It was 20 years ago on June 15 that Ashutosh Gowariker’s Lagaan hit the screens. The film swept the nation and even made it to the Oscars shortlist in the Foreign Language category. It’s hard to imagine now, but Lagaan was a huge risk for producer-actor Aamir Khan as back then, period films, stories about cricket, were all a big no-no in the mainstream Bollywood film industry.
Director Satyajit Bhatkal, who was also the driving force behind Aamir’s TV show Satyameva Jayate, chronicled the making of Lagaan in a two-and-a-half-hour documentary called Madness in the Desert that details the hoops the team had to jump to get the film made.
Madness in the Desert aka Chale Chalo: The lunacy of film making went on to win the National Film Award for Best Exploration/Adventure Film. Here are all the interesting titbits we found about the film via the documentary.
1. The climax of Lagaan was shot with a crowd of 10,000 people
The match between the villagers and the Britishers was supposed to be a spectacle and the climax of the film required the kind of crowd that would make it look extraordinary. The makers roped in 10,000 people from the neighbouring towns and villages and brought them to shoot the crowd scenes. Dressing them all and feeding them was a logistical challenge but the team somehow got through it. To cheer the crowds and get them to react joyously as the home team wins the match, Aamir Khan sang “Aati Kya Khandala” and the director captured the crowd’s reaction, which has been included in the film.
2. Ashutosh Gowariker spent a month on bed rest while directing the film
In the midst of shooting, Ashutosh had a back injury that left him on bed rest for a full month. At this point, the film was already behind schedule and was way over budget so the production could not imagine handling another delay. So, Ashutosh decided to direct while laying flat on his back. He would watch the monitor and continued to work.
3. Rachel Shelley and Paul Blackthorne’s tryst with Hindi
British actors Rachel Shelley, who played Elizabeth, and Paul Blackthorne, who played Capt Russell, had most of their dialogues in Hindi but they did not know a word of the language. To get a grasp on the language, the production gave them a Hindi tutor in London and the language lessons took almost six months. In the documentary, Rachel shared that she wanted to learn the intricacies of the language so she could perform with a co-actor and understand what they were saying and so, she ended up learning much more Hindi than just her dialogues, much like her character in the film.
4. The British side won the real match
The premise of Lagaan has Indians going up against the British side and winning the cricket match against all odds. The British cast members were confident that if they actually played a cricket match with the Indian side, they would win and so a match was organised and unlike the film, they actually won.
5. Reema Kagti, Kiran Rao, Apoorva Lakhia worked on Lagaan
Director Ashutosh Gowariker was the captain of the ship but he was ably supported by assistant directors Reema Kagti, Kiran Rao and Apoorva Lakhia. The three ADs became renowned directors later in their careers. Reema Kagti has directed films like Talaash, Gold and Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd. Apoorva Lakhia, who was hired on this film because of his Hollywood experience, went on to direct Hindi films like Shootout at Lokhandwala, Mission Istaanbul and the recent web series Crackdown. Kiran Rao directed the 2011 film Dhobi Ghat.
6. Residential apartments in Bhuj
The film’s cast and crew had to set base in Bhuj but the entire town had only three hotels with only a few rooms and that would not have sufficed the production’s demands. So, the production team rented a building and started setting up residential apartments with air conditioners and geysers for the comfort of the team. The team ended up living there for six months.
7. The strict discipline on the set
The entire team of the film had to leave at the crack of dawn from their residential complex in a bus to reach the set. The rule of leaving at 5 am was such a strict one that one day, producer-lead actor Aamir Khan was left behind. Aamir shared in the documentary that when he reached the set late, he would get looks from other crew members and made to feel guilty for showing up late.