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Troubled chapters from history


Films based on history have often courted controversies and many ended up as box office duds. Will ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ differ?

The Emperor strikes Hrithik Roshan as Akbar and Aishwarya Rai as the fiery princess Jodhaa

Historicals and controversies make for strange bedfellows, with occasional exceptions. For over a month, Ashutosh Gowarikar has been doing all it takes to promote Jodhaa Akbar and at the same time clarify that he’s backed by ample research that suggests the presence of Jodhaa Bai in Akbar’s life. Gowarikar will soon know if this experiment will earn him laurels like Lagaan and Swades did.

Gowarikar isn’t the only film-maker to find himself cornered while dealing with history. J.P Dutta (Umrao Jaan Ada), Santosh Sivan (Asoka), Ketan Mehta (Mangal Pandey – The Rising), Shyam Benegal (Bose: The Forgotten Hero), Kamal Hasan (Hey Ram), Anil Kapoor and Feroz Khan (Gandhi My Father) and Jabbar Patel (Babasaheb Ambedkar) have also faced rough weather. The film-makers have either been accused of misrepresenting facts or hurting sentiments of a certain section of society. Above all, box office success has also been elusive.

Director/Producer Akbar Khan, best remembered for the television series The Sword of Tipu Sultan, is now working on a film on Genghis Khan despite the colossal loss that his Taj Mahal incurred. In hindsight, he says, “People who saw the film loved it and critics gave us good reviews. I was let down by bad distribution and marketing. I plan to re-release the film this summer; we recently screened the film at the Dubai International Film Festival where it received a standing ovation.”

Clever screenplay

A historical, says Khan, calls for in-depth research and skill to write a good screenplay. “A film that only gives you facts is a documentary. I began writing the screenplay for Taj Mahal two years prior to its making. Directors find themselves in trouble when they peddle fiction as history. Ashutosh Gowarikar is honest that his film is a mix of fact and fiction,” he says.

The best success story in the fact-meets-fiction segment in recent times has got to be Rakeysh Mehra’s Rang De Basanti. The film may have ended up being yet another one on Bhagat Singh (remember, there were five films on Bhagat Singh already) if not for the contemporary view on patriotism. “I did sample studies when I wanted to make a historical and found that youngsters were not interested. I reworked the script and made it relevant to today’s context,” Rakeysh Mehra told us earlier. Siddharth Roy Kapoor of UTV Motion Pictures, says, “Luckily, we didn’t go by popular trends or by the director’s past record. The key is to recognise and support a good idea wherever it comes from. And Rang De Basanti rewrote history. Likewise, we’re sure of Jodhaa Akbar. It will be a spectacle that Indian screens have never seen before. The success of any film depends on the screenplay and its execution.”

Actor Anil Kapoor, who turned producer with Gandhi My father, recalls, “The film may not have been a huge hit but I am glad I made it. The film was appreciated all over the world. There were allegations but after we declared that we had taken Harilal Gandhi’s family into confidence and we had no intention of portraying either Mahatma Gandhi or his son in poor light, things settled down.”

Are we ready for more chapters from history? Rajkumar Santhoshi may have abandoned the idea of Prithviraj Chauhan-Samyukta but the other film-makers are working on their respective historicals.

In the making...

Akbar Khan's magnum opus on Genghis Khan in English, for the international circuit. Shyam Benegal's ?lm on the life of Buddha.

Courting controversy Jodhaa Akbar: Historians dispute the existence of the ?ery Rajput princess named Jodha in Akbar's life.

Gandhi My Father: Allegations of portraying Gandhi as a `bad' father were raised even before the film's release.

Hey Ram: The film found itself in trouble primarily due to its `human' portrayal rather than idolising Gandhi. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Jabbar Patel was accused of showing Gandhi in poor light.

Bose: The Forgotten hero: Trouble brew since the film showed Bose as having been married to Austrian Emilie Schenkl

Umrao Jaan Ada: JP Dutta's version ran into trouble, with allegations that he did not shoot in Lucknow.

Asoka: A film that relied largely on fiction and less on fact failed to please both critics and the audience alike.

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