JAGGA JASOOS TO RANBIR KAPOOR, FILMS TO FOOD — ANURAG BASU SAYS IT ALL IN A BANGALIANA ADDA
Ranbir Kapoor and Katrina Kaif in Jagga Jasoos
If there is one Bollywood filmmaker who can be credited with redefining storytelling even while working within the paradigm of conventional and commercial cinema, it has to be Anurag Basu. Born and brought up in Bhilai, the Bengali boy — who spent a part of his growing up years in Garia — burst into Bollywood with box-office winners Murder and Gangster.
In 2007, he made audiences sit up and take notice with the gripping five-in-one multistarrer Life in a… Metro. And with Barfi! in 2012, that kicked off his collaboration with Ranbir Kapoor, Basu crafted a film that was different from anything the Bolly audience had seen before. Barfi! won both critical praise and box-office dividends.
His latest release Jagga Jasoos — an ambitious musical in the making for more than three years — is perhaps the only film in recent history that has polarised audiences... some have loved it, some have hated it. At the box office, the film, starring Ranbir and Katrina Kaif and popular Tolly faces like Saswata Chatterjee and Rajatava Dutta, has been an average earner so far.
In Calcutta on Saturday, Basu took time out for a chat with t2 on Jagga Jasoos, his friendship with Ranbir, and why he can’t wait to make a musical again. And yes, Anurag did take questions from his Jagga Jasoos actors and you, the t2 reader! [To know what he had to say about your Jagga Jasoos Feedback, just turn the page!]
It’s been a little more than two weeks since the release of Jagga Jasoos. You’ve lived with this film for so many years. Now that it’s out there in the world, what are you feeling?
Nothing, actually. Two weeks after every release, there is this vacuum that sets in… the vacuum of what to do next. Even if you have 10-20 ideas, you feel a certain blankness. I am in that state… I am in a dark tunnel without a torch. Everything is dark now, but I know slowly my vision will clear up and I will know what to do next. Jagga Jasoos, the day the mixing was over, was over for me. I detach myself as soon as the film is done and delivered.
Is that possible with a film like Jagga Jasoos that you have given so many years to and that has your unmistakable presence in every song and scene, mood and moment?
I think so. I am not trying to intellectualise this, but that’s how I am feeling now. You need to move on… try new things, make new movies…. If you can’t abandon your previous film, then the process of getting into the next film becomes slower. I always feel the need to detach myself after a film and start thinking of new things. ‘What next?’ ‘What can be better than this?’ and ‘What new genre can I attempt now?’… these are the questions uppermost on my mind.
You must have got a lot of feedback…
Lots of feedback… all kinds… good and bad (smiles).
I trust him, he trusts me… it’s blind trust. I don’t think any other actor will trust me as much as Ranbir does. He compels me to think about him when I am writing a character. It’s a very strange relationship. We are close, but we aren’t pals. He respects me and there’s a distance too between us
So what’s been the most memorable feedback for Jagga Jasoos?
The only feedback that I wait to hear — and which a lot of people have told me about Jagga — is that the film mirrors their childhood or takes them back to their childhood. So many people have said that it brings back memories of what they read and watched as a kid. Also, I like it when people tell me that they think it’s better than Barfi!. That’s what the attempt was… so, whenever people say it’s better than Barfi! I am really liking those reactions.
Did your bond with your father inspire the Tooti Phooti-Jagga relationship?
Absolutely! My dad (Subrato Basu, a theatre actor and director) passed away a few years ago and honestly, I never thought I would miss him so much. Now that he’s gone, I have realised his contribution in my life and on my thought process. The father-son relationship in Barfi! to the father-son bond in Jagga… it just comes naturally to me. The way Saswatada’s character (Tooti-Phooti) teaches the child Jagga is very similar to how my father would teach me.
You and Ranbir are a rare actor-director combo in Bollywood where there is genuine friendship and respect. What do you think works for you, both personally and professionally?
Trust… complete trust. I trust him, he trusts me… it’s blind trust. I don’t think any other actor will trust me as much as Ranbir does. And because he trusts me so much, there’s pressure on me to deliver. I know for sure that nothing — success or failure — is going to come between us. Both of us look forward to going on set and working together… that excitement is still there. Even after making two films, we still want to make more films together. That’s what is special, I think. He compels me to think about him when I am writing a character. But it’s not that we socialise off set. I am an introvert and I don’t really mix around too much. When we are not working with each other, we don’t call each other often. It’s a very strange relationship. We are close, but we aren’t pals. He respects me and there’s a distance too between us. It’s not like the friendship Ranbir shares with Ayan (Mukerji, who directed Ranbir in Wake Up Sid and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani). They are pal-pals.
