this book is even more interesting than the period Bollywood film
of the title 'Lagaan'. Released in 2001, the almost 4-hour long
movie, set during the time of the British Raj, is largely all about
cricket. Not just any old cricket, but a crucial match between the
colonial oppressors, the British, and the humble residents of Champaner,
a fictitious Indian village. In this book, Satyajit Bhatkal has
minutely detailed every aspect of the film: from the 'Eureka!' moment
to the worldwide launch. The role of the diarist is sadly in decline
- Bhatkal's book shows that the Indian spirit may yet give the genre
a new lease of life.
a close friend of Aamir Khan, Bollywood superstar and leading man
in 'Lagaan', Bhatkal was ideally placed to gain real insight into
the dynamics of the relationship between Aamir (Producer), Ashutosh
Gowariker (Director) and Aamir's wife Reena Dutta (Executive Producer).
Add to this Aamir Khan's fans, the Maharao of Kutch, celebrated
music maestro A R Rahman, a contingent of non-Hindi speaking British
actor-cricketers and a cast of thousands, and the reader quickly
appreciates the scale of the project.
this book could have been all about Aamir Khan, his fame, his charm
and his stellar qualities to open any door. To his credit, Bhatkal
reins in much of the hero worship and resorts to facts and figures.
The one place the team had hoped the use the '"Aamir Khan"
name to their advantage - when negotiating with local Kutchi farmers
- the villagers had to ask exactly who Aamir Khan was!
set a great many new precedents and virtually broke all the rules
of traditional Bollywood movie making. The film was the first to
employ a First Assistant Director (AD), Hollywood-trained Apoorva
Lakhia, and his team of assistant AD's whom he affectionately referred
to as his "babes". The film was also shot over a period
of six months, quite unlike the chaotic production schedules of
contemporary Bollywood studios where stars can work on multiple
films at any one time. The sound and action were recorded "in-sync",
i.e. at the same time, and not dubbed afterwards as is the norm
with Bollywood movies. Production programming schedules were drawn
up, contracts were written, budgets prepared
this before you consider the logistics factor! As a 'period drama'
set in the 1800's the film makers could not make use of ready-made
overseas locations like Switzerland or Scotland as is now the trend
for modern day Bollywood.
a lawyer by profession, is quickly persuaded by Aamir Khan to get
involved. In his diary, Bhatkal notes that Aamir persuaded his own
wife Reena to take up the reins of production, contrary to gossip
that she did it to keep tabs on her husband's alleged roving eye.
Even as a novice, Reena Dutta brought considerable practical knowledge
and financial control to the film, despite the initial budget of
60 Crore rupees ballooning to over 200 Crore rupees. Gutsy financier,
Jhamu Sughand appearing to be relatively unperturbed by the laxity.
account is partly as a diarist and partly as an essayist, helping
to place the magnitude of the 'Lagaan' project in context for an
audience who might otherwise not have realised the effort it took.
From constructing an entire village (Champaner) in the arid desert
(Raan of Kutch) near Bhuj, the town later devastated by the Gujarat
2001 earthquake. Construction of the village involved building traditional
huts (boongas), a virtually lost art among Kutchis given that it
needs a copious quantity of fresh cow dung! Under the same desert
conditions, Aamir Khan productions had to set up living quarters
for the cast and crew ('Sahajand Towers'), an authentic cricket
pitch and pavilion that involved depositing vast amounts of top
soil over the Gujarati equivalent of prickly pear!
team had to plan sanitation, rain, crowd management, changing rooms,
make-up and wardrobe facilities and food for thousands! Even in
Hollywood, such large-scale productions have not been seen since
the days of Cecil B DeMille. And India is a country where readily
transportable motor homes (Winnebago) vehicles are in short supply.
Lagaan can easily be compared to the joint production effort of
'Titanic' and 'Gladiator', with the latter two skilfully utilising
considerable digital movie-making techniques not used in Lagaan.
cricket match sequences featuring nearly 20,000 spectators were
planned to an operating equivalent of a military manoeuvre, and
in the middle of the desert too! The population statistics of Kutch
indicated that to gather together a fifth of the number would have
been a feat. An advertisement in the local paper for film extras,
even on a legendary Aamir Khan movie, produced only a couple of
hundred responses. About 1% of those needed! The nearest analogy
I envisaged is that it was like asking for 20,000 people spread
throughout an area the size of Wales (without the use of modern
amenities like mail, phone, TV or the internet) to show up at a
specified time in Cardiff to star as an extra in a Hugh Grant movie!
real people were the foundation of this movie. The people of Kutch
(an area of Gujarat) gave selflessly of their time, effort and even
family heirlooms to used a props. The cast also valiantly carried
on despite upset stomachs, heat exhaustion, slipped discs and in
some cases severe illness. All throughout, director Ashutosh Gowariker
stuck to his vision, and to his credit Aamir Khan backed this up
with some unknown film making instinct. A vision that was not always
shared by his wife Reena who at times had to wield a large budgetary
baton that ultimately failed to work on the one person for whom
it was intended - Aamir. With some extraordinary belief and courage
he held out to ultimately produce a movie, the likes of which Bollywood
had never seen.
saddened to read that Aamir Khan and his wife of 16 years, Reena
Dutta, are to divorce (December 2002). Whilst this book reveals
nothing of their life, what it does show is the tension that can
exist when both partners are involved in a high-pressure, stressful
venture like filmmaking. Conducting a marriage in such an environment
would make event the strongest of marriages crumble. It is pity;
more so, because I suspect that the combination of Aamir, Reena
and Ashutosh could go on to create another spectacular success like
you are simply "bananas" over bollywood, then you might
like to read the following:
In Love - catch it while you can (ends January 2003)
Dreams - a digital homage (end January 2003)
Homes - Abu Jhani & Sandeep Khosla's interior design benediction.
Sadly only the pictures remain now!
Dreams - A R Rahman's theatrical tribute to the industry is
a must see.
Rough Guide to Bollywood - DJ Ritu's musical guide to the
Hindi Film Industry.
Books - our selection of some of the best books on the subject.
Boy - our review of Justine Hardy's pursuit of Bollywood heart-throb
Time - Thrity Umrigar's simply brilliant book about the Mumbai
Parsee community. Absolutely nothing to do with Bollywood...but
a great novel about the city!
- surely you've seen the movie by now? Read our review and see
if you agree.
- Sanjay Bansali's remake of this classic 1917 tale.