It has been more than 45 years since we last saw a grandiose production of the Mughal empire featuring Hindi cinema’s leading stars. In 1960 it was Dilip Kumar and Madhubala in K Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam. In 2008 it is Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai in Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Jodhaa Akbar.
On a special show on CNN-IBN, Entertainment Editor Rajeev Masand tries to find out how one of the most eagerly awaited films of this year grew from just an idea to reality. Meet the core team of the film – Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai and Ashutosh Gowarikar.
Rajeev Masand: Let me begin with Ashutosh. The idea of this film has been with you for four years, from the time you wanted to tell the story to the release of the film. How has it been?
Ashutosh Gowarikar: The story first came to me way back in 2002 but when I heard it I realised it needs a lot of preparation. So, I thought let me finish Swades and then Haider Ali (the writer of the Jodhaa Akbar) and I worked on the movie.
Rajeev Masand: What was it about the story that made you say yes to it?
Hrithik Roshan: That is an interesting story by itself. The drama was told to me as if it was a contemporary corporate world empire and alliance kind of film. So, that was the way he (Ashutosh) sold it to me. And he did that to make sure that I react to the drama and content of the film. He didn’t want me to get enticed by the decorative aspects of a period film.
Aishwarya Rai: It wasn’t about what the film was going to be set against – not about costume, jewellery and palaces.
Rajeev Masand: For someone who is a veteran in period films. Was it a challenge to make this a different film?
Aishwarya Rai: That is just in the visual styling like how we would see Jodhaa look physically as opposed to how characters were in the past. In that sense this was definitely a first for me.
Rajeev Masand: I read something in which you once said: In life it is all about the women and it was no different for Akbar.
Hrithik Roshan: Luckily this story was about Akbar’s first step towards that direction. There is only one woman in his life during the movie. Eventually he had a lot of fun but… Luckily we stopped the film at the right juncture.
Call in question - Aneesha, Columbus: I saw your earlier interview with Rajeev Masand in which said that the love story between Jodhaa and Akbar was not documented. So, is this fiction or do you have historical proof that a love story existed in reality?
Aishwarya Rai: Obviously there would have been a love story between a husband and wife. The reason we are referring to this as a romantic epic and not a historical saga is because it is not a documented history piece. The story of Jodhaa and Akbar has not been written anywhere, so we don’t know what really transpired in their emotional equation with each other.
Rajeev Masand: How did you remove the modern element in you and put yourself in place of people who existed so many years ago?
Hrithik Roshan: There is a pressure and need to read up because you feel responsible that you are going to portray someone who is an important part of our history. I discovered more and more about Akbar as I got more involved with the role.
Aishwarya Rai: My approach to the character was also similar. But probably having done a couple of movies which have references before, I sort of knew the character that Ashutosh had conceived. The most wonderful thing that he could do was take us to the actual set in Karjat where we actually felt like we belonged to that era. There were no cars honking, it was such a removed place that it actually took us to another time.
Rajeev Masand: Hrithik, you used to take the helicopter to Karjat.
Hrithik Roshan: Yes, sometimes.
Aishwarya Rai: Yes, that is because he is the king while I trudged along in my palki which was my car (laughs).
Call in question – Imtiaz from Florida: Hrithik, is your moustache real or fake in the movie?
Hrithik Roshan: Imtiaz, the moustache is real.
Call in question – Imtiaz from Florida: Aishwarya, who is your favourite co-star except Hrithik and Abhishek?
Hrithik Roshan: Sir, thank you for including me in that list.
Aishwarya Rai: Since you have decided for me that Abhishek and Hrithik are my main favourites, I suppose you can take the gamut of co-stars that I have worked with.
Bangalore audience question: Aishwarya, how was it for you to appear in Oprah’s late night show and did she give you an autographed picture after the interview?
Aishwarya Rai: Yes, I did receive a picture from her and it was a fantastic experience. And even more so is the experience of sitting with this incredible audience and talking to you. It’s wonderful to speak to you directly.
Bangalore audience question: Hrithik, is this your toughest role to date and was it difficult to portray a historical character?
Hrithik Roshan: I think all the roles that I have done are the toughest at that point of time. But I guess that is what makes an actor’s journey exciting and interesting.
Bangalore audience question: Ashutosh, we all know that Lagaan was nominated for an Academy Award, do you feel Jodhaa Akbar can also reach those heights?
Ashutosh Gowarikar: First of all let me tell you that the film is not intentioned to be for any festival or award. What is important is that you all should like the film. Appreciation for the film comes first and then everything else follows.
Call in question – Saba Khan from Pakistan: Aishwarya how do you react to the negative criticism towards you which is often harsh and unfair?
Aishwarya Rai: Let us put it this way, we (I am saying ‘we’ because a lot of my colleagues also say this) have the ability to pickup what is constructive because it helps us hone our own craft. We do our bit in a movie but at the end of the day the audience’s and the critics’ opinion is also given. So we sieve it, and apply what is good for our growth.
Delhi audience question: Hrithik, how was it to work with Aishwarya before and after marriage?
Hrithik Roshan: Well, I am married as well. So, I think I should propagate this thought that marriage actually makes everything work even better. And if at all there was a change in her then we can see that in the making of this film. Aishwarya is one of the most selfless actors I have worked with. So, it’s great to work with someone who is not always concerned about her role in isolation as opposed to the big picture of filmmaking.
Aishwarya Rai: I completely second that for Hrithik as well. I think that’s what you all call onscreen chemistry. We truly enjoy working with each other.
Delhi audience question: The movie has a number of action scenes in it. Did you have to go through a particular process or follow a regime to get that look?
Hrithik Roshan: Yes, that is the story of my life. I always manage to get attached to films that require a huge amount of physical training. So now if I don’t have it I think I would miss it.
