Team Gowariker – Ashutosh and wife Sunita – looks back at a decade since they launched their banner, Ashutosh Gowariker Productions Pvt Ltd (AGPPL), and also provide an insight into the mind of a genius
Box Office India (BOI): This year, your banner Ashutosh Gowariker Productions Pvt Ltd (AGPPL) celebrated 10 years in production. Can you take us through the journey and tell us how it all began?
Ashutosh Gowariker (AG): It has been a long and enjoyable journey so far. I have always believed in a combination of hard work and luck. I had never planned to be in the movie business. Never thought I would become an actor. But when I got the opportunity, I grabbed it. I became an actor! So similarly, I had never imagined that I would get the opportunity to become a director. Three of my co-actors – Deepak (Tijori), Aamir (Khan) and Shah Rukh (Khan) – all knew that I had the desire to direct, and they saw the potential in me. That’s how Pehla Nasha and Baazi got made. I became a director!! Similarly, I had never never imagined that I would become producer. But after Lagaan, when it was time for me to make my next film, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I should produce.
I told her (Sunita Gowariker) that we would turn producer only if she agreed to take charge. That would be a nice synergy as I would take care of direction and she would take care of the other aspects. Thankfully, she said yes and here we are. By all accounts, we should have made more movies in these 10 years, but each of our films took two to three years to make from inception, to pre-production to post. We are very happy that we are here, 10 years later.
BOI: Sunita, what made you say yes to getting into production?
Sunita Gowariker (SG): When he told me he wanted to produce, I asked him why, because it’s a very tricky trade. It’s better to hire out your services and take home a paycheck. I mean, as a creative person, you don’t want your stress levels going through the roof, as production is very stressful. I don’t know whether getting me on board has helped him fulfill his ambition but he does say that he got to make films his way. I told him I would stand by him but I don’t know if that’s how it has worked out as half the time, I am saying, ‘No we can’t do it this way!’ (Laughs) So the plan to produce began with him wanting to make films his way and I stood by him.
AG: Yeah absolutely! Lagaan gave me a huge advantage because without its success I could not have done anything, leave aside becoming producer. I will owe that to Aamir always, for giving me a second chance. I also learnt a lot from my experience with Pehla Nasha and Baazi. While Pehla Nasha was with a new producer, Baazi was with an established one. I have always been an observer. So while I was acting, I was observing directors. Then, while I was doing directing, I was observing producers. That helped a lot.
Our take-off point was not to become producers and make a film but the other way around. The question was: Swades needs to be made, so shall we launch a company and produce it?
BOI: Lagaan was such a big hit and, as Sunita was saying, you could have easily upped your fee and worked as a director. Wasn’t it tempting to cash in on that rather than take such a big risk?
AG: (Laughs) I didn’t see it that way. For me, the driving force to make a film is always the story. Both of us need to feel excited about it to make it into a film. There have been times when we have thought, ‘Oh my God! We just got done with Swades and here comes Jodhaa Akbar, for which the pre-production itself will take three years. Why can’t we just make a simple film?’ But then, when she read the script of Jodhaa Akbar, she agreed that we should invest the time to achieve that.
BOI: Sunita, was it easy or difficult for you to take up production when you did?
SG: It was very difficult. I had observed a lot during the making of Lagaan, especially during the last two months when I stayed with the unit. I knew about the different aspects of filmmaking only from conversations at home. I had no idea what was being thrown at me with regards to the technical jargon. Initially, I had to pretend I knew and am glad I could act as though I knew what was happening!
There were times I had no idea what they were talking about so I would ask Ashutosh at night, ‘Quickly tell me what is this and what is that?’ (Laughs) So, I basically learnt on the job. There were times I would arrive on the sets at 3 am. I needed to know everything from the lowest common denominator otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to run the company. I needed to know the nitty-gritty details like the food that comes on the sets, what is required of the art department, costumes and things like that. So, during Swades, I was almost like a spot boy and that was the only way I could learn. Later, I was able to do a decent job on Jodhaa Akbar because by then I had learnt a few things. But every film brings new challenges and becomes a learning experience.
SG: When we started the company, on one side we acquired an office and on the other we had someone who didn’t know anything about production. Then he (Ashutosh Gowariker) told me one day that we need to go to Wai for a recce.
He said four to five technicians would have to go on the recee and that we had to book a hotel, and things like that. He asked me if I could manage that and I said it wasn’t a big deal. Luckily, I managed the logistics. It came naturally to me and I was surprised. I think he was panicking more than I was at the time.
AG: Look, I like things done a certain way. So, if my crew is checking in at the hotel, there should be someone from production standing in the lobby with the keys and stuff. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was organised systematically.
SG: At the time, I didn’t know his professional side, about how he liked things to be done. I relied on common sense and always have. So if Nitin (Chandrakant Desai) has a plan and says we have done things a certain way for 20 years, so… I would say ‘Yes, Nitin… but no, this makes more sense now and so let’s do it this way.’ And common sense has taken me a long way. These were my initial experiences.
AG: Well, I like to reset everything to zero and start every film afresh. I don’t like to carry the baggage of the previous film, whether successful or not. Swades took three years because Lagaan needed a lot of attention after its Oscar run and the festival rounds that we did. So with Swades, it wasn’t a tough shoot on the first day but I felt that a lot of things could potentially go wrong. It was an unusual feeling. Thankfully, the first day was smooth sailing, especially production-wise. It was quite a tough pre-production, in the sense that we had to film in four villages and make all look like one – Charanpur! Four villages meant that many panchayats, that many more farmers to handle, and she had to manage all that. You know the classic situation in a movie – when there’s a wedding happening and someone walks in and says, ‘Yeh shaadi nahi ho sakti!’. I kept feeling something like that might happen on the first day of the shoot, with someone walking on to the set and saying, ‘Yeh shooting nahi ho sakti hai!’ (Laughs)
SG: Yeah, he panicked.
AG: It was very stressful but it was smooth sailing from there on. We also had a surprise visitor on the first day – Aamir! He was shooting for Mangal Pandey in Wai. He gave the mahurat clap, so that was a special gesture on his part.