'I was never interested in history in school'Rajul Hegde in Mumbai
After giving us epic films like Lagaan, Swades and Jodhaa Akbar, Ashutosh Gowariker returns to the marquee with his 'shortest' film ever, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey.
A period thriller, the film stars Abhishek Bachchan and Deepika Padukone. It is based on newspaper editor Manini Chatterjee's book, Do And Die: The Story of the Chittagong Uprising 1930-34.
The film tells the story of revolutionary freedom fighters, who attempted to raid the armoury of police forces in Chittagong, a province that was a part of British India. It will release on December 3.
Gowariker tells Rajul Hegde more about the film.
What inspired you to make this film?
I know about every other revolutionary and freedom fighter in the country but was unaware of Surjya Sen and his 64 revolutionaries. When I first read the book, I was shocked as well as fascinated to know about Sen's ambition and the 59 teenagers and five adults, who participated in the revolt. So I immediately decided that I should get this on to the big screen.
It is a true story of forgotten heroes. We know very little about the Chittagong uprising. I approached Manini Chatterjee for the official rights. I also invited her to get involved in the making of the film, to guide us to keep up the historical accuracy in the film.
Image: The Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey trailer
'I had wanted to work with Abhishek for a long time'
How did Manini help you?
Manini is the daughter-in-law of Kalpana Datta (played by Deepika Padukone's character) so she has spent a lot time with her.
While writing the book, she did lot of interviews with the survivors, so she had a first hand account of everything. She helped us with details like the look, style, ethos of the time, characterisation, mannerisms and body language. She had already given the details in the book but she helped me in creating the right feel for the film.
You said Abhishek was your first choice to play Surjya Sen. How did it work out?
Yes. I had wanted to work with Abhishek for a long time. He is graceful as Surjya Sen. He is a fabulous actor and I thought he would bring purity to the character.
Image: Gowairker poses with Abhishek and the KHJJS team
'My films are period films with different looks'
What made you cast Deepika Padukone?
Coincidentally, if you look at Kalpana Dutta's picture, it has an uncanny resemblance to Deepika.
We are fortunate that we got Deepika to play this role. She would always be on time on the sets, and be ready with the lines. She is extremely professional and warm. She is commendable, makes a convincing revolutionary and has bought energy to the character. She is growing with every film.
Is it the success or connect to the historical stories that make you make period films?
My films are period films with different looks. I can naturally connect with history and emotions, may be that is why I end up making period films. It can't be a coincidence thrice but it is (smiles).
I was never interested in history in school. I think that is why I am compensating for it now (smiles).
Have you made any changes from the book for the big screen?
Yes. It is an adaptation. You need to make changes to make it a film. I made the changes with Maniniji's consent.
Image: A scene from KHJJS
'I couldn't take liberties like I did in Lagaan and Jodhaa Akbar'
What was the biggest challenge that you faced?
The biggest challenge was to see how the 59 teenagers and adults would bond and how they would be motivated to participate in the revolt. I had to keep in mind the spirit of the book too.
Do you think you had restrictions while making the film because it's adapted from a book?
Yes. I couldn't take liberties like I did in Lagaan and Jodhaa Akbar.
Are you worried about a similar film being made by Shonali Bose with actor Manoj Bajpai?
I am aware of Shonali Bose's film and unfortunately, both of us had the same ideas. Two filmmakers will never make movies the same way so both versions will have different approaches.
I didn't know much about Surjya Sen until I read the book and got fascinated with it. Now since two films are being made, people will be more aware of this long-forgotten chapter in the history of India.
Image: A scene from KHJJS
'After Baazi, I had no chance to make a film'
Will we see any romance between the lead characters?
A hint of romance between Surjya and Kalpana has been captured. But the film is about the revolution. We don't want to hold back because of the romance. For me, it's important to stay on the path and tell the story as it happened.
How did you re-discover Samrat Mukherji and Sikander Kher?
Sometimes when you don't get success, you tend to go unnoticed. You can be extremely talented but still can go unnoticed. For example, after Baazi, I had no chance to make a film. But I wrote Lagaan. Aamir Khan liked it and gave me another chance.
Samrat and Sikander are extremely talented but their films did not work. It's good to have them in the film. They have done a tremendous job.
Did you hold any workshop for the actors?
We had to create a Bengali essence not only with Surjya Sen but also with the teenagers. We had one week orientation for the actors to be natural in their dhotis. Being half Bengali, it didn't take much time for Abhishek. It came naturally to him. The only requirement for him was to keep his hair short.
Why the title Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey?
Majority of the actors are young revolutionaries and are playing with their lives, hence the title. It is more spirited then saying 'Azaadi'.
Image: A scene from KHJJS