The Role of Motivation and Communication:
A Case Study of LAGAAN

Ritesh Srivastava
Institute of Management, Nirma University
S-G Highway, Ahmedabadľ382481

Re Bhaiya Choote Lagaan!


The idea had nearly died; Aamir Khan had out rightly rejected the idea of a period film with such a peculiar subject. He was sure that playing cricket in a period film would not at all appeal to the masses and last but not the least the idea was from a director who was had a jinx of two flop films. One more flop and Ashutosh Gowariker's career would have end with a big full stop.

But Ashutosh was convinced beyond the shadow of reasonable doubt that his idea of making a period film is viable practically as well as commercially. He always believed on intuition rather than on the market and it was his intuition that made LAGAAN, one of the classics in the Indian film history. The Lagaan spirit was not created overnight. It was created with the efforts and sacrifices of hundreds and thousands of people. It's all about, how conviction and communication can make things possible. It's about a unique social experiment in the annals of film making and great life experiences.

Back in 1996, Ashutosh started on with the idea and it took a one whole year to complete writing the script. But still he had to go a long way. No one was ready to put faith in him. Even the most successful writer, Javed Akhtar, India ever had, was sure that it won't work. But Ashutosh had belief in himself and that belief transformed into an epic in January 2001 and for the first time the whole world recognized India for a different reason altogether.

From the very beginning Aamir and Ashutosh were very specific about the project. For any film, the core team one chooses is a make or break decision. Only those who were passionate about the lagan script were in the film. At every stage of forming the crew each and every member had the option to back out if one is not convinced with the any aspect of the film. This was to ensure that there is no loss of commitment at a later stage. Whether it's a poet, painter, musician or any other artiste, everyone works in his own confined space of creativity but being a filmmaker is a different ballgame, one has to align all the aspects of creativity in a single canvas. The importance of the right team and due challenges can't be less importance as this may later turn into a complete fiasco. The importance of the team becomes more important as the film was to be shot in a single schedule and on a single location to maintain the creative energies on fire. The entire film making process was done without any compromises. Acting as a producer for the first time Aamir Khan left no room for finding a middle ground. And after an exhaustive search for 6 months all over India they zeroed on Kutch which was more or less a desert with a normal temperature of 450C and no basic amenities available. The contrast of Kutch with Mumbai in terms of climate, geography, culture and people, can not be greater. Yet Champaner, the village in the film was in Kutch and it was in Kutch that Aamir Khan's production team had to strike roots. The creative team had been told to think BIG, now it was the turn of the production team to match the grandeur of the vision they had. The next thing on hand was to cast the actors and auditioning 100 people to make a team of 11 cricketers was no easy task either. The pre-production work was not going at a single location. Aamir Khan in Mumbai, Ashutosh Gowariker in Kutch and A.R.Rehman in Chennai, everyone was working for the film and the most difficult part was to integrate all these things at a common platform to start the shooting. Even there in Kutch they had to create all the facilities from scratch rather than arranging them. Though the people of Kutch were very hospitable, hospitality was far away from that place. And for Mr.Rao, the production manager, that was the biggest challenge of his life. The toughest thing for him was to convince nearly 2 dozen villagers to lease their land for a year to build the Champaner. They had to hire hundreds of laborers to build the village. Aamir's strategy of bounding with locals and forming a relationship had played far more important role than anyone could have ever imagined.

Out there in England Ashutosh talked to the British cast and provided them with a graphic description of the desert heat and the problems they will have to face during the shoot. Curiously the very fact of facing the adversity heightened the lure of shooting in India. It became a challenge that every actor from England was keen to face. And on 6th January the shoot started with a big roar from the whole unit, Re Bhaiya Choote Lagaan!!!

The Shoot:

The first shot of Lagaan was taken on the morning of 6th January, 2000. The biggest challenge Aamir faced was the task of team building, of creating a working atmosphere in which the mammoth unit fully accepts the leadership of Ashutosh and works as one body and mind to realize the director's vision. Lagaan was different from others in the sense that it was with the hitherto unsuccessful director, an unusual script being treated in an unusual manner, a long schedule in a small town, in hostile climatic conditions and a tough and exacting working culture. The other major challenge they had to take was to finish each and every day according to the already fixed schedule. Everyone in the team had worked in Mumbai in a very flexible work culture where there was no schedule followed. Even short films of one hour take 6 months to complete. But here failing the schedule with a projected budget of 16 crores could have end in fatal repercussions. 

