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|February 14, 2000||
Where time stands still...
Aamir Khan has made Bhuj his home -- for a few months, that is. He and his team have pitched tents on the outskirts of Kanuria, an ancient village about 20 kilometres from Bhuj, where they have been busy shooting Lagaan, Aamir's first film as producer. The shooting began over a month ago.
Almost the entire unit of the film is here, working from early morning till late evening. After work, they retire to a multi-storeyed building (the unit has booked four floors there) in Bhuj. At the end of the day, they are tired, but their enthusiasm and spirit are to be seen to be believed.
Since Lagaan is a period film set in the 19th century, all the actors don clothes worn by villagers in those days. Except, of course, the foreign artistes, who represent the British in the film.
Asked to comment on these artistes working in Lagaan, Aamir says that "there are 15 of them. All of them have come from London. Rachel Shelly, who plays a character called Elizabeth, was chosen by director, Ashutosh Gowarkar. Actually, we went to London and got a casting director from there to choose our foreign cast. She (the casting director) and Ashutosh screen-tested many actors and actresses over there. That's how they chose Rachel and Paul Blackthon -- who plays Captain Russell -- among others."
The Indian cast includes, besides Aamir himself, Gracy Singh (Dinky of the popular television serial, Amaanat) who, we are told, will be given the screen name of Gauri, A K Hangal, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Rajendra Gupta, Akhilendra Mishra, Raghuvir Yadav, Vallabh Vyas, Raj Zutsi, Suhashini Mulay and Yashpal Sharma.
The young Ashutosh -- whose previous films Pehla Nasha and Baazi (which also had Aamir in the lead) didn't do well at the box office -- is the script-writer as well as director of Lagaan. "I have full confidence in Ashutosh and his ability. I am sure with this film, he will become a successful director," predicts Aamir.
A R Rahman is composing the film's music to lyrics written by Javed Akhtar while Anil Mehta is the director of photography. Nitin Desai is in charge of the sets and Oscar-winner Bhanu Athaiya is handling the costumes for the film.
Aamir elaborates on why he got into production. "When an actor has to say something or when he wants to present himself in a certain way, it is sometimes necessary that he produces his own film. Raj Kapoor was a producer-director as is Dev Anand. Sunil Dutt, Jeetendra, Feroz Khan, and more recently, Shah Rukh Khan and Govinda have entered the production business," he says. "There is nothing unusual about an actor turning producer. But let me tell you that I have not become a producer just to ape others. I liked Ashutosh's script very much and felt it was a terrific subject. I thought I should become producer to give the subject full justice."
Even before Aamir and his team landed in Bhuj, the local people built this village near Kanuria, which provides the perfect setting for Lagaan. Unless one is told that it has been specially created for the film, one is bound to mistake it for a typical old Kutch hamlet.
There are 56 small houses, many of them being ghumbas or round-shaped huts, which were common in ancient Kutch. There is a village mukhiya, a blacksmith and other such people occupying these houses. There is even a temple specially built on a hill, with Lord Krishna as its deity.
This huge set was built in just under four months before the shooting began in January. Like Sholay's Ramgarh, Champaner of Lagaan takes your breath away because of its authenticity. Incidentally, Ramgarh which was specially constructed for Sholay, is still being preserved. But Champaner will be demolished once the shooting is over. Says Aamir, "I don't mind if it is preserved. But it has been agreed between us and the local authorities that we would return the piece of land as it was."
The unit remains tightlipped about the cost of the project, with Aamir revealing that "it is an expensive film."
Bhuj is fast becoming a popular destination with Bollywood folks. Sanjay Leela Bhansali shot Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam there. J P Dutta's Refugee was also filmed in this area. Its arid land, beautiful hills, ancient buildings and the famous Kutch culture offer a unique attraction to the film world.
There is an element of danger as well, since it's on the India-Pakistan border. But Bhuj retains its ancient flavour, miraculously unaffected by modern technology, even though television has invaded almost every part of Kutch district, save a few hamlets. More importantly, Kutch reminds you of pre-Independent India in many ways.
No wonder Aamir Khan has chosen this location to shoot his maiden production which is all about a bygone era.
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