It's been 20 years of Lagaan and more than 37 years of the man in the industry. But Aamir Khan is humble - as usual. In an exclusive interaction with the media while reminiscing about Lagaan, the actor-filmmaker was in a relaxed mood on a Sunday afternoon, cheerful and up for some casual banter. He was taking the film's success and landmark year so coolly. After all, Lagaan - the first film of Aamir Khan Productions Limited and the actor's first film to be nominated at the Oscar Awards - is something he holds dearly to his heart.
But Aamir, as always, wore his heart on his sleeve while talking about it, chatting us up and playfully asking if his smoking pipe bothered us (in online mode!). Excerpts from the chat about 20 years of Lagaan with Aamir Khan, which Filmibeat was a part of. The actor-filmmaker talks about the making of Lagaan, the Oscars loss which is actually a gain, and the cult status achieved by the film. Aamir also appreciated his ex-wife Reena Dutta and his director Ashutosh Gowariker for the making of the film.
On What About Lagaan Has Stayed With Him
Aamir Khan gave full credit to his ex-wife Reena Dutta in how she handled the production of Lagaan, even as a first-time producer. He said that he requested for her help in the making of the film, as he couldn't handle everything alone. On being asked the one thing about Lagaan that has stayed with him, Aamir Khan said that "almost everything has stayed with me. The one thing that remains with me is the way Reena handled the film. She had no understanding of cinema until then. Though she was married to me for a number of years, she was not interested in films and didn't know anything about filmmaking."
So how did Reena join in as a producer? "So when I requested her for help, as someone who I can trust completely and depend on, she was very sporting and she said, 'Theek hai, I'll learn'. Usne I'll learn kya bola ke usne pura hee sikh liya. (She learnt everything!) She went and met Subhash Ghai, she met Manmohan Shetty and asked him to show how a sound negative looks, what is processing and printing, etc. She met producers, directors, technicians, and learnt what is filmmaking. I had told her, 'I'm not gonna tell you anything. You learn on your own'. So she learnt on her own, cracked it and produced a film. Now that is something that I'll remember all my life. How for one person who's completely from another field to enter films and take control at such a level, it was very remarkable. That's one of my big memories. I still wonder how she has done that."
Three Production Processes Aamir Khan Brought Back With Lagaan
Aamir Khan caused a revolution in how films are made in India, with the three processes he began or brought back with Lagaan. These processes have now become the norm, but it was difficult for Aamir to implement them at first. He revealed that his close friends and filmmakers Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra had advised him against these three things, since they knew Lagaan was the first film of Aamir Khan Productions and a very ambitious one at that.
But Aamir went ahead anyway. In fact, he'd been wanting to introduce these processes five years before Lagaan, he explained, but that his directors refused his request. The three processes are:
1. Sync sound, which was used in classic cinema, so that the hassle of recreating an amazing scene in dubbing is removed.
3. First AD (assistant director) system on set, which made the process of shooting smoother and more organised.
"Shooting in sync sound and in one schedule has dramatically changed my life as an actor. I can now work on my character. Being a producer has helped me as an actor because of the processes I brought in," revealed Aamir.
Lagaan At The Oscars - Was It Disappointing Not To Win?
Lagaan was nominated at the Oscar Awards and managed to reach the Top 5 in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Was it disappointing that it didn't win the Academy Award that year? Getting thoughtful, Aamir patiently explained how it was disappointing but to reach the Top 5 itself was a big achievement.
"Of course, it was disappointing. We would have liked to win. A lot of people have asked me what could we have done differently in Lagaan for it to win at the Oscars - 'Was it because it had songs? Or it was so long?', etc. But what people need to understand is that at the Oscars, it is such a difficult process to get nominated. If you are nominated, it means that people a huge percentage of the jury members have loved your film and loved it so much that you are in the top 5."
"In LA, they consider that if you are a nominee, you are all at the finish line. All are equally good and then one person is told that you can take a step ahead - who becomes the winner...so what we failed to appreciate is that the members in the Foreign Language committee actually loved our film. That means there was nothing wrong with Lagaan. All aspects were loved and only then you got nominated. The film was highly appreciated," he explained.
On Award Ceremonies And Not Taking Awards Seriously
Having said that, Aamir Khan went on to reiterate his stance on award ceremonies. "The other thing that I want to say is about award ceremonies - I think y'all know my stance on it. Let me elaborate a li'l bit. You cannot compare films. How can you compare Lagaan and, let's say, Dangal? So, don't take awards so seriously. This is what my rule has been in life. Both Dangal and Lagaan are good, and if they had been made in the same year, only one would've won. That doesn't mean the other film is less. It just means that this jury found this one better. In sports awards, there is no subjectivity - either you jump the highest or not. It is not the same in cinema. No two people like the same thing. In sports, the winner is actually the winner."
So then why give so much importance to the Oscars? Team Lagaan was in LA for the lobbying before the ceremony. "One, it's because of the processes they follow. And two, it's because of the window of opportunity it gives to your market. Because Lagaan was nominated, so many people around the world wanted to watch it. It gives an opportunity to increase your audience. That's how I look at it. Winning or losing at awards is not as important as whether the audience likes your film or not. Isse bada award koi nahin hain (No bigger award than the audience liking your film)." We agree!
On Lagaan's Cult Status
Everyone is curious to know if Aamir Khan had an intuition that Lagaan would attain a cult status. To which, Aamir said, "When we were making it, we had no idea. We all loved the script by Ashutosh Gowariker and we were emotionally invested in it. So, we were just trying our level best to do it right. Humko koi idea nahin tha ke ye acchi banegi aur bahot popular hogi. Aaj bees saal baad bhi hum uske baare mein baat kar rahe hai, lekin voh humko kahaan pata tha. (We had no idea that it will be a good film and become so popular. Today we're still talking about it, 20 years later)."
Aamir Khan went on to say something insightful about making films. He shared, "My uncle Nasir Hussain Sa'ab (the producer) used to say, "Ek acchi film, voh hum banatey nahin hai, voh ban jaati hai. (We don't make a good film, the film makes itself.) Aap koi bole dubaara banao toh aap shaayad khud nahin bana paaoge. (You won't be able to make it again.) He had a very nice way of putting it that y'know, sometimes things happen. So, we always try our best and sometimes things happen and they go well."
"I think Lagaan was once such film where things felt in the right place. All of us were very excited when we made the film. I can tell you this with all honesty that everyone involved in the film was emotionally invested in it. That I can say with full confidence. So, sometimes that emotion springs up and kuch ban jaata hai usse. But of course, the big credit of how the film has turned out goes to Ashutosh. He was the lead writer along with two other writers, and he also directed it. And I think he did a really wonderful job."