We know that you love your food as much as you love films. The last time we had spoken you had said that you have become a baking expert. What’s the last thing that came out of the Anurag Basu oven?
Arre, I have graduated to bigger stuff… ekhon aami onek kichhu korchhi (smiles). I can bake anything right now… in fact, I can give you the recipe of this biscuit also (points to the plate of cookies in front of us). Now I have started making my own dishes… I am doing fusion of Thai and Bengali dishes these days! (Smiles)
So what did you make last?
Basil, coconut, kaffir lime aar posto diye paturi baniyechhilam. It had an amazing aroma. I cook whenever I feel like and at whatever time. Dupurer lunch rattire teenter shomoy uthe baniye pheli! My wife wakes up and sees lunch is ready! Actually, cooking is a stress buster for me.
JJ’S TEAM TOLLY QUIZZES ITS DIRECTOR VIA T2
Saswata Chatterjee as Bagchi/Tooti-Phooti in Jagga Jasoos
(who plays Jagga’s father Bagchi/ Tooti-Phooti)
Everyone says we have made a hatke film. But I believe that you have truly made a hatke film. How does one make such a film without a script, keeping the whole thing in his head?
AB: (Laughs) Hatke ka toh pata nahin, but if a director closes his eyes, he should be able to see the whole film. If I can’t see the film in my head before the first day of shoot, then there is something wrong. What I see in my head is very tough to convey to others. How do I do that? I can sketch, I can paint, I can write things… but sometimes I get tired of doing that.
See, every film has a different process. I can’t say that I will do the same with the next film too. I wanted to adopt this method — of not telling my actors beforehand what to expect — because I wanted a certain rawness and a little unpreparedness. I wanted the process to be a little organic. On a film like this, if the actors come prepared to the set then it doesn’t look real. They rehearse four times in front of the mirror and the whole organic look and feel is lost. So it’s better not to tell them. But then it has to be there in my head, absolutely clear. A lot of actors complained, but I stuck to this format.
Most of the things that Saswatada was saying in front of the camera… I was telling him just before the shot... ‘Now say this, now say that’. And he would be like, ‘Haan? Haan? Haan? Hindi Hindi Hindi Hindi… eto taratari keno bolchhish… aaste aaste bol!’ (Laughs out loud) But it wasn’t that I was thinking it up there… I am not such a genius that I can think these things up on the spot!
When I started making Jagga, I knew that this was the direction I was going to take. New wine in a new bottle is always dangerous… Jagga is new wine in a new bottle and we didn’t know how it would eventually taste. From the first day — right from the time Ranbir and I started talking about the film — we had apprehensions about how it would be accepted.... Half of the next (Jagga Jasoos) film is already ready. Now let’s see kothaye giye daray... irrespective of box office, Ranbir and I had decided on a sequel
Anurag Basu at The Park on Saturday. Picture: B. Halder
You have attempted to break away from conventional Bollywood fare and given us a visual delight. You have achieved a milestone in the history of Indian films, but have received mixed reviews. As a creative person, will you go with the flow in the next or would you rather do things your way knowing that such films will be considered as classics in Indian film history?
AB: Mohuadi ei shob chharo… aamaar dinner ta due achhey! (Laughs) Puro film shesh hoye release hoye gelo! I would have been happy if I had answered this over dinner at her house (smiles). See, films are not like rajma chawal or dal bhaat… you can’t satisfy everybody and I can’t make rajma chawal every time. When I started making Jagga, I knew that this was the direction I was going to take. I knew people may not like it, but I wanted to take this direction and make a good film. New wine in a new bottle is always dangerous… Jagga is new wine in a new bottle and we didn’t know how it would eventually taste. From the first day — right from the time Ranbir and I started talking about the film — we had apprehensions about how it would be accepted.
My dad said that you and Ranbir are an impossible team together as both of you are pranksters. I have heard of a few pranks you have played on others. Tell us about one such incident during the making of Jagga...
AB: Onek achhey! Jeta immediately mind-ey pop up korchhe sheta bhishon nongra (laughs). Okay, let me tell you about this… there is this scene at the end of the film where Ranbir and Saswatada are tied up and we didn’t untie them between shots. So whenever we would pass by them, we would tickle them in all the wrong places! (Laughs out loud) Saswatada’r khub kaatukutu laage… aar koyekta spot achhey jekhane khub beshi laage! He was tied up and chencha-meechi korchhilo. We really tortured them for an hour!
