A director par excellence and a human being who’s even better, Anurag Basu defines himself with his first few gestures. He is a funny man, cracking jokes, laughing at regular intervals. Maybe that is what he’s imbibed from his fight with cancer. And whoever meets him can conclude by saying, he is a gem of a person. We caught up with the busy director and chatted with him over coffee, while he revealed litlle secrets behind his next directorial venture in association with UTV, ‘Barfee’ starring Bollywood’s Sawaariya Ranbir ‘Rockstar’ Kapoor, the Desi Girl Priyanka chopra and South starlet Illeana D Cruz in meaty roles. In his words, ‘Barfee’ is a blend of everything and has all the ingredients to be the biggest turner at the box office. But in this interview we get to know about Anurag Basu, the man himself. Over to him:
You are from Kolkata and this is the first time you have shot for a film in Kolkata. How was the feeling?
I love Kolkata. I am born and brought up here and that is one of the major reasons why I am shooting in kolkata. In fact the shooting in Kolkata was smooth as butter. When you are working with big actors and big stars, you cannot take any risks. Eventually you will not get to shoot the way you want to. But this time, we were much more prepared. We shot in real locations with all the three actors of the film including the Victoria Memorial and all. But the Victoria Memorial shoot had to be done early in the morning just after the sunrise. Or else, there would have a huge crowd trying to catch a glimpse of Ranbir or Priyanka in turn hurting them unintentionally.
In an era when everyone is busy making mindless pot boilers just to rake in the moolah, you are still regarded as one of the most renowned socially committed film makers in the industry. Do you feel the pressure of delivering the best every time?
I don’t know how to take it. Well, I would thank you and the people for showering me with such a big compliment. I just want to my bit as a director and make people happy as well as think after watching my film. So yes, there I feel the need to deliver big time!
You are one director who started off from Television and then moved to Hindi cinema. Was the transition smooth or rough?
I made an immensely popular TV serial ‘Tara’ which even now, I consider as my landmark project because it provide me the necessary hiatus that one requires to sustain their position in the industry without a god father! I came to Bombay with a hope to do something good and make my people proud. But then, I had to struggle real hard in the first few months. Then in July 1992 or 1993, I got the opportunity to direct this serial called ‘Tara’ which became immensely popular among the masses and gave me recognition.
With Kuchh toh Hai, there were certain issues with producer Ekta Kapoor and you eventually left it half way. What was the problem?
Though ‘Kucch toh Hai’ and ‘Tumsa Nahi Dekha’ are credited to me, I have never done those films. Tumsa Nahi Dekha had other reasons of me not doing it. I feel terribly ill midway and Kuchh to Hai ke time I had fallout and differences with Ekta, which everyone knows. I could not finish that film too. It is actually assistant Anil V Kumar who finished it. But yes, coming back, I did feel that maybe this incident would put a dead end to my career and I might never have the chance to do another film. But somehow I could not do a film which I was not happy with. We, Ekta and I were very good friends but then when she offered me to do her film and I said yes, things took a different turn. She became a boss and our equations were changed.Even Saaya being my first film, I am not that fond of because it was not an original film. My first two films were not original.
Very few people have achieved what you have. A television guy becoming a phenomenon in Bollywood is one rare sight. Do you feel the scope of television is limited?
No, it is not that. I feel if I could do it, everybody can! And in today’s world, they surely can! The television guys who start off with TV serials can manage everything, I feel! Nowadays, I do commercial advertisements, I do films but yet I would say that the most difficult medium is expressing through the small screen. It takes a lot of patience and is not as flexible as our film shifts. You always have to run ahead of time. But yes, as you pointed out, a lot of the talented ones who are doing television have lost their hunger and passion from within. It has somehow died off and that is what restricts them from doing something big for them!
You have worked with yesteryear stars like Dharmendra ji in ‘Life in a Metro’ and then you are working with the younger lot as in Ranbir, Priyanka in ‘Barfee’. What was the major difference that you could note between them?
Dharamji being senior actors and renowned ones, I felt he would throw his weight around and everything. But it was not anything of that sort. In fact it was quite an enriching experience for me getting to direct such a powerhouse performer. I have great love and affection for him. Ranbir, on the other side is more lively and fun. He is a like a brother with whom I can crake jokes, share our new gaalis and even play pranks on! So he is a sweet brother of mine and no wonder, he has done a fabulous job in the film.
The Darjeeling shoot was a mess completely.
I was really angry because the Government didn’t allow us to shoot at the places we wanted to and there were enough security concerns there. So IO had to be a little more protective about the shooting leg in Kolkata and that’s what I did. People sent me hate messages, I knew the Media almost wanted to kill me but I could do nothing for them.
Barfee is touted to be a suspense thriller with Ranbir playing the role of a deaf and mute guy. What’s more to it?
Well, as of now I can’t tell you too much about the movie. Yes, the movie is thriller which would release in July. And yes, Ranbir is Murphy in the film who is a deaf and mute. There is everything in the movie: from love, action, murder, suspense, sex, songs, romance: everything. It is a perfect package and that’s all what I can say now!
Why did you title the film ‘Barfee’?
As I told you, Ranbir plays the character of a sweet but deaf and mute guy Murphy. And people lovingly can’t pronounce Murphy so they call him Barfee. Plus it’s a sweet title and we thought that being sweet to our audience would help (Laughs)
Your last film ‘Kites’ didn’t work well. So what are your expectations from Barfee?
The film might not have been liked and appreciated by the people. But I wouldn’t call it a bad film. After all, which film has opened up to a number 3 position at the UK box office in the history of Indian cinema? The film was a little complex and it was not made for an average audience. Critics and audience panned the film though, but it would always remain in my heart and will have a special place for it!
So after ‘Barfee’, what are your plans?
Well, I have had plans of doing a series of films titled with a mishti (sweet’s) name. Everyone has got their sequels so post Barfee, we will have Gulab Jamun, Jalebi and finally Rosogolla! (Laughs)But on a serious note, let the filming be done. Let the movie come out. Let me see how the critics and audience react to my film. Then I will think about future.
So Hrithik and Ranbir done, now are you eyeing to rope in the Khans to play the lead in your upcoming projects?
You know what, the Khans are the ruler of the rooster and for them to be cast or even me to think about casting them, and I should have a perfect script for them. There needs to be a plot which they can never say a NO to! Shah rukh, Salman, aamir all are very good friends of mine and we occasionally have a chat over it. Even in his last interview, Shah Rukh has mentioned that he wants to work with me. So lets see, if Destiny stays on my side, you never know, we might be doing a film together soon! And why just with one, maybe with all three of them! (Laughs)