There isn’t a challenge that Anurag Basu hasn’t faced, and knocked out of the park. From failures to memorable larger-than-life films, the director who is famous for having the script in his head, comfortably communicates all that’s on his mind right now.
We all had to-do lists, plans, and goals to achieve in 2020. At that moment, 2020 said, “hold my beer”, and locked us all in quarantine. One of the things on my to-do list was to have a conversation with Anurag Basu. The director has had a phenomenal journey. He began his career with television, and successfully transitioned to feature films. He battled cancer, came back stronger, and made even more memorable, larger-than-life films. Jagga Jasoos (2017) was much awaited, but the movie failed at the box office. However, the failure didn’t bog him down. Instead, he went to make an even more ambitious film, Ludo, with a huge star cast. Ludo was initially supposed to have a theatrical release in April, but with the lockdown, the release was pushed indefinitely. It then made it to Netflix’s list of releases. I finally got a chance to talk to the elusive director, and it was worth the wait.
The lockdown took all the fun out of the festivities this year. How was the experience of celebrating Durga Puja at home?
I missed going to different pandals. Otherwise, my life remained unaffected during the pandemic. Yes, we missed out on the big celebrations, but then we lived it through many family Zoom calls. It was funny to see people getting ready in the house for no reason, sirf drawing room se bedroom tak chal ke jaa rahe hain, sajdhaj ke. (laughs).
By naming your new film Ludo, are you drawing parallels with life?
Of course. There are many parallels between life and Ludo. The voiceover in the trailer also highlights that. Ludo is life. Life is Ludo. For instance, we all want to get a six on a dice, and hit it out of the park. Even if the dice/life serves you a 1, you still have to move ahead in the game of Ludo/in life. You don’t leave the game just because the odds are stacked against you. You will get to see it more clearly when you watch the film.
How do you manage the egos of actors in an ensemble film?
There is always a chance that it might lead to oneupmanship amongst the actors. Fortunately, I have never faced it, and I’m not giving a diplomatic answer. The most challenging part of an ensemble film, is the writing. It is about how you justify each character, and give everyone equal space in the story. Executing the script with actors during the shoot is not that difficult.
Whoever has worked with you says you don’t share the script with them. Is it true?
Everyone tells me the film is in my head, and they never see it the way I do. So, I choose who to give it to, and who not to. I have the script, but if I feel the person will understand the film script, I share a copy, otherwise script dene ka kya fayda? (laughs)
When you wring an ensemble film like Ludo wherein the stories are interconnected, it needs a lot of writing. Jagga and Barfi also required a lot of writing.
The actual reason I don’t share my film script is when I write the script, I don’t commit to it entirely. When I’m heading to the set, I think about the scene. I stage the scene when I reach the film set. I get into the character and enact the scene at hand. It is at that time that the scene gets locked, and I commit to it. Else, I keep working on it in my head. It is a bad habit. If I commit to the scenes in the script two years before the shoot, it is just stupid. I still have time to work on it, so, I might as well work on it.
When you learnt that Ludo will have a digital release, did you change anything in the film?
(Laughs) It was the reverse for me, because I’m a lazy guy. When I learnt that the release date was pushed indefinitely, I stopped working on the film. I was like jab hoga tab dekhenge, and then Netflix happened. So I had to start work, and it was a race against time for me again. We had only two months in our hands. I don’t know when I will have the luxury to do a relaxed postproduction that lasts at least six months. But now, I’m used to racing against time, I feel like your work isn’t great without that either.
Was Pankaj Tripathi cast in the role that was previously offered to Irrfan?
The confusion is that people think this film is the sequel to Life in a Metro. I had offered Irrfan a role in Metro 2. He had pushed me to do the sequel. He was the reason I wrote the script in the first place.
Jagga Jasoos is available on Netflix. Were the reactions different from the ones at the time of the theatrical release?
The response to the film post the digital release has been very heartening. At one point, I had forgotten the release date of Jagga, but one day, the hashtag Happy Birthday Jagga was trending on Twitter. I realised the Jagga tribe has grown with time, and it is reaching its right audience now.
How do you look back at Jagga Jasoos after three years?
Every film of mine has flaws that I want to correct. The only regret is when I watch Jagga, I want to make corrections, edit, and reduce its length at certain places. But my hands were tied, as it was a musical. I couldn’t go to the editing room and edit it straight away. I needed music for that. I hail from the heartland (Bhilai). I’m not an urban kid. So, when I make a film like Jagga Jasoos, I know the kind of reaction it will receive. We were making a musical, wherein every character was singing and talking in rhymes. It was a new idea altogether. We weren’t thinking that we will change the face of cinema, but that didn’t stop us from attempting something new. Another regret is that we took too much time, we should have finished the film much earlier. However, Jagga is still my favourite film.
Why did you choose to make Ludo after Jagga?
I didn’t write Ludo after Jagga failed. The script was always there. The question was which script to make post Jagga. Yes, the failure of Jagga was instrumental in deciding Ludo as my next, because I wanted to cater to a completely different audience. I had also tweeted back then that my next will be for people who didn’t like Jagga Jasoos.
With a lot of big names making their way to the streaming platforms, are you also interested in creating web shows?
Main TV se hi toh aaya hoon. I got to make movies because of my TV background. Mahesh Bhatt saab saw one of my shows, and offered me a film. I was sure of one thing — I will do a great job. During my TV days, we used to do a mini-series of 10-15 episodes for Zee and Star. It is the same format that we see on the web today. I will do it because I have many stories for the web series format.
What do your daughters think about your work?
My elder daughter is my bouncing board, so I keep narrating scenes and scripts to her. She is the first one to see my films. Her opinion is highly important to me. Kids her age are the pure audience as they don’t come with any kind of baggage.
As a cancer survivor, what is the one learning that has stayed with you?
One learning that has stayed with me is that never take yourself too seriously, and it is the biggest. Any film is not a matter of life and death. Life is a lot more than that. Another aspect I learnt was empathy. It was not there in me before, but it was something I imbibed later. Earlier, I was just a ruthless money-making director. I would say yes to everyone and do all kinds of work. I have changed, and I’m glad this change came about.