I love a good story, be it through advertisements, movies or an entrepreneur who dared to think differently. I believe in bringing in fresh perspectives -- to a corporate profile or a Facebook post -- like new wine in an even newer bottle. I graduated with a journalism degree from the Xavier Institute of Communications. My weekend rituals involve watching Bollywood movies and reading up on style trends.
Filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker’s journey in the world of cinema has come full circle. Not many remember that the 52-year-old had ventured into movies as an actor with Ketan Mehta’s Holi (1984). Acting, however, took a backseat when his directorial career received a fillip with the Oscar-nominated film Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India (2001). “I never planned to come back to acting because I thought that directing itself is an all-encompassing job which I enjoy,” Gowariker tells Forbes India, sitting on a couch in his suite at Juhu’s Novotel Hotel.
But like they say: Never say never. Very soon, you would see Gowariker essaying the role of a filmmaker in Priyanka Chopra’s maiden Marathi production, Ventilator, which releases in the first week of November. In a free-wheeling chat, Gowariker tells Forbes India how he chooses the subject for a film, how he handles failures as well as backlash, and why he decided to return to his “first love” - acting. Edited excerpts:
Q. What according to you are the four pillars of a film that you are a part of?
Personally, the theme would be most important, as to what the film is trying to say. When I was thinking about what I should make on religious tolerance, it gave birth to Jodhaa Akbar. When I was thinking about nationalism, I made Swades. Mohenjo Daro was more about the environment angle, where [we depicted] how we are destroying our environment, how as a civilization, we are on the brink of collapse. Next, it should have some kind of learning – a social or moral message and a path of discovery in it. Fourth, it should also entertain. I like to enter the unknown with every film, because then I am able to discover and look at that world in amazement and then try and bring that story together. I want the audience to experience the same joy and awe that I experience.
Q. How do you take the criticism which Jodhaa Akbar and Mohenjo Daro got for distorting historical facts?
There will always be [some kind of] objection, because there are so many different historical theories. And so many debates between historians and archaeologists. As a filmmaker, you choose the best interpretation that you would like and take that to the screen. If you go for the real truth, then it’s a documentary. And we are not in the art of making documentary films. We are into making movies, telling stories and re-interpreting.
Q. When your film doesn’t perform well at the box office, how do you deal with it?
I feel sad because a lot of money is riding on it. Reputation is riding on it. Your first responsibility is towards the person who is giving you those funds. In the case of a book, when a book doesn’t work, we never call it a colossal failure. But if that book is made into a film, there is so much more money riding on it that you will call it a big loss [if it does not do well]. You have to take it in your stride and introspect. In the case of Mohenjo Daro, 50 percent of the audience loved it, 50 percent did not. I am thankful to the people who loved it; that they appreciated the vision and aligned with it. But ones who didn’t, I’ll have to analyse why they did not. I am not someone who goes into a shell. I like to break the shell.
Q. You are returning to acting in a Marathi film after 18 years. What was it like facing the camera after all these years?
Thankfully, it is a character which is very close to me, because the role is that of a filmmaker. I had requested [director] Rajesh [Mapuskar] two weeks of reading time wherein I could just sit with him and read the script. So I was not suddenly put in front of the camera and asked to perform! Overall, it was a different experience to face the camera again. Quite liberating!
Q. Are you looking at producing/directing a Marathi film going forward?
I have been toying with this idea for quite some time now but I haven’t zeroed in on any thematic content simply because my movies have taken so much time, that I never got a chance to break away. But my desire is very strong to come up with something in the next two years.