Filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker has over the years kept bringing his audience back to their roots and Indian culture with his award winning films like Lagaan, Swades and Jodha Akbar. On his birthday, we recall why these films are still important.
Were you sitting in the audience when the entire cinema hall turned into a stadium in Lagaan’s climax? Did you feel a certain kind of patriotism when Shah Rukh Khan managed to light that bulb for the old lady in Swades? Have you also fallen in love with the Akbar when Hrithik Roshan flexed his muscles during sword practice? Then you can call yourself an Ashutosh Gowariker fan. This maverick filmmaker might have directed eight movies, but his experience with films goes back to more than three decades. To say that Gowariker has carved a niche for himself would be saying too little. He has introduced Bollywood to a kind of cinema that takes us back to our roots, back to the pages in history, and even back to the civilisation where we came from! And while doing all of this, he even managed to put Indian cinema on the world map.
Gowariker’s cinematic journey is worth taking note. No, he did not begin making films from the get-go. He began as an actor with Ketan Mehta’s 1984 film Holi. He was a part of films like Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro, Chamatkar, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, and has even done TV shows CID and Circus. But his directorial Lagaan changed the game for him. He was last seen acting in Priyanka Chopra’s Marathi production Ventilator. As the filmmaker turns 54 today, we take a look at his movies which changed the course of Hindi cinema.
Ever thought that Aamir Khan and a dozen of lesser known actors would end up not just throwing the British Raj out of their village, but even end up walking on the red carpet of the Academy Awards? This film, which surprised many with its core plot around the game of cricket, also evoked a sense of belonging to one’s nation apart from giving us a glimpse of the pre-independent India. From its “Ghanan Ghanan” to “O Re Chori”, each song continues to remain one of the best of everyone concerned, including music composer AR Rahman. For one, we loved our men playing gully cricket in dhotis. It also delicately handled the issue of casteism in the society, when Kachra was inducted in the team by Bhuvan. How many awards di it end up winning, well, we’ll need a separate article on that all together!
Before Swades, Shah Rukh Khan was known as the ‘cool’ Rahul, who could woo his girls simply by spreading his arms in the snow-clad mountains of Switzerland. To say the SRK was stereotyped won’t be wrong. But then, Swades came and we saw a new side of Bollywood’s Rahul. This time he came as Mohan Bhargava, who landed in India straight from NASA, clad in cotton shirts and trousers, perfectly oiled hair and a general feeling that it’s better to stay away than face the challenges in India. But his transformation and how he ended up devoting his life for the development of not just his small village but also making a place in our hearts is what Swades was about. Shah Rukh as a common man was actually, much much better than the one we had seen in those glossy romantic films till then.
During our history lessons, least did we imagine Akbar as a living man. Okay, that is apart from Mughal-e-Azam. But for the new generation, Emperor Akbar was only the graphic presentation we had in our books. And then Gowariker gave us Hrithik Roshan as Akbar. He even gave us Aishwarya Rai Bachchan as Jodha, the icing on the cake, in a romance that weaved around a lesser discussed Mughal era. Yes, the director almost managed to teleport us to that era of opulence and grandeur. This film might have taken some cinematic liberty in terms of its historical facts and content, but it did manage to give a face to Emperor Akbar and Queen Jodha for us. It was of Hrithik and Aishwarya, and we’ll remember these names from history in the look of our two Bollywood actors henceforth.