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Aamir Khan on 20 Years of Lagaan: Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar had Warned Me Not to Take a Big Risk

Lagaan poster.

Lagaan poster.

As Lagaan completes 20 years today, Aamir Khan takes us back to the time he decided to become a producer with this huge film and the risks it entailed.

For a first time producer, Lagaan was a huge film to take on. But Aamir Khan made no compromises as he embarked on the project. Reminiscing about the film’s making ahead of Lagaan’s 20 year completion, the actor-filmmaker shared interesting memories and anecdotes during a virtual interaction. One of the incidents he shared was about Karan Johar and Aditya Chopra expressing concern over the risk he was about to take with the filmmaking process.

Aamir narrated, “When I had decided to make Lagaan, I knew I was taking on a huge challenge because it’s a very unusual film, very demanding. Just a few weeks before I left for shooting, I met with Adi Chopra and Karan Johar. They are very good friends of mine and they were genuinely concerned. They said, ‘You are making such a big film as your first production, shooting in single schedule and using sync sound. Shoot for 30 days, and see how it turns out. Don’t go single schedule, you’ll have no time to correct your mistakes. Don’t do sync sound, because no one has done it for the longest time. It will delay your shooting. Get dialogues dubbed later, be sensible.’”

But Aamir did not listen to their advice, rather, they ended up following Aamir’s way of filmmaking. “I had actually wanted to do sync sound and single schedule shooting for at least five years before that. I had been telling directors since 1995 to do sync sound because the emotion that I was creating while shooting was being wasted, and then I had to recreate that same emotion while dubbing. These were things I had always wanted to try as an actor and my producers would not listen to me. They were not confident of doing it. So when I became producer, I said main toh karunga. I brought in the single schedule shoot, sync sound and also the first AD system.”

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Apoorva Lakhia was brought as the first assistant director for Lagaan. “One of the reasons he was locked as the first AD was because he was Gujarati. We needed someone to be able to communicate with the local people in Kutch where we were shooting. It was a big film to handle as the first AD, and he did a great job. He has become a director now,” Aamir said.

The experiment he did as a producer ultimately made a big difference to Aamir’s career. “It has now been 20 years and I’ve only done sync sound since then. All my films are shot in a single schedule, and have a first AD system. And as a comic aside, let me also add that after advising me not to do all these things, Adi and Karan follow exactly this. They shoot in one schedule, with sync sound and and they all have first AD systems,” he said.

“As an actor, it dramatically changed my life. Suddenly, all the films I was doing were single schedule, I was able to work on the character and prep properly. Earlier, I used to dub each film, and struggle to recreate a good scene in the dubbing studio. So being a producer has actually made a big difference to my acting career, because I was able to bring in these processes that changed my life as an actor,” he added.

When asked to pick one thing that has remained with him from that time, Aamir picked his ex-wife Reena Dutta’s commendable transformation from filmmaking novice to a competent producer. Aamir and Reena were married for 16 years before they divorced in 2002. When Aamir decided to become a producer for the first time with Lagaan, he sought Reena’s help as someone he could rely on.

“One thing that has remained with me is how Reena handled the film. Reena, my ex-wife, was the producer on the film. She had no knowledge about filmmaking until then. Though she was married to me for several years, she had no interest in films. So when I had requested her to help me in producing the film, she said ‘I don’t know anything about filmmaking, what can I help you with?’ I said you can try and learn and you can be someone who I trust completely and depend on,” Aamir narrated.

“She was very sporting, she said, ‘Okay, I’ll learn.’ And she learned everything. She met Subhash Ghai, Manmohan Desai and other producers, directors, technicians to understand what is filmmaking. She learned on her own, cracked it, and produced a film as if she’s a veteran. That is something that I remember always in my life. I still wonder how she did that,” he said.

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