Magnificent Mohenjo Daro

Director Ashutosh Gowarikar on the inspiration behind his latest epic Mohenjo Daro

Posted: 09.08.16

Film Directors don't get more dedicated than Ashutosh Gowariker. Talented, passionate and the mastermind behind some of Bollywood's most successful movies - Jodhaa Akbar and Lagaan, his latest foray Mohenjo Daro is a historical epic that records an era that's never been covered by filmmakers before. Starring A'lister Hrithik Roshan and newcomer Pooja Hedge, the film is set in the Pre-historic Indus Valley, in 2016 BC. A story of an ancient love connecting to the past, present and future, it's a visionary masterpiece with exquisite sets and scenery, unique costumes and a hypnotic soundtrack. At a recent press conference in London, Ashutosh revealed more about the filmmaking process of this, his most personal project yet. 

What influenced you to make this movie?
I’m just a writer, a creative person, a director, who likes history. And I like to do research on it. So here, I dabbled into the oldest civilisation. You know, it’s a civilisation that has fascinated me for many many years, and for some time, I kept feeling that I must make a movie on it. I was hoping that I’d get the opportunity to do that and that opportunity came to me many, many years later in the form of Hrithik, as well as UTV. So here we are, Mohenjo Daro. What fascinated me was what the civilisation was, who the people were, what the society was like. What kind of politics did they have and what did they believe in?

You don’t make contemporary films. How did you decide to make a film on the Bronze Age, something that hasn’t been explored in Bollywood before?
These are all different eras. When I made Lagaan, it was the British era. It categorises as modern India. When I did Jodhaa Akbar, it was medieval. And I was planning a film on Buddha, which would have categorised as Ancient India. But Mohenjo Daro is going way back, it’s going to pre-history, because there is nothing written about it. So all facts that have been revealed to us are only by way of excavation, by way of artifacts. So I found that the most fascinating.

The costumes in the film, while not very extravagant, have certain unique elements to them. How did you decide the wardrobes of your characters?
The figurines from the excavation sites have a lot of evidence of the kind of head-dresses and wardrobes they had. But in the majority of those figurines, the women are naked. And obviously I didn’t want to go that way because you can’t have a film based on that kind of a look, so I had to fill in the blanks somewhere to keep what I could from the figurines, and to also build from my imagination. They used a lot of precious stones, stones from riverbeds. They used a lot of animal feathers to adorn themselves and they used rose petals on their lips. That kind of information, I tried to piece in.

You had to do a lot of research for this film. How did you weave in the storyline, incorporating conflict and romance, while staying true to the information you collected on the civilisation?
As far as the romance and the politics of it is concerned, I have built that by studying other civilizations also. At this time, the Indus Valley had a lot of trade happening with the Sumerian and the Egyptian civilizations. So there was a lot of exchange that happened, and there could be some common things that went to and fro. In terms of the River Sindhu, there are certain idols and figurines that archaeologists have called the symbols of river goddesses. So I’ve used those aspects. But you know, history or pre-history is such that you have so manydifferent chains of thought, so many different lines, that it’s difficult to incorporate all. I’ve created a make believe world. It’s my make believe world, but I tried to stay as true and honest to what it could have been.

How much is known of the language they used back then? What language did you opt to use for the film?
The script of Sindhu is still not deciphered, so people are still making several attempts at that. There are so many different theories about what the Sindhu script could have been. So it was very tricky for me, figuring out how to use that in the movie. I decided to use Hindi as the language, but I tried to use a Hindi which is not very Sanksritised, and at the same time is a little modern. So it is a mesh of languages, to give it a different feel. I went further back in trying to use certain words, at the cost of alienating the audience a bit. But I think it is necessary to allow the audience to enter that world.

In terms of architecture, what aspects did you incorporate from your research into the film?
We have not created anything make believe from the information that is available. So for me, creation of that was two-fold. One was the architecture. If you see the great bath, which you saw in the song, it is exactly the same size of the great bath that is in the present day Mohenjo Daro excavation site. If you see all the pillars and the columns and the size of the houses, it is all probably what could have been. So it is certain things that allowed me to stay within the boundaries of story telling. And of course, for the romance, I had to create something that is believable within that space.

You’ve worked with Hrithik before in Jodhaa Akbar. What made you decide to cast him again for another one of your epic films?
He was my first choice and I’m very glad that it materialised. You know, Hrithik has the ability to make any world believable. This is what I feel when I observe him as an actor. He has the ability to create a certain conviction within the created world. It’s not just Jodhaa Akbar. It can even be the role he played in Guzaarish. It can even be the role that he is going to play now in Kaabil. He always attempts to do many different things and tries to do them with a lot of conviction. So for me, for Mohenjo Daro, he was the first choice.

You chose a newcomer for the part of the leading lady. Why did you go in this direction and what was it about Pooja that led you to cast her?
For quite some time, we were looking for the right choice. Someone who can have dignity and grace, and hold a shot without having to have dialogue. That was a task until my wife, Sunita, spotted Pooja in an ad and she was very good. We called her in and I did a couple of scenes with her, and she’s extremely sharp on the uptake. Essentially, a director wants an actor who understands what they are trying to convey, adapt it, internalize it, and then give it body. I thought she did very well, it came very naturally to her. And of course, went through the grind of making her do a song to see how good her performance was, how graceful she was.

The storyline of the film is a blend of politics and romance. Because the focus of the film is the civilisation itself, do you feel you could have made the film without the romantic aspect?
No, I feel I couldn’t have, because when you choose a culture like this, a civilisation, then certain common elements come into play. One is, there has to be a hero, there has to be villain, and there has to be a heroine. Those are the three necessary ingredients. Within that, the romance becomes very important because otherwise, it is difficult to convince an audience of a civilisation. And there are many instances throughout other movies that have been made, even in Hollywood, where they have done it without these ingredients, and the films haven’t worked. Because somewhere, I think, when we go out to see a movie, we want to be entertained, and it needs to be really wholesome entertainment. I don’t think I would have made this film without the romance. 

Mohenjo Daro releases in cinemas on 12th August 2016

Diva Navlakha

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