Veteran actor Raghubir Yadav is turning the clock back two decades ago on Lagaan’s 20th anniversary. A film which put every actor through screentest, invited him on board directly. He shares that he took to the hot climate of Bhuj, Gujarat with ease as it wasn’t new to him owing to his humble background.
Yadav says, “It was made during a period of five-and-a-half months. Initially, it was a schedule of three-and-half-months, but it got extended. The way Aamir (Khan) handled the production is commendable. Managing such a huge cast and close to 1500 people on set everyday is not easy. But nobody was lagging behind. The entire team created such a nice atmosphere that we did not realise how time flew by. After being part of Lagaan, I used to feel every film should be made in a similar manner. If someone works hard on something and it turns out to be a success, it’s natural for a person to desire more. During the shoot of the film, I learnt that greed should be kept separate from hard work. One’s focus should be on the work only, not on the result. It will turn out to be beneficial."
Yadav shares why Lagaan feels timeless. “Whenever you mention Lagaan, exploitation comes to mind. It has not gone out of practice. The name has changed but ‘vasooli’ (recovery) continues. That is why the film feels fresh even today. I can’t believe 20 years have passed since it was released. It feels like it was yesterday."
Yadav also opens up on how he was offered Lagaan and where he saw the potential in it. “I spoke to Aamir when we were doing Earth. He told me about a film he was making and asked if I wanted to do it. I was up for it because I really loved his style of working. Lagaan was going to be the first film under his banner. He never told me about the script or what character I was doing. Later, I was invited to the reading. I was late for it and I remember that all the cast was present there. After the first meeting, I had a feeling that this was going to turn out to be something special. They had not seen the location till then. Ashutosh (Gowariker) said this film would not be made inside a set. We’d have to run away from the city. Otherwise it would not have that flavour."
He continues, “Set designer Nitin Desai went to Bhuj and created such a wonderful and realistic set that when we started living there, we did not feel like leaving that place. I am from a theatre background and I don’t enjoy too much comfort. I love working in difficult conditions. You have to bear the burden of responsibility. We focused not on filming but on living there as villagers. Film kept on getting made."
On making the character of Bhura his own, Yadav says, “A lot of village characters feel like they are my own. I have grown up with them. I am a farmer myself and knew about the concept of ‘lagaan’. While doing Parsi theatre, I travelled extensively in UP, Rajasthan and Bihar. Observing characters is a part of my job. I try to read not just people’s external behaviour but their souls as well. I enjoy this process. The era of Lagaan and the life I have lived are not very distinct. I did not have to struggle in the role. Chicken was raised in my neighbourhood. For me, it was something that I have lived and experienced up close and personal."
Lagaan was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 74th Academy Awards. About this accolade, Yadav shares, “We never thought of going this far. If your heart is in the right place and you work hard, you’ll reach there. I expected the National Awards for Lagaan but never thought of making it to the Oscars. An Indian film in the Oscars. Frankly, I never expected that."
Yadav also had his appendix removed during the Lagaan schedule. After undergoing surgery and missing from the shoot for about a week, he returned on the set and used to rest in between shots. He shares, “They had cut my stomach in three-four places. A five inch mark is still there. I don’t mind it. It’s a mark from Lagaan that I will always have. I am not in the Radha Kaise Na Jale song if you notice. That was shot at the time I was hospitalised. When I returned, I used to shoot my portions and lie down again."
What remains of Lagaan with him? “Rarely, a film is made with an atmosphere like Aamir and Ashutosh had created. Actors give their shot and return back the next day with a clean slate. It felt like we belonged there. After this, I always missed this feeling. An outdoor schedule usually lasts for one month. By the time we get used to the surroundings, the film is complete."
His message for Lagaan fans on the film’s 20th anniversary is clear. “Don’t be lazy. Work hard and success will be yours. If you get things easily, the enjoyment will be missing. Keep learning and growing. Don’t just look at your strengths, but also at your weaknesses," Yadav signs off.