Interview Hindi

Ludo was my fastest script, says director Anurag Basu

The versatile filmmaker speaks about the film which has been showcased at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne and won him the Best Director award.

Sonal Pandya

Anurag Basu’s Ludo (2020) was one of six films up for Best Film at this year’s edition of the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM) in Australia, on virtually till 30 August. While that award went to the Suriya-starrer Soorarai Pottru (2020), Basu won the award for Best Director.

The filmmaker is excited that Australian audiences will now be able to watch his work in theatres once the latest pandemic-induced lockdown is lifted. “I can’t wait to see their reaction, how people take it,” the director told Cinestaan in a telephone conversation earlier this week.

Ludo was premiered on Netflix globally on 12 November 2020 and Basu felt it has got a much bigger reach via OTT to more countries, through local subtitles. “[In] hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise, the way the film got appreciated everywhere, all around the world. I don’t think this would have happened if it was done in a theatre release. Limited audience milta hai,” he said.

But the decision to premiere the film on a streaming platform is not one that he took lightly. Not many films were opening in theatres, which were allowed to function with limited capacity back then. “It took me time, it took me around 10 days, to say yes, and decide,” he said. “At that time, that was the only possibility. Lekin mujhe lagta hai, theek hi hua, jo hua [But I think what happened was for the best].”

Ludo features an ensemble star cast that includes Abhishek Bachchan, Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Aditya Roy Kapur, Sanya Malhotra, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Pearle Maaney, Rohit Saraf, Shalini Vatsa, and child artiste Inayat Varma. The multi-starrer features converging storylines and themes that unfold like the addictive board game it is named for.

Working with the large cast was not a challenge for Basu as he had made Life In A... Metro (2007), which also employed many artistes and connected with similar themes.

“I thrive on ideas like bahut mushkil hoga, kaise karen [it will be difficult, how do I do it],” he went on. “This drives me to write a film and the storytelling, [if] it looks a little impossible in the beginning. How will I [figure] this? And when you finish, maaza aata hai [it’s great fun].”

Basu had approached Ludo thinking that if the story could be moulded and worked upon in 15 or 20 days, he would continue with it. He had thought it might get very complicated but ended up completing it earlier.

“I was not sure whether it will work out,” he said. “I [gave] myself 20 days [and thought] if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just scrap this and go on to the next film or story. But ho gaya woh, it organically flowed and the writing just finished very quickly. It was one of my fastest scripts.”

In Ludo, the hands-on filmmaker multi-tasked a bit more than usual. Due to the pandemic changing the shooting schedule, Basu also has a cameo in the film as Yamraj. It was a last-minute decision, he explained.

“I had left two days of shoot [where] I will finish everything and then I will shoot [it]. The pandemic came and then I got a small window to shoot with only 15 people, so I thought I’ll only do [the role].”

Basu is also credited as production designer and cinematographer, apart from his usual roles as writer and director. That occurred due to scheduling issues when his usual collaborators weren’t able to join him. He said he has a loyal and core group of artistes that he usually works with.

With his favourite composer Pritam

Music composer Pritam is part of that inner circle. “Pritam is very important for me to decide what film to make next,” Basu said, adding that the composer helps him to figure out his ideas. “Because when you write and you are confused [with your ideas], because Pritam, in the beginning, when I narrated him two or three ideas, I was not sure. Pritam was very sure. When he is confused or something, he talks to me. Ludo was the first [okay] from him and he gave me the confidence that I should go for it.”

Basu joined feature filmmaking after a successful stint in television, directing a number of popular serials like Tara, Star Best Sellers, Kyun Ki Saans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki. In 2015, he produced and directed a 26-episode series which adapted the stories of Rabindranath Tagore.

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Asked if he would like to adapt any more of Tagore’s work, Basu replied, “I hoped we would have done another season and another season. Because the amount of work he has done in his lifetime, it’s like amazing how one person can do so many things — poetry and stories, paintings.

"We could have done it, but it never happened, unfortunately. I really wanted to do it. There were so many other stories. For each episode, we were thinking which story to take? There were all so good. We could have easily done three or four seasons.”

For now, the filmmaker is waiting anxiously to return to shooting with a new project. “I’m just getting withdrawal symptoms right now,” he said, not revealing much about the upcoming film.

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