Ronnieda (Rajatava), someone has to take the responsibility of taking Bangaliana to the rest of the country… I have decided to take that responsibility....
Two of Ronnieda’s brilliant scenes have been cut… aamaar khub koshto hoyechhilo to cut that
(who plays a bumbling cop)
There is a distinct hint at the end about a sequel and since many scenes had to be edited out because of the length, have you considered keeping those bits and making the film as a two-part project?
AB: Ronnieda’r (Rajatava) duto scene kete gechhe length-er jonyo and that’s why he’s asking this question! (Laughs) Kintu Ronnieda, I can’t put the deleted scenes in the next film! And if there is a sequel, you will definitely be in it. But on a serious note, the only person who has suffered because of the length is Ronnieda… two of his brilliant scenes have been cut… aamaar khub koshto hoyechhilo to cut that. Ronnieda bolechhilo, ‘Aami dubbing kore ni, tora DVD-te dhukiye dish’. As far as a two-part project or a sequel is concerned, half of the next film is already ready. Now let’s see kothaye giye daray. The idea of a sequel was always there… the ending itself shows that and irrespective of box office, Ranbir and I had decided on a sequel. While making the film, we realised that we are enjoying the process so much that we should make another film out of this. Let’s see…we are not thinking about it right now.
Your Bengali sensibilities are a big part of your films. Even in Jagga... Bengalis can relate to that scene with the goats on the trees as ‘golper goru gachhe othey’, while others will enjoy it simply as a surreal scene. Have you ever considered making a Bengali film or is your design so big that the Bengali film industry is not ready for that kind of scale?
AB: Someone has to take the responsibility of taking Bangaliana to the rest of the country… I have decided to take that responsibility (smiles). A lot of good films are coming out of Calcutta. Aami deri kore dekhi, kintu dekhi. Maybe one day I will make a Bangla film. But I must tell you that all my stories are written in Bangla. Chinta-bhabna shob Bangla-e hoy. Pritam does all the songs in Bangla first, Amitabh (Bhattacharya) writes them in Bangla…. I think one day I am going to release all the songs of Barfi! and Jagga Jasoos in Bangla… shob kota gaan kintu Bangla-e lekha aar Bangla-e shur dewa. When you see the credit list of my films, you will feel it’s the credit list of a Bengali film… shobai Bangali!
In my head, every scene was two-three minutes, but because of the music, it stretched to seven-eight minutes.... We didn’t know how to make the runtime shorter. All the drawbacks of the film stem from this... The next time I make a musical, I will be more confident… puro front foot-e sixer marbo!
As someone who was disappointed by the film, I would like to know that in retrospect is there anything you would have done differently?
(Karo Christine Kumar)
AB: I would have done one or two musicals in a better way. In my head, every scene was about two-three minutes, but because of the music, it stretched to seven-eight minutes. This we couldn’t crack. Because of the songs, I lost track of the time. I couldn’t control it… it was the inherent DNA of the film that made it like that. Pritam, actually, got into the groove very late and we didn’t know how to make the runtime shorter. All the drawbacks of the film stem from this. We had to repeat a lot of information that was said through songs because people are not used to seeing the narrative moving through songs. Bhoy peye peye kora hoyechhe… lok ra ki bujhte parbe eta? Now we have an audience that’s fully absorbed something like this and has appreciated it. So the next time I make a musical, I will be more confident… puro front foot-e sixer marbo!
Both Barfi! and Jagga Jasoos have their leads battling a disability. How difficult is it to make a film with no solid dialogue and yet bring out myriad emotions? (Pramita Ghosh)
AB: That’s where cinema comes into play. Otherwise, there’s no difference between radio and cinema. I realised it late too… my first two films (Kucch To Hai and Saaya) were all blah-blah-blah-blah. I then realised it’s an audio-visual medium and one should take advantage of that.
Jagga Jasoos, for me, is a commentary of the times we live in... was that the idea of the film? (Saionee Chakraborty)
AB: I wanted to say a lot more in the film but because we were making a film for kids and families, we didn’t. For example, the whole Purulia (arms drop) thing, we drew away from the controversial line because of Disney (the producer) and because of some legal things. What baffles me sometimes is that our country is the biggest buyer of arms in the world. I think that’s something that needs to be explored and thought about.
Every day when I go to the sets, I see the menu first! That’s most important. We plan our food first, then we plan our shoot.... Our shoot happens between food breaks! Me cooking on set for the whole team on the last day of a schedule is a ritual. Ranbir doesn’t cook, but he’s a good taster… bhalo kore taste kore bolte pare ki gondogol achhey
I consider you one of the greatest directors in Bollywood today. Who or what has been the biggest inspiration in your life?
