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Rising with a patriotic cry

SREEDHAR PILLAI

Aamir Khan returns with "Mangal Pandey — The Rising" after a four-year gap.


My passion for my work shows on screen... I thoroughly enjoy the work I do.



EPIC TALE: Mangal Pandey — The Rising pivots on how one man can change history.

For the past six months, irrespective of the film being screened, the audience at Chennai's Melody theatre gives a standing ovation to the trailer of "Mangal Pandey — The Rising." The 90 seconds theatrical trailer showing Aamir Khan walking in shackles with the patriotic song "Mangal ... Mangal ... ," tuned by A. R. Rahman, in the background creates a stir.

An Aamir Khan film is releasing after four years and the trade feels that "Mangal Pandey — The Rising" is sure to take a bumper opening worldwide as it releases on August 12 for the Independence Day weekend.

Four years without a release! It's something unthinkable for a top Bollywood actor but Aamir Khan's box-office ratings remain the same.

His "Lagaan" (2001) was a path-breaker, which was not only a huge commercial hit but also took Indian cinema into the International arena.

It was followed by "Dil Chahta Hai" the same year, a stylishly-made trendsetter that was also a hit. Now Aamir is back with "Mangal Pandey... " and a lot is riding on the film directed by Ketan Mehta.

It is an epic tale of friendship, betrayal, love and sacrifice set against the backdrop of what the British called the `Sepoy Mutiny' (of 1857), but for the Indians it was the First War of Independence.

Aamir was in Chennai recently for a day to dub Om Puri's voice over at Four Frames, the state-of-the-art studio of director Priyadarshan.

Om Puri is the narrator of "Mangal Pandey ... ," something similar to what Amitabh Bachchan did for "Lagaan."

In an exclusive interview Aamir Khan chats about his long break and ``Mangal Pandey." Excerpts:


They say that you are an elusive star and media shy... .

I have not given an interview to any Mumbai film magazines for 15 years and have my own reservations about mainstream media. I subscribe to The Hindu, Chennai edition. I like it because it is one of the few newspapers in the country that reports news unlike some others that are full of trivia (smiles).

You seem to be a perfectionist going by your choice of films

I am honest with my work. I only do films that I believe in and am extremely passionate about it. My passion for my work shows on screen. To be honest I thoroughly enjoy the work I do.

What are your criteria for selecting a film?

First I expect a bound script from my director. When I read the script for the first time, I put myself in the audience's seat. I follow my instinct and if it excites me I will do it.

Your last release was "Dil Chahta Hai" nearly four years ago. Was this long break intentional?

To be precise, "Dil Chahta Hai" opened on August 10, 2001 and the release date of "Mangal Pandey ... " is fixed for August 12. This gap is unplanned. I was going through some traumatic time in my personal life and for two years, I was dealing with that problem. Then it took me 18 months to grow my hair and moustache for the Mangal Pandey look.

So how long did it take to finish the film? Where are the locations?

The actual shoot took 180 days. We shot in Super 35, it gives you better quality in cinemascope. Unlike other films where only the special effects are shot on DI (Digital Imaging), Ketan did the entire film on DI. The locations varied from Pataudi Palace in Haryana, j to some exotic places in Maharashtra. In Mumbai film city a set was erected that depicted the Sepoy basti.

What attracted you to this theme?

Obviously the script, based on the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, excited me. The film is set in one of the most beautiful countries on earth, told across the divides of time... It is the tale of friends, lovers and enemies, exploiters and exploited, and the growth and awareness of a man and a nation. The basis of the story is about how one man can change history... This sweeping epic is based on real historical events, seen as a trigger for Indian independence. It is extremely contemporary in topic.

Does the film have any message?

Basically it is the concept of freedom ... and the right of a man to hold his head as high as the other. As I told you earlier it is extremely contemporary.

What is the difference between Bhuvan in "Lagaan" and Mangal Pandey?

Bhuvan is cool and level-headed, while Mangal is a hot headed reactionary. Though Mangal's character is historic, there is no record of his personal life. So the scriptwriters Farooq Dhondy and director Ketan Mehta took some liberties.

And you have sang a song... ?

(Laughs) It is Rahman's fault as he encouraged me to be part of the song "Holi Re... " There are six songs, in the film though Mangal appears in only this "Holi... " song as per story requirements.

Dhondy has projected Mangal as a symbol of freedom ... a spirit of that time ... a person who represents the spirit of those days who rose against the East India Company. Mangal was able to awaken the conscience of the society.

What are the film's highlights?

Toby Stephens who played the villain in the James Bond film "Die Another Day" is theBritish commanding officer William Gordon here, with whom Mangal strikes up a friendship.

Toby is truly amazing and so are Rani (Mukherjee) and Amisha (Patel) who have done their roles well.

Added to that A. R. Rahman's soundtrack and the patriotic flavour he has given is awesome. Ketan Mehta and Farooq Dhondy have done the research adequately and I'm sure "Mangal Pandey ... " will be accepted by our audience.

What are your forthcoming ventures?

I have just completed "Rang De Basanti" directed by Rakesh Mehra and is about to start work on Kunal Kohli's new romantic film, "Fanah" for Yashraj films.

I have also started writing a script, which I will direct next year.

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