Aamir Khan of 'Lagaan'

Aamir Khan is India's biggest star, and knows exactly what it takes to make a hit. So when his writer-director friend Ashutosh Gowariker presented him with the script for Lagaan, Khan (pictured) immediately declined. "Lagaan breaks every rule of mainstream Indian cinema," he says of the story about a band of ragtag villagers in 1893 who play cricket against their British occupiers, trying to win a repeal of the lagaan, or land tax. "First, period films don't work. Second, sports films don't work, either. Third, we have British actors speaking English. And finally, the director is not a success." But Khan couldn't forget the script, and after it brought his wife and parents to tears, Khan not only took the lead, he became a producer. "If I was going to act, I couldn't risk someone making compromises halfway," Khan says. He's used his degree of control over the $5 million budget to bring the film away from the Bollywood assembly line. "Normally, Indian actors work six or eight films at a time, and after we finish shooting, six months later, we record the sound," Khan says. "As an actor, I always thought these things lose my performance, so as a producer, I did things my way" — that is, with a cast and crew undistracted by other projects, and dialogue recorded live. (Not to mention 10,000 extras.) Khan says the film isn't political — "These people didn't care who ruled in Delhi, they just wanted their children not to starve" — but he's proud of its underlying theme. "We show Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, British, everyone coming together," Khan says. "That's what this film is about." Opens May 10.

Photograph by Hardeep Singh Sachdev.

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