Delhi audience question: What difference do you see in women in your times and the era that Jodhaa belonged to?
Aishwarya Rai: You know I found it very interesting that a woman may be set in any era but a woman is a woman. She transcends time and that is so simply portrayed in this romantic story.
Delhi audience question: Ashutosh, you have worked with Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan and now Hrithik Roshan. How would you rate them in terms of acting?
Ashutosh Gowarikar: In case of Aamir and Shah Rukh, I have been a co-actor with them during my acting years. So, there was a lot of familiarity when I directed them. I knew their acting styles. If you look at Aamir he is someone who is very methodical in his approach towards acting. He wants everything on paper before he gives his first shot.
Shah Rukh is someone who is a combination of getting the basic information and then applying himself spontaneously on the set. I did not know Hrithik personally but right from the times when I went through the reading of the script with him I realised that he is a combination of Aamir and Shah Rukh. He is very meticulous, has a very good ear to pick up things and then is spontaneous with what he has. He always surprised me with his skills.
Chandigarh audience question: As an actor how difficult has this movie been compared to your previous work?
Hrithik Roshan: All the films that I have done have been a challenge for me. And that has been a matter of choice because I believe that if you are not challenged enough then you can never discover your true potential as a human being. So consciously or subconsciously I have chosen films that have scared the hell out of me like Koi Mil Gaya, Krrish, Dhoom and now playing Akbar’s role. Jodhaa Akbar was my biggest challenge. For a month I had asked Ashutosh if he was sure about the cast.
Chandigarh audience question: Is there any character you have played that you personally identify with?
Hrithik Roshan: If I could not find similarities then there is no way that I could be honest with the character. I think the feelings have to resonate within me somewhere.
Mumbai audience question: This question is for both Aishwarya and Hrithik. Now that Jodhaa Akbar is over you obviously know more about the character and the love between them. How similar or different is the love between them from a modern-day romance?
Hrithik Roshan: If you have ever been in love then you would know that it’s magical in its million forms. And Jodhaa and Akbar’s love story is magical. Just the equation they start with and how it slowly changes is beautiful. It’s about being with a person and enjoying yourself without having do to something to enjoy the moment.
Aishwarya Rai: The moments between the two are very simple and pure. It’s very real and not something that is etched out in say page 100 of some romantic novel.
Rajeev Masand: Battle scenes, animals, horses, elephants and the works. How was it? I remember Ash saying that she enjoyed whatever she did.
Aishwarya Rai: I didn’t have enough action scenes, I didn’t get to fight an elephant. Hrithik got all of that to do.
Hrithik Roshan: But action and Ash go really well together. She is a complete action girl. She needs to wear a cape soon.
Rajeev Masand: We believe you got injured while shooting the film.
Hrithik Roshan: I always get injured, that’s the story of my life. If you have to run then I suppose you have to fall sometime.
Rajeev Masand: This time it was the knee?
Hrithik Roshan: Knee, shoulder…choose your joint. I have had it all.
Mumbai audience question: As an actor you have turned down a lot of movies. I know you refused Dil Chahta Hai, Swades and Rang De Basanti, do you regret turning them down?
Hrithik Roshan: All those films went on to become big successes. So I feel every film has its own destiny and I think I sort of give a push in the right direction.
Rajeev Masand: Ashutosh you once said that it is very important for a film like Jodhaa Akbar to do well, not just for the sake of the movie but so that more films in this genre are made. Do you believe the success of this film will affect other filmmakers?
Ashutosh Gowarikar: The industry and the audience needs to grow complimenting each other. It means if Hrithik and Aishwarya back an epic of this kind then there would be more actors who would do such kind of films.
Rajeev Masand: What will you miss the most about the sets of Jodhaa Akbar?
Hrithik Roshan: It has been a gratifying journey. Everybody was so motivated that it was brilliant working for it all. And of course it was all instilled and inculcated by Ashutosh.
Aishwarya Rai: Ashutosh is the Mr Nice Guy. He does not get bogged down by any situation.
Rajeev Masand: Every actor speaks very well of his co-star before a movie releases but today we will put that to test. Here’s a ‘know your co-star’ test. Let’s take it.
Q: Dhoom 2 wasn’t the first time that Hrithik starred with Abhishek Bachchan. Name the previous film they did together.
Aishwarya: Main Prem Ki Diwani Hoon. (Right)
Q: Hrithik has done two films with your father-in-law Amitabh Bachchan. Name them.
Aishwarya: Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham and Lakshya (Right)
Q: Apart from Dhoom 2 and Jodhaa Akbar, which both of you have starred in together, there is only one director that both of you have worked with but in separate films.
Aishwarya: Subhash Ghai (Right)
Q: Opposite which actress has Hrithik done the maximum films?
Aishwarya: Kareena (Right)
Q: Which was Hrithik’s first film as a hero?
Aishwarya: Kaho Naa Pyar Hai (Right)
Q: Aishwarya’s debut film was Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar. Which movie was her first Hindi release?
Hrithik: Aur Pyar Ho Gaya (Right)
Q: Which was the first English film that Aishwarya starred in?
Hrithik: Bride and Prejudice (Right)
Q: In Mohabbatein Ash played Amitabh Bachchan’s daughter, in Khaki he played a cop whom she was deceiving, in Kyun Ho Gaya Na he played her uncle. In which movie did Bachchan play Aishwarya’s brother?
Hrithik: Hum Kissi Se Kum Nahi (Right)
Q: What was the name of the character she played in Dhoom 2?
Hrithik: Sunehri (Right)
Q: What was Aishwarya’s last Hindi film release?
Hrithik: Guru (Right)