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February 21, 2000

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'Many top heroines had offered to work in this film'

Aamir Khan in Mela Why did you select Gracy Singh (of teleserial Amanat fame) as your co-star?

Well, a lot of girls were screen-tested for the role. I think Ashutosh must have screen-tested about 50 girls. He feels Gracy suits the role the most, she suits the character the most. And he found her to be both a very good actress and a very good dancer. That's why he cast her.

Are you happy with her performance so far?

Very happy. I think we have done about a month's shooting now and we are very happy and satisfied with her performance. In fact, she reminds me of Vaijayantimala during her earlier phase.

If Lagaan had been made three decades ago, which actress, in your opinion, would have suited the role?

Vaijayantimala.

Considering your status and star value, you could easily opted for an important heroine instead of an inexperienced Gracy. Did you not feel like going against the wishes of your director?

No, it's not like that. How can I be sure that no big heroine would say no to me? Many top heroines had offered to work in this film, though. But I was looking for a heroine befitting the script. Plus, I want to do this film as early as possible, so that I could focus my all attention on it without bothering about anything else. I did not want any disturbance or gaps in shooting.

Among other things, the good thing about Gracy right now is that she is in a position to give all her time to Lagaan and get totally involved in the making of the film. Once you see the completed film, you will agree that it was not a mistake to sign her.

Most of the characters in Lagaan speak a language that is not Hindi. Why is that?

Well, the language we are using in this film is Avadhi. To tell you the truth, though, it is not strictly Avadhi. It's a diluted form of the language because pure Avadhi may not be understood by many people throughout the country. Plus I think it gives the feel of the language spoken by the villagers in this part of the country about a hundred years ago.

Even I am not familiar with the language. But Avadhi is very similar to khadi boli, which is the normal Hindustani that we speak. Yet, because there are very few differences between Avadhi and khadi boli, it is difficult to stick to one particular language.

I instinctively tend to lapse into khadi boli even when I am supposed to be speaking in Avadhi simply because I know the meanings of the lines. So, while talking in Avadhi, I tend to go into khadi boli.

For example, if I have to say Poore ganv meinů Now, in Hindi, I would say Poore ganv meinů In Avadhi too, it is almost the same. The only difference is, in Hindi we say mein and in Avadhi it is ma.

While speaking fast, I start saying mein because I have spoken Hindi all my life. What I am actually supposed to say is ma. So this language thing is there. Besides, I'm playing quite a challenging role in Lagaan.

You have also taken many local people as junior artistes in Lagaan. You have been working with them for about a month now. What made you take this decision? How are they to work with?

I could have brought junior artistes with me from Bombay. But I had already decided that, as far as possible, I would give opportunities to the local people.

I must say I am quite happy with their work. Usually new artistes have problems when facing the camera for the first time. But these local artistes are quite different. They are not only talented; they are also very co-operative and have been working in the film with complete dedication.

In fact, the whole set of the village has been made possible only because of their help. They have understood the script well and they have no problem whatsoever in playing the roles assigned to them.

What is the difference between acting in one's own film and acting in somebody else's film? Do you have to put in more effort when you are a producer as well as an actor?

The effort always has to be 100 per cent, whether one works in one's own film or in somebody else's. I don't think I would have put in less of an effort in Lagaan if someone else had been the producer.

In the last 10 years I have worked in so many different films and with so many different producers and directors. I think my effort has always been 100 per cent. I have never held back in my effort.

But in terms of complete controlů

Yes, I certainly have more control in Lagaan. I can offer a lot more facilities because I am part of the creative team. It is easier for Ashutosh to explain what he wants to me.

I will give you an example. If the director tells the producer that he wants 50 camels, the latter will normally will think of the costs first. He will probably say, "Why not 25? Can't you manage with 25 camels?" Whereas, if he is telling me the same thing -- the director asking the producer to provide 50 camels, that is -- I will not waste time asking him questions because I am also creatively aware why he needs them. Even I will want him to have that creative freedom -- to shoot a scene the way he wants it. The visual should come through the way he wants it.

'It is a blatant lie if you have heard that I charge Rs 20 to Rs 30 million'

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