AB: As a kid, I didn’t watch many films. My father made me watch very select films. I spent most of my childhood in theatre green-rooms with my father and mother (Deepshikha Basu) acting and directing. That was my teaching. I grew up watching (Satyajit) Ray, (Ritwik) Ghatak, Adoor Gopalakrishnan… I don’t think any other child will be told to watch these things. Most of the films I watched on VHS. On Saturday-Sunday, I would watch Charlie Chaplin and Laurel-Hardy films.
Do you think marketing a film has become more important now than making it?
AB: I don’t enjoy the process… I don’t understand it. But communicating a film in the right way is very important. In hindsight, I think marketing was a problem in the case of Jagga. At the beginning of the film, it’s said very clearly that if you are not a child at heart, you won’t enjoy the film. That should also have been conveyed in the trailer and other promotional material. I knew the film would only appeal to two kinds of people — if you are a child or have a child within you. That wasn’t communicated rightly… those who came in with other expectations didn’t like the film.
I am an aspiring author and your films inspire me. What advice would you give to someone like me who wants to live a life writing stories? (Anuvab Deb Sinha)
AB: Inhale life and exhale it in words. That’s my advice to you.
How do you mentally prepare yourself to make exceptionally beautiful films like Barfi! and Jagga Jasoos? (Ankur Datta)
AB: Mentally prepare? (Thinks awhile) Every day when I go to the sets, I see the menu first! (Laughs out loud) That’s most important. We plan our food first, then we plan our shoot. On any other set, there will be lunch and dinner and shondheybelar cha. Amader shokale ekta spread hoy… we land up on set and eat first! Then we shoot, then we eat, then we shoot, then we eat… (laughs). Our shoot happens between food breaks… boshe aaraam kore adda diye khawa hoy. We also cook on set… me cooking on set for the whole team on the last day of a schedule is a ritual. Ranbir doesn’t cook, but he’s a good taster… bhalo kore taste kore bolte pare ki gondogol achhey.
Anurag with his Super Dancer co-judges Shilpa Shetty and Geeta Kapur
ANURAG BASU returns as judge on Season 2 of Super Dancer, the Sony dance reality show with kids as participants...
HIS ROLE: I can’t dance. I can’t judge them. That’s Geeta’s (Kapur, co-judge) job. I sit there as an audience… I represent the viewer. I just follow my heart and see if an act touches my heart or not. In Season I, I was very surprised by the kind of talent these kids have. More than talent, it’s dedication. There were some kids in Season I who would do any kind of dance — Indian classical to Western classical to hip-hop.
DAUGHTERS ISHANA AND AHANA: Like any other Bengali family, they are learning everything, but they are still discovering their talent and interest. The younger one (Ahana, eight) likes to sing, the older one (Ishana, 12) likes writing and playing the piano. I don’t know what they will latch on to finally.
SHOOJIT SIRCAR’S attack on reality SHOWS with KIDS: Shoojit is a very close friend and there must be something that triggered that reaction in him. He must have seen or heard something… it’s a genuine reaction [Shoojit had tweeted: “Humble request to authorities to urgently ban all reality shows involving children. It’s actually destroying them emotionally and their purity”.] But I will go with my experience from two shows (India’s Best Dramebaaz and Super Dancer) I have judged, involving kids. I will never associate with any show if I feel kids are being exploited. On this show, Shilpa (Shetty) is a mother, I am a father and we see our own kids in the kids who participate. If there is anything that’s done to exploit them, we will be the first to protest. The kids on our show are happy and there is really no atmosphere of competition. I am not saying that Shoojit is wrong, but not every show that involves kids is like that.
HIS TV FAVES: A lot of my time at night goes into watching news. News, these days, is a lot of noise but fortunately I know the time slots when the noise is less! I am on NetFlix, but I don’t get to watch anything regularly because the kids have captured NetFlix at home… they binge-watch on holidays.
You wrote in to t2 about how much you loved Jagga Jasoos. And this is how Anurag Basu reacted when we showed him the JJ Feedback pages: “It’s so overwhelming to read this because when your film is not doing as well as you had expected it to, then this is oxygen for filmmakers like us who want to do good work. Otherwise, when your film doesn’t do well, it’s a lonely journey... you give up on your journey. But this is very important... this will keep the filmmaker in me alive... this will keep the actor in Ranbir alive... I will give this to Ranbir too.”