After more than three decades in the business, Anees Bazmee feels he is finally seeing comedy films getting their due in the industry. The king of comedy discusses the challenges of the genre
Comedy is serious business, and no one knows that better than Anees Bazmee. He has been a part of the Hindi film industry since the ’90s, first as a writer and then as a writer-director of some cult classics that are favourites even today, such as Swarg, Aankhen, Shola aur Shabnam, No Entry, Welcome, Singh is Kinng and Ready. He says he’s learnt from the works of Shakespeare, and his films’ longevity borrows from there. It makes you laugh and cry at the precise moment the writer intended for it to happen. The director recently got a chance to try something new after many years in the industry — direct the sequel to Priyadarshan’s Bhool Bhulaiyaa.
Were you ever in two minds about taking up Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2 because the first one was directed by Priyadarshan?
No. I don’t think about such things. Until recently, there were talks about someone else directing the Singh is Kinng sequel. So, I’m very okay with that, and I would give them all my best wishes. Coming to Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, the original was made 10-15 years back. When I was approached by the film’s original producer, I found that only the name and a couple of songs were the same; the rest was all new.
The film also belongs to a different genre. This was another reason I was excited. The first time I was working with the horror element. It was intriguing. The original received its share of love, and we hope and pray that we get our share of love. Yes, there will be comparisons because of the same name, but once people see the film, they will realise that both films are very different. The original one was a psychological thriller. This is a horror-comedy.
It’s after a long time that you’re working with young and new actors like Kartik Aaryan and Kiara Advani...
Both are brilliant, dedicated, and sincere actors. I’ve noticed that today’s generation of actors come prepared for this industry. The previous generation’s audience was lenient, and used to give an actor multiple chances to prove themselves. All that has changed. Today, actors know that if a couple of their films don’t work, they will be sent packing. With Kartik, we’ve done something you haven’t seen before. It’ll make the audience go, ‘Oh, he can do this also’. The kind of growth I have seen in Kiara in such a short span is mind-blowing.
Do you see yourself as a writer first or as a director?
I am first a director. I became a writer more out of desperation. I didn’t want to become a writer, but my father was an Urdu poet, so writing was in my DNA. When I was an assistant director, I used to write a little bit of dialogue or a scene. I used to be praised by my directors and actors, so I developed some confidence. When those films were released, and people appreciated those parts, I realised that I could write. When I got serious about directing, my first thought was who would hire me as a director. So, I decided to write a few films to be able to direct them as well.
What drew you to comedy?
Comedy starts when there is a lot of chaos and pain in life. I have seen a lot of struggle and pain. All those experiences added up, and were turned into comedy for the big screen. For instance, in No Entry’s climax, all three heroes were hanging off a cliff and swinging between life and death, but we also brought in comedy. In Welcome, a house filled with 20-25 people is about to fall. It is a serious situation, but we brought comedy there as well. In Welcome, a don unable to get his sister married in a good family is also a serious situation, but we found humour there as well.
Do you see your work once released?
By the time a director releases his film, he must have seen it at least 100 times during editing, colour correction, and sound. After a point, you lose your objectivity and then go with your instinct over what you thought when you wrote this scene, or when you shot it and whether it is being conveyed.
Once my films are released, I don’t ever watch them. Another reason I don’t watch my films is because if you are too impressed with your past work, it stays in your mind consciously or subconsciously. When you do new work, those past moments come back into the conversation, and in your work. It might feel repetitive, which is something I don’t want.
In 2019, you announced a Writer’s Room. What is the progress on that front?
We have some stories, and are developing some of them, but we don’t have a script that makes us want to work on them and approach others. I feel that every person is a writer. Whoever you meet might have gone through some noteworthy incidents in their life, from their break-ups to a sudden flow of luck. They can engagingly narrate those incidents. You need a different kind of writing for movie scripts. It is a bit technical and challenging.
In a two-hour-long screenplay, you have to say what you want to say in an exciting way that holds people’s attention. Like the seven music notes, there are only seven stories in the world. How uniquely you present these seven stories is a very challenging and demanding job.
In our industry, comedy films aren’t always looked at through the same lens as drama or romance. Do you think that is changing?
In the hierarchy of films, comedy films were always low on the list. But I think things are beginning to change of late. People have a lot of awareness today. They understand what looks effortless on screen also takes a lot of effort and hard work. There is an understanding that other kinds of films are easy to write. You know that you have to put five action set pieces of varying degrees for an action film. In comedy, you see the story graph with three husbands and three wives, and light banter between them. There is no promise of where the story will take you. Even after so many years, these comedy films are spoken about. Even in comedy, you know the script, but somewhere it needs to tickle your funny bone.
Are you planning to work on web projects and head in that direction?
Why not? That is the future. A lot of new content and new artists are getting chances because of web shows. I’m also planning something in this space.
It is said that your long-delayed film, Naam, with Ajay Devgn is up for release.
We began the film in 2006. After that, we don’t know what happened, but I also heard that it was up for release. But I haven’t gotten time to delve into it.
Your last film, Pagalpanti, didn’t work at the box office. How did it affect you?
It did affect me a lot. It is disturbing that a film you made with so much effort, conviction, and money didn’t work. No one likes to lose money, but success and failure are a part of every profession, and it happens to everyone. No one says I will only direct hit films. There is no such formula. It is a very creative process, and you make it with all your heart and soul. Some reach the hearts of the audience, and some don’t. If you are a professional and someone who knows his work, the ratio of not working to working will be less. I am happy that my hit ratio is very high.
Is there any director whose work you always look up to?
I watch all films. I like to see what kind of work everyone is doing. I feel very good when any film works. I am a positive person and wish to see the best in everyone, whether I know them personally or not.