the film Rajesh Mapuskar met me and told me the script and my role, I was interested but didn’t have the courage. I thought acting and facing the camera is something that I have lost touch with. I know that once you ride a bicycle then you remember it, but you can’t equate that with acting. So I tried to push him away and told him I don’t have the time at the moment as I was in Bhuj shooting for Mohenjodaro. But he decided to wait and waited for six months. When I was back in Mumbai he was still waiting for me. I found that passionate and he told me he needs only 20 days. To top that, he said Priyanka Chopra will be the producer. I was pleasantly surprised as she has all the talent to make a Hindi film. Priyanka called me and asked me what I was thinking; it’s payback time as Priyanka never thought a second before taking up my film ‘What’s your rashee’!

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And I’m very glad to take up this film. When I watched it, I who have acted in the film could not hold back my tears. It’s funny but is an emotional father-son story. It’s about this Marathi family that is scattered but all come together in the hospital as their senior most member is on a ventilator. I play the role of the nephew and am a filmmaker. I could relate to the character, who is able to see his relationship with his father in a new light.

It sounds like the director brought the best out of you. As a director, how do you bring the best out of your actors?

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My plus point is my experience as an actor. Every actor has their own methodology – some actors follow a certain method, some are spontaneous, while others follow a specific acting school. I like to embrace that. When I’m in the director shoes, I want to understand the actor first and let them blossom. For example, Shahrukh Khan is a spontaneous actor and Aamir Khan needs a lot of preparation to get into the skin of the character.

What about Hrithik Roshan, what kind of an actor would you classify him as? I did read that you wouldn’t have done Mohenjodaro without him?

You are right, I could not have made the film without him. Hrithik has this larger than life persona. This persona blends well with his characters in Krish, Jodha Akbar or Mohenjdaro. He makes the film believable and the civilisation believable. His major strengths are his persona, at a lot of times you have great actors but you have weak personas. He’s a combination of good acting and persona. His choice of films are always against the current trend which is a risk factor.

Talking about your films, history is a very challenging topic and it seems as it’s your favourite topic. Why does it fascinate you?

The most common quote about history is that it repeats itself. The fact is that we never learn from our past to apply in the present. We repeat our mistakes. For me, I like to look back at history and try to look for relevance in today’s times. So my most recent movie Mohenjodaro is a film about environment – how today there is so much of global warming, all the rivers are drying up and we aren’t doing anything about it. If I had to convey this story in today’s time, I would have faced a lot of difficulty to find the right plot and sitting. That’s why I went to BC and created Mohenjodaro. For me the environment aspect was very important. And for religious tolerance and how we need to respect other religions, I did not want to deal with it in contemporary times. So I based it on Jodha Akbar where you have a Hindu princess and Mughal emperor.

Your film Lagaan was one of the biggest hits of 2001 and also made it’s way to the Oscars. When you were making the film, did you expect it to be selected for an Academy award?

I didn’t expect it to do that well. But I knew it would be liked by an international audience. I’m a movie buff and have travelled to many festivals. When the script was done, I knew it was different and will be liked by all the Commonwealth countries due to the British cricket aspect. I was humbled when I reached LA. When you reach the Academy, you feel confident as you are the best. But there you are competing with 52 films, which are all gems. Academy is like the Olympics of cinema. I thought that even if I make it amongst the last five, I’ll be thankful. Ultimately it’s the jury’s unanimous decision.

You have gained a lot of fame and respect as a director, but I remember you as the actor from Circus days. Please share with us some interesting stories.

When I accepted the role, I was asked a simple question, “Are you scared of heights?” As an actor you often lie. I wasn’t lying, I wanted to convey that I have a lot of courage. The reason why they asked it was because they wanted me for the role of a trapeze artist. When I realised it was too late, they had already put me on the top and I was hanging from the bars. I did get petrified, because it needs a lot of physical strength! It took several takes and finally I did it! Somehow as an actor you think there is nothing you can’t do.

Do you have the same motto as a director?

Yes I do but it’s not a good thing to have! When I was making ‘What’s your Rashee’, I was making a film about women breaking shackles and it had to be funny. But a comedy is a different experience. It was an expensive learning. In the future I’ll make a real comedy!



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Posted by on Nov 22 2016. Filed under Bollywood, Community, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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