The just-released Hindi film, Aladin, has at least 1,600 visual effects, many so sophisticated and subtle that they are hard to discern. British visual effects guru Charles Darby, who has worked as part of the effects team for Hollywood juggernauts such as Titanic and Matrix, led the 200-strong visual effects team that made Aladin happen.
Genie talk: Bachchan with Deshmukh in a still from Aladin; (right) Ghosh on the set.
But that’s not all that makes Aladin special. A contemporary take on the classic story of the boy who struck it big with a magic lamp, the film has a vibrant cast with Riteish Deshmukh as Aladin Chatterjee, Amitabh Bachchan as a genie called Genius and Sanjay Dutt in a supporting role as an evil magician. It also marks the film debut of Sri Lankan beauty queen Jacqueline Fernandez as Jasmine, the object of Aladin’s affections.
Set in present-day India in a fictitious town called Khwaish, the story has protagonist Aladin falling madly in love with Jasmine, a girl who has just joined his college. His attempts to court her are thwarted by his bete noire Kasim. Kasim and his gang bully Aladin, evoking connections to his fairy-tale namesake, making him rub sundry lamps to make a genie appear. One day, a genie does appears and grants him three wishes. Now everyone wants a piece of the genie and plenty of drama unfolds.
This is the third film by director Sujoy Ghosh, who first made his mark with the sprightly Jhankaar Beats six years ago, and then made Home Delivery, which released in 2005 and bombed. Aladin was the opening film at the South Asian International Film Festival in New York that started on Wednesday. After four years spent in the making, all Ghosh can do now is bank on the genie. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What made you take on the classic tale of Aladin?
I wanted to make a summer movie (in industry parlance, a big budget film that appeals to all age groups) with super-sized popcorn value. I was looking for a story that could be set in India and one that would work as a visual spectacle. Aladin worked on all counts.
So the story was incidental to the making of a “visual spectacle”? Would you call this a special effects movie?
No, the story just worked out for us organically. I wouldn’t call it a special effects movie. Effects can only support a story; they can’t make a bad story good. The reason that the special effects are being talked about is because we are targeting a young audience. Besides, the special effects are just one faculty in the wide array of film-making faculties. But yes, it’s exciting because it’s still new for the Indian film scene and offers so much to the director in terms of doability and making things happen on screen.
Tell us about this fantasy town of Khwaish.
We put it together with much labour. The art director Sabu Cyril did a fantastic job. It’s a present-day city but like something you haven’t seen before. The streets are cobblestoned, old heritage buildings still stand strong and the town folk exude a mysterious brand of happiness.
Will this be something like Shekhar Kapur’s ‘Mr India’ then?
That’s one of my icon movies! I hope it gets close. After how badly my last film did, making Aladin has been tough...a big leap of faith for all involved, really.
What did you do before you made ‘Jhankaar Beats’? Are you a product of film school? What’s your cinematic benchmark?
Oh, I worked at a staid corporate job at Reuters. I started writing Jhankaar Beats in my after hours sometime around 1997 and I was pretty damn pleased with the way things turned out. My cinematic benchmark would most definitely be Satyajit Ray.
Ray? But how are your films any similar to his?
I assure you, Ray would have been proud if he saw this! It’s the whole essence of storytelling that I’ve borrowed from him. Ray always said that the director is firstly a storyteller. And so, one must keep the story simple so as to concentrate on telling it well. This story is straight and simple, no complicated subplots or sudden twists.
This film is vastly different from your first two. Do you love fantasy?
I love fantasy in films. It’s important to suspend disbelief when you enter a movie hall...it’s liberating. But in life, you can’t just make wishes. You need to work hard to make them come true. I know that only too well.
Aladin (Hindi) released in theatres on Friday.