Decoding the world of Mohenjo Daro | Ashutosh Gowariker - Exclusive Interview

Ashutosh Gowariker is undoubtedly one of India's most celebrated directors. The maverick film maker is best known for films that celebrate the nation's rich history with grandeur and interesting narratives. In a career that spans across two decades, the actor - director and producer has won accolades, awards and global praise for his films. After a hiatus of six years, with an exception of his telly series debut - Everest, Gowariker is back with yet another gem, featuring Hrithik Roshan and newbie Pooja Hegde in the lead. The film, titled Mohenjo Daro, is based on the life and times of the people living in the Indus Valley Civilisation - an era that we've all been introduced to through books, but have never experienced on the big screen. As the film gets ready for a grand release this Friday, we met the director for an insightful chat at his beautiful office in suburban Mumbai. Excerpts from the conversation: 

Why were you keen on exploring the era of Mohenjodaro through your film?
Mohenjodaro is our first civilisation. While scripting the film, I was looking at it as a civilisation set 4000 years ago. Recent developments suggest that the civilisation was set 8000 years ago. So, it truly was one of the very first civilisations. We need to take great pride in that fact and make ourselves aware about what this civilisation was all about, who were the people and what times were they living in. We need to go beyond the little paragraphs in our school textbooks and artefacts stare at us in the museum. My aim was to give it a visual splendour and allow the India of today to get a taste of what it was like to live in the Mohenjodaro era. 

How do you aim to form a connect between the youth of today, and the Mohenjodaro era?
We have all been in awe of films based on Roman or Greek civilisation, filled with grandeur and larger than life sets, but we never gave importance to a civilisation that was set in our very own country. The film does have relevance to today’s times, which I have tried to imbibe in the script. There is a sense of connect, which I hope the audience will have.

What is it about the Indus valley civilisation that attracted you the most?
The very fact that this is about a world that we all don’t know much about is what attracted me most to it. It’s pre-history, an era that has nothing written about. The period comes between stone age & iron age. Somewhere, you can compare that to the period between Nokia and iPhone, which had a Blackberry in between. The tools, implements, their concepts and it’s evolution was still in a very transient stage. I found that very exciting. It was a world where inventions happened. It’s a world where people are still trading with precious stones, like a Lajward (Lapis lazuli). It’s a completely different business module, which was fascinating. So, for me even getting into this era, by the way of this script, was to discover all these aspects.

What were your references for the costumes and looks of the characters in Mohenjo Daro?
All our references for the character looks were the figurines found from Mohenjodaro, Harappa and across all the excavations, even the ones in India like Kali Bangan, Rakhigarhi among others. With the help of archaeologists and the figurines, we imagined each aspect, right from the headdress to the clothes, and then built it from there. Precious stones were mostly worn as jewellery, by both men and women. We stuck to dhoti for men, as it is one of the oldest styles, though the draping style was changed. So, we tried to built things by not just depending on the figurines or our imagination, but also took inspiration from the oldest records that we had. Sites like the Ajanta - Ellora caves and even several frescoes were studied. 

What was your research for creating the sets like?
For the sets, we first started off by working with the archeologists. Each one of them specialised in different faculties, ranging from urban city planning, to pottery among others. We did a lot of research with them. Since these were facts, we had to ensure things looked  exactly the same size. The Great Bath that we see in the song Tu Hai, is exactly the same size as it was in Mohenjo Daro. So, we tried to stay true to all the facts that we had in front of us and did justice to it. 

Almost all your films have explored Indian history or have had the essence of India as it's core. Does that come from the fact that you take a lot of pride in being an Indian, and take a lot of inspiration from it's rich past?
Of course, I do take a lot pride in our rich history. There are so many eras, dynasties and parts of the country. They all have a tale to tell. So much, that I don’t know how they can all be told on the big screen. There are so many monuments; palaces and forts that are left behind, which you can look at with splendour. Most of us are only familiar with the Mughal era or the British Raj, because of the history we are taught or what the monuments that we see. But, if you travel to the interiors of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa or many other states, you will realise that there is so much more. The Gajapathies, Krishnadevraya; empires that were so massive and existed at a time. But then, they are just confined to a few pages in the history books. We haven’t got a cinematic rendition of it. So, if I get enamoured by a particular period and tell that story well, I feel good. Ultimately, no matter how good your sets are and how well you create the costumes, it all boils down to a good story to make a film work. The former are all embellishments, but what matters is the story and how well it is weaved along with the characters.

As a director, which project would you consider as the most challenging one?
Without a doubt, Mohenjodaro has been the most challenging film of my career as a director. In the case of Mohenjodaro, I am trying to show how the system started. If you look at  Lagaan, Jodhaa Akbar or for that matter, any other film of mind, you will realise that there are books, research materials available for reference. Be it the British Raj or the Mughal era, you know there is something that you can lean on, and then imagine the rest. Here, 90% of the work involved creating a world with your own imagination, and 10% was available through research, archaeological facts, excavations among others. So, it was humongous. You know, the manners and morals of the society, costumes, structure of the houses among others. 

Any concept that you were keen to explore?
Buddha was something that I wanted explore right after Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey. We had started work on it, but the project had to be aborted due to some reasons. That’s when I started Everest and then moved on scripting Mohenjodaro. I haven't thought about Buddha again. The inspiration to get back to the idea needs come naturally to me.

Creating a different world takes a lot out of the director. Now that the film is complete and ready for release this week, what are your future plans?
I definitely need a break before I start working on my next project. It takes time to create a whole new world, and you need the same amount of time to go away from it. You need to get back to a state where the hard drive is completely empty (laughs) and one needs to reboot, before starting something fresh. I have been reading a lot of stuff and toying with some ideas, but haven’t zeroed in on anything particular for my next project.

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Priya Adivarekar

Priya Adivarekar - Founder and Creative Director at Diary of a Dancebee. She is also a renowned Voice Actress and award winning artiste, with serious passion for dance. When not working round the clock, she can be seen reading, enjoying a movie-binge or listening to music.
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