Apoorva lakhia, first assistant director, used to distribute the schedule sheets, using his software, with a declaration that bus will leave at 5 in the morning from the hotel and that would not wait for a single minute, not even for Aamir Khan. And on the very first day the bus left without the heroine, Gracy Singh. Even on the sets, the harangue never used to take a halt. The whole unit worked like a factory. Every activity was defined to the greatest details. Everyone was handled in the same manner, whether it was Aamir Khan or a spot boy. But during all that pressure on Aamir was increasing due to busy schedule and late night meetings which meant the producer was overshadowing the actor.

There was no end of problems with Lagaan. Whether it was the accident of A K Hangal or be it the crew not able to dance on rehman tunes. Every stage had some difficulties which Ashutosh had to overcome. Gujarat being a dry state, it was difficult to keep the crew going because everyone was from a place, Mumbai, where liquor was in a hands reach. But everyone was told that its consumption is totally prohibited and whoever does so will be doing at his own risk. Dinner was served till 10 regardless whether one has a scene next day or not. There was no discrimination, after 10 even Aamir won't get dinner. The shajanand tower, their stay at bhuj was a messy place and there were complaints one after another. But Reema sends out a letter telling everyone that they should treat that place like their home not like a hotel. The message was very well received and everyone started behaving in the required manner. The very next day the veteran actor, A.K.Hangal slipped in bathroom and hurt his backbone. He was having severe pain and was in no way in a condition to shoot. But Hangal, in the autumn of his life may have lost his physical strength, but not his determination. He himself asked to take him to the sets, whatever happens the show must go on. They took him to the sets and he gave every shot with perfection. The whole unit witnessed the triumph of sprit over flesh.

On republic day Aamir hoisted the flag in a tiny school of bhuj with the Lagaanites and the villagers. They sang the national anthem and for the first time they experienced a slice of Bharat which was totally different from India of metros and cosmos.

Meanwhile Ashutosh got an attack of slip disk. He had this problem for a long time and the hectic schedule aggravated that to an extent that he couldn't move. But when going gets tough, tough gets going, so was Ashutosh. He kept on shooting from a portable bed with a mike and monitor through which he could see what all was going.

The next schedule had a gathering of about a thousand villagers for a period of 24 hours. That task was done without any hassles but managing them was a tough task for the unit. Providing them with dhotis and kurtas, making sure that none of them were wearing any modern gadgets, specs etc... was easier said than done. Within few hours of starting the crowd grew restive and threatened to go back. The reason was that they didn't like the way they were asked to do things like where to sit, where to stand and taking off their slippers. But with the intervention of Aamir everything was resolved and gradually they became a part of the Lagaan team. The villagers started admiring them. If they can do it, so can we, was the sentiment.

Ashutosh was doing his task to perfection but that perfection was costing them days behind the schedule. But beyond the shadow of reasonable doubt both Aamir and Ashutosh were sure that it was the best possible way of making a film like Lagaan.

For the final shoot they needed at least 10,000 people which the production team felt was next to impossible. But there was no room for compromise; it had to be at least 10,000. The area of Kutch spreads to around 50,000 kilometers, bigger than Denmark or Netherlands. But at the end, with the efforts of Mr. Rao, they managed to bring the crowd to the field from far off corners. The D-day starts, the final day of the match. The production team was busy handling a crowd of thousands which was growing impatient minute by minute because they were not watching a game of cricket but discreet shots here and there which were not making any sense to them. Gradually the mob psychology took over and it became very difficult to handle them. They started moving here and there, some of them even removed their dhotis and kurtas and started relaxing. The production team tried to communicate how important it was to be dressed in traditional clothes but no results. And at that moment Aamir came up with a mike singing 'aati kya khandala', the whole crowd gave an almighty roar and in a moment everything was in place. The climax was canned without any further hiccups.

Lagaan was screened for the first time on 15th June, 2001 at Suncity, South Africa. A lot of people were present in suncity at that time and everyone's reaction was the same. They couldn't believe what they were seeing. The screening at suncity was a huge success and reports from India were ecstatic. The 'weird story about villagers in british raj' had captured the soul of India. Lagaan sweeps all the trophies at all the Indian film industry awards. Lagaan was selected as India's official entry for Oscars.

Ironically Ashutosh and Aamir were unable to fully enjoy all this. Somehow making the film had taken out too much out of them, and then with the end of the journey they were left with a feeling of emptiness. The big thing about Lagaan was that what happened off the screen was much larger than what was happening on screen.

Bhatkal, Satyajit , The Spirit of Lagaan, Popular Prakashan, 2002,

ISBN 81-7991-003-2.

Ritesh Srivastava
Institute of Management, Nirma University
S-G Highway, Ahmedabadľ382481

Source : E-mail July 10, 2005




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