Ashutosh Gowariker’s historical drama, Mohenjo Daro hit the big screens on Friday. Starring Hrithik Roshan and Pooja Hegde, the film is an attempt by Gowariker to recreate the Indus Valley civilisation. This is the first time any filmmaker has sought to create cinema based on the historic sites of Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. The director spoke to IndianExpress.com about the challenges of working on the history for a filmmaker, the process and time that went in researching for the film and also what fascinated him most about the history of the period.
As a filmmaker, what is the biggest challenge in presenting history to people?
There are two things that I consider most important while making a film on history. First, is it relevant for our times? Can the audience relate with it? Second, it needs to be presented in an entertaining manner. These are the two biggest challenges.
What would you say is the difference between the way an academician approaches history and the way a feature filmmaker approaches it?
When I am making a movie, I am not to be considered a historian or an archaeologist. The movie cannot be seen as a reference point for students. It can never be so. When a historian works on a period, there is more gravity attached to it. He can make revelations. Before making Jodhaa Akbar, I had approached historian Irfan Habib and he asked me to go out and make the movie. He asked me to not worry about what historians would have to say. That is the best piece of advice anyone has given me.
There are several theories on Mohenjo Daro and nothing is known for sure. How did you come to the conclusion on what to put in the film?
When I am weaving a story I have to choose interpretations. When historians choose interpretations, they are dialectically opposite each other. If one says south, the other says north. It is not possible to bring together everything in the film. So I had to pick and choose. I chose the interpretation made by Jonathan Mark Kenoyer who is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I chose his theory since I could relate with it best and because I am not a believer of the Aryan invasion theory.
How long did you conduct research on the subject?
I spent two years conducting research. I invited Jonathan Mark Kenoyer to visit me in Mumbai. Apart from him I invited five other archaeologists that included RS Bisht , former director general of the Archaeological Survey of India and Vasant Shinde, professor of South Asian Archaeology and hosted a seminar with them. After that, I plotted the story and got their approval. Once the set was built in Bhuj, I took them all to visit it. So I worked very closely with them since I know that their work is very valuable for the film.
What did you find most fascinating about the history of Mohenjo Daro?
What I found most fascinating was the way trade was carried out with places as far as Mesopotamia and Egypt. Dholavira was a port where the ships would be docked and the traders moved from there. We were, in fact, more advanced than other civilisations. I have tried to accommodate all of this in the movie.
Lagaan was set in modern India, Jhodhaa Akbar in Mughal India and now Mohenjo Daro in ancient India. Which film did you find most challenging to make and why?
I would straight away have to say Mohenjo Daro since it is prehistory. No written sources are available and everything is speculation. How do you create a whole world out of mere speculation? For other movies, there were so many books and other written sources I could refer to.
What is the inspiration for Hrithik’s and Pooja’s characters in the film?
These characters have been created out of the artifacts discovered in Mohenjo Daro. For instance, a seal had been excavated which showed a man playing the drum. Hrithik’s character is based on it. Then there are a number of seals with women characters and female figurines which have been referred to as fertility goddesses. Pooja’s character is somewhat based on this idea of the female goddesses. I have shown her as the chosen one.