Om Raut: When making a historical, you must maintain the sanctity of the characters.

director Om Raut , who made his directorial debut with the marathi movie Lokmanya: Ek Yugpurush (2015), is ready to enter Bollywood with Tanhaji : The Unsung Warrior. The movie maker, who has produced movie s like City Of Gold (2010), Haunted 3D (2011), spoke to BT about working with Ajay Devgn in the magnum opus & making a movie that’s mounted on a huge canvas. Excerpts:

What drew you to make your first Hindi movie on Tanhaji Malusare?

In 2007, when I was studying in the US, I saw Zack Snyder’s 300 (2007). I was completely mesmerised by it. Until that day, I didn’t know who Leonidas (King of Sparta, played by Gerard Butler) was. When I stepped out of the theatre, I wondered why we don’t make such movie s. We have so many interesting historical characters & their stories deserve to be told. The first personality that came to my mind was Subedar Tanhaji Malusare.

You thought about making the movie in 2007, while it is releasing in 2020. That’s quite a long wait...I wanted to make Tanhaji : The Unsung Warrior before my first directorial, but I couldn’t get Ajay Devgn at that point of time. I was sure that I wanted to make this movie with him. So, after my first Marathi movie , I began working on it. That year, Baahubali: The Beginning (2015) released & it gave me the confidence that we, too, can make movie s on such a huge scale.

You were keen that Ajay plays this role. How confident were you that he would agree to do the movie ?

When I met him, I just had 30 minutes to narrate the idea. After hearing the first half of the story, he asked me, ‘How will you be able to make this movie ?’ I didn’t quite understand his question. He explained, ‘Who is going to pay for it?’ I was clueless. That’s when he said that he would produce it. That was great news for me. I offered to narrate the other half, but he didn’t even go through the second half that day, which showed his confidence in me. He was convinced on hearing just the first half of the script.

Did you expect the movie to be mounted on such a big scale & feature actors like Saif Ali Khan & Kajol ?

Working with Ajay Devgn was very easy. I believe that our styles are very similar. I couldn’t have thought of Saif as Udaybhan Rathod. I approached every actor other than him. Interestingly, not a single actor said no to the role, but I would develop cold feet & then back out from finalising them. One day, Ajay called me & asked me where the villain was. We were fast approaching the time when we would have to start shooting for the movie . It was during the meeting with him that we discussed Saif. Ajay contacted Saif, & two hours later, I was in Saif’s office, & soon enough, he was on board. As for Kajol , when I was thinking of casting for the role of Savitribai ( Tanhaji ’s wife), she did come to my mind. I asked Ajay about it, & he said, ‘Tu Kajol ko bolke dekh phir dekhte hai kya hota hai.’ It is a small role but has a lot of depth.

Después del lanzamiento del trailer, la apariencia de Saif como Udaybhan se comparó with la apariencia de Ranveer Singh como Alauddin Khilji en Padmaavat (2018) ...

I wrote the character much before I had seen Padmaavat. I believe that there could be parallels drawn, but I don’t think there are any similarities between the two. What Ranveer & Sanjay sir (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) had done in Padmaavat is different. In fact, Udaybhan is louder.

Legend has it, Tanhaji brought along his pet ghorpad (monitor lizard) that could cling to rocks. A rope was tied around the lizard & it was made to climb up the cliff, paving the way for the soldiers to climb holding them. Is that depicted in the movie ? Also, what went into the research to make this movie , which is based on the Battle of Sinhagad?

The reference of a ghorpad came from a powada (ballad) written in 1839, by an unknown author. This incident happened in 1670, while 1830 is the backdrop of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. At that time, artistes were creating awareness about the freedom struggle. I think that Indians believe in animism. According to me, that is where the domesticated monitor lizard comes in. However, we did take some cinematic liberties in the movie , in order to satisfy both the sides. This is a historical movie , & someone or the other will react or oppose it. As far as the research is concerned, we read various books & referred to other material that was available to us. However, for inferences like these, you have to create, derive, get inspired & bend the narrative in other ways. While making a historical, you have to make sure that you do not tarnish or distort anything. You have to maintain the sanctity of the characters.

Your first movie was based on Bal Gangadhar Tilak, while your second is about Tanhaji Malusare. Which personality from the pages of our history do you plan to focus on next?

I am done with the historical genre for now. No more shooting with swords & shields for me (laughs!). My next Hindi movie is of a different genre. I will start working on it soon.