'Kites is as much my film as Barfi! is'
In fact, the film is on its way to becoming a hit.
This must be a special time for Anurag Basu, whose last film Kites received terrible feedback from movie-goers and critics alike.
The talented director talks to Subhash K Jha about his latest film and his directorial journey so far.
How do you plan to take Barfi! to a non-Hindi audience?
I have to confess we're toying with the idea of putting out an English version of the film. I can't say much about that right now.
The film has been to the Pusan and Marrakesh film festivals. The only reason it isn't at the Toronto Film Festival is because we were too busy releasing the film worldwide.
But sections of non-Indian viewers, who have seen Barfi!, say it has the potential to break through the language barrier.
Image: The Barfi! poster. Inset: Anurag Basu
'I apologise to all those who were put off by the non-linear narrative'
You had a frightening brush with mortality when you fell ill with cancer. Is that what gave you the strength to celebrate life so vigorously in Barfi!?
Yes, I think so. After my illness, I wrote dark films like Gangster and Life... In A Metro.
I think Barfi! is my coming-of-age film. It's not a perfect film but it's my most personal film.
Did you ever fear Ranbir's deaf-and-mute act would fall flat?
I think we give too much importance to words in our cinema. Surely there has to be a difference between radio plays and cinema! I'd have had even less dialogue but since there was a complicated crime involved in the storytelling, I had to offer explanations through voice-overs by Ileana D'Cruz and Saurabh Shukla.
Not for a minute did I feel handicapped because Ranbir had no dialogues. In my earlier films, too, I've experimented with silence.
Your editing pattern is quite complex, going back and forth in time, sometimes twice over in one flashback.
Don't blame the editing. That's how I wrote the screenplay.
I realised that the storytelling was getting complicated because of the time travel. I tried to make the story linear but it wasn't working.
See, Barfi! is a very simple story. If I had kept the narrative linear, I'd have lost my audience. If I had removed the non-linear narrative, you wouldn't have enjoyed the film. I know Indian viewers get disturbed by non-linear narrations. I wrote Barf! straight. But it was boring that way.
So I apologise to all those who were put off by the non-linear narrative.
Image: A scene from Barfi!
'I don't know why Kuch To Hai and Tumsa Nahin Dekha are credited to me'
How difficult was it to bring in the fantasy-fun element in a subject so serious and thoughtful?
I have to confess it was a lonely journey. I had no reference points. It was like entering a dark tunnel. I just pushed through.
While shooting, we had lots of fun. Aur film banti gayi (and the film got made in the meantime). Yes, it took me 10 days to get a hang of the subject since it is a completely new genre. We even re-shot the initial portions.
You earlier made some unoriginal films like Saaya, Kuch To Hai and Tumsa Nahin Dekha.
I don't know why Kuch To Hai and Tumsa Nahin Dekha are credited to me. The former I gave up, and during the latter, I fell ill and left.
Today, you are the most original voice in Hindi cinema.
I am not going to change my priorities after Barfi!. And to say I am the most original is not correct. I'd give the credit for doing an original, get-happy film to Raj Kumar Hirani long before I made Barfi!.
Image: A scene from Tumsa Nahi Dekha
'Differently-abled people find happiness in the smallest of things'
Barfi! is one of the most original films I've seen. Why have you set the film in the 1970s?
The 1970s were magical for me. Those were the times of Rajesh Khanna's movies and his songs, and my mom and dad romancing one another.
When I think of romance, I think of the 1970s. I was born in 1974. So I grew up in that era of romance. I wanted a 30-year span for the characters' love to grow.
Your parents were very romantic?
Very romantic. When in Barfi! Ileana says she wants to die with the man she loves, that was my mom speaking. After my father passed away, my mother didn't want to live any more.
When my Nani passed away after my Nana, we didn't mourn. We celebrated their uniting again.
Isn't it unrealistic to show two disabled people being so happy together?
If you spend time with differently-abled people, you will get over the notion that they're unhappy, suffering souls.
Please don't pity them. They find happiness in the smallest of things. They celebrate life constantly. Normal people take longer to be happy. For me, this was a given from the start: they had to be happy.
Image: A scene from Barfi!
'I hadn't gone to anyone else with Priyanka's role'
Priyanka Chopra, as the autistic girl, is flawless. Did you have to work hard on stripping away her glamour?
No wonder all the actresses you approached wanted to play Priyanka's role...
Priyanka never knew the role would shape up the way it did. Her role was always small but special. I hadn't gone to anyone else with Priyanka's role.
Ileana's character was always the main female protagonist. And she is very good.
I saw a lot of Kamal Haasan and Sridevi from Sadma in Ranbir Kapoor and Priyanka.
Sadma was never a reference point. But I love that film. It's one of my favourites.
Maybe sub-consciously, I was influenced. In Sadma, Sridevi was like a 10-year-old child. Priyanka is not a child in my film.
Image: Priyanka Chopra in Barfi!
'I told him to watch Chaplin's silent films'
You can't deny the influence of Charlie Chaplin on Ranbir's performance.
I won't even try to deny it. Even before Ranbir started, I told him to watch Chaplin's silent films.
There's a definite influence of Chaplin in Ranbir's character.
The theme of mourning, the loss of love and then retrieving it after marriage was a part of Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar, where Nargis Fakhri crosses the laxman-rekha of marriage to be with Ranbir, just like Ileana D'Cruz in Barfi!.
When I saw Rockstar, I pointed this out to Imtiaz. I asked him why he hadn't told me. Even Ranbir, who was common to both, didn't point out the similarity to me. But it's there.
Image: Ranbir Kapoor in Barfi!
'You can't slot me as a happy filmmaker'
Ranbir and I are committed to make a Kishore Kumar biopic together. That will take some time. In the meanwhile, I am making a small film.
No film of yours can be small after Barfi!.
Not in idea and thought, but in budget. It would be a positive, happy film. But you can't slot me as a happy filmmaker. I consciously try to make different films each time.
One critic asks if Barfi! is Anurag Basu's, then who directed Kites?
(