By Subhash K. Jha, Bollywood Hungama News Network
Ashutosh Gowarikar is puzzled but defiantly resolute about the protests against Jodhaa Akbar which have now spread from Rajasthan to Bihar and Gujarat.
Having made a film that does history proud, how do you feel about these sporadic protests?
You hit the nail on the head. These are sporadic incidents which appear much larger than they really are. While making the film I did my best to go by the book. I consulted the best historians and went through the most rigorous research. And there are different names used for Akbar's wife, Jodhaa being one of them. In fact, there's a disclaimer about the Rajput queen's name at the beginning of the film. But to see that, the protestors have to see the film.
Most protests in our country are premature and based on insubstantial evidence.
Well, I want to say to people in the country and abroad, that I've done very deep research. Even the secondary characters like Shariffuddin, Bairam Khan and Maham Anga which some critics have found filmy are founded in history. That climactic combat between Akbar and Shariffuddin that I've shown really happened.
So where did your imagination come in?
My imagination came in while describing what happened between Jodhaa and Akbar in the privacy of their chambers. There I had to get creative since no one knew what actually happened. That artistic license apart, I haven't been jingoistic or fanciful in depicting history. In fact, I've been very careful in preserving Rajput pride and dignity.
Do you think the protests are politically motivated?
I wouldn't know. But it's a part of the Rajput community that's protesting against my film. So I've reason to believe the Rajputs are offended. I want to tell them that history books have given several names to the Queen. I used the most popular of those names. But why focus on this issue? My intention was to show how the Rajputs made a difference to Mughal history.
Did you anticipate such loud protests?
Honestly, I did! After the release of Ketan Mehta's Mangal Pandey, there were protests about how he was depicted. So I feared this would happen. Unlike my protagonists in Lagaan and Swades, Jodhaa and Akbar were real people. I delved into Rajput and Mughal history and prepared as much as I could. I also approached Jaipur royalty to get the facts, customs and traditions right.
And not once have you made Aishwarya Rai behave out of character.
Yes. I made sure of that. Only after the Jaipur royalty gave me the green signal to call my female protagonist Jodhaa, did I proceed with my film. In anticipation of protests and controversies that are very much part of all our historical films, I decided to be very careful about historical detail.
Film personalities like Shyam Benegal and Raza Murad have protested against the protests.
I respect their opinion.
The film's length is seen to be a detrimental to its full impact and enjoyment?
I was never calculating the length. I was only making my film. My earlier edited cut was 3 hours 40 minutes. I finally cut it by 20 minutes more, and no one persuaded me to do so. Jodhaa Akbar is definitely in the epic-romance and historical genre. Its length is dictated by the genre. Tomorrow if I make a comedy, I promise you it would be much shorter. I know some people might find the length daunting. But I'm convinced they finally find it captivating and enchanting. So far I'm extremely happy by the response. It could've been far less positive considering the inbuilt constraints of the historical genre. No one has complained about the way the Mughal tehzeeb has been portrayed.
Are you going to buckle under and apologize to the protestors?
I don't even know what they're protesting about! So the question of an apology doesn't arise. Please read the history texts. Among others, Muni Lal in Akbar has called the princess Jodhabai. This film turned me into a voracious history student. That's quite something for someone who has never been interested in history.
So why did you decide to make a film on Jodhaa and Akbar?
I was fascinated by what must've happened between them. My imagination was challenged by their alliance. Also, I felt this historical pair has always been taken for granted.
Considering the troubles, do you think filmmakers should stay away from historicals?
No. We must make what we've to make, fearless of repercussions. I think you've to follow your heart. Of course we must go back into the past. But after thorough research, I don't think there's any substitute for research. Since we're a multi-cultural and religious nation, there're bound to be questions raised about historical movies. We must be ready and equipped to handle these. I just hope more and more people come and see Jodhaa Akbar. The reports so far are very encouraging. What I want now is for the film to release in Rajasthan. Jodhaa Akbar belongs to Rajasthan. Let them see the film.