|Sonya Jehan in Taj Mahal and (top) with Zulfi Syed in the same film
Is Taj Mahal the costliest Indian film ever made'
In all aspects of canvas, sets, costumes, jewellery, overall production values and also monetarily, Taj Mahal is the costliest visual treat in the history of Indian motion pictures.
But you are not willing to put a figure to it'
I do not think it is right to just say that it cost me Rs 80 crore or Rs 100 crore. People should go to the theatres and find out for themselves and also understand that how many crores have gone into this film.
Why so much money and effort on such a theme'
I am a great lover of history. I am fascinated by the chemistry between people so much larger than life. It has been a kind of childhood obsession for me ' warriors, raiders and the like. I am also a great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, who tried to dominate the world through non-violence.
The concept of Taj Mahal was triggered off nine years back when I visited the monument and watched how a guide was describing the great history attached to the mausoleum in different languages ' French, Japanese, Russian, etc. And everyone from all caste, creed and religion were equally interested in the history and there were moistened eyes from all parts of the world. So I decided to make this film which will be a universal one, not only restricted to the Indian diaspora but also aimed at people throughout the world.
Why had you restricted yourself to only television prior to Taj Mahal'
I had done a film long back called Hadsa, which was much ahead of its time and was appreciated for its slick look and feel. Then I moved on to television because the film industry had come to a grinding halt. I made Tipu Sultan, which of course became synonymous with my brother (Sanjay Khan) unfortunately getting injured and then I made Akbar the Great.
So why celluloid this time'
That's because now the television market has been splintered into hundreds of channels and they cannot afford a film with such production costs. I also wanted to make a concentrated drama of two-three hours of script. For television you need a completely different approach and Taj Mahal's time and subject suited the film medium more. Also, I would like the film to exist for posterity. It is my contribution to future generations, so that they do not lose out on history. It's a deliberate attempt to gift my audience with entertainment that has value.
With the kind of budget you are working on, you could have afforded the so-called big stars. Why did you go for rank newcomers'
I have never succumbed to any industry formula. I have always believed that the director is king and the content surpasses everything. So characterisation is the most important aspect. What appeals to me is the presence of personalities. I would want people to look at Shah Jahan as Shah Jahan and not the so-called big star. I want people to look at Mumtaz Mahal as the real empress and not a shiny, glossy caricature. The authenticity is all that matters.
How did you get Noor Jehan's granddaughter Sonya Jehan to play Mumtaz Mahal'
The daughter of a dear friend of mine was studying with Sonya. When I heard about her, I said that the genes must have an effect or impact on her and she's going to be something else. And that's what it turned out to be.
And what about Zulfi Syed, who has been a model primarily'
He's my answer to Tom Cruise. He has come out with such flying colours in the dynamic role that he has. Zulfi looks the living character of Khurram. Also, I needed my character to grow old and look like Kabir Bedi, who plays the older version. And the resemblance of the two actors is quite unbelievable.
But your trump card remains Naushad's name in the credits as the music director. How did you get him to say yes'
Taj Mahal's music needed a Tansen, Beethoven or Naushad. Since the other two are not living, I was left with the third choice. Naushad has been a very choosy man. He hasn't given music to a film for 12 years. I have of course had the privilege to work with him in both Tipu Sultan and Akbar. So he had realised my passion and sincerity as a film-maker. That was the qualification criterion for him to accept my film. He also loved the story. And Naushad saab has again done the magic. His spirit is so fascinatingly young. The music does not touch the eardrum and bounce back like the current crop of music influenced by the West, but it penetrates the soul.
You have also got Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty to sing'
He is a great man and has never sung a film song. But one call from Naushad saab and he came down to Mumbai from Calcutta. The song was pre-conditionally set to appeal only to the serious audience but surprisingly it has been very popular with the young generation too.
Will the success of Mughal-e-Azam help the prospects of Taj Mahal'
I consider Mughal-e-Azam as the curtain-raiser to Taj Mahal. By doing better than many new films, it has proved that period films can have an impact in today's times. That should work in my favour. I have the greatest of respect for the late K. Asif but even Naushad saab feels that we have a bigger film in terms of sets, costumes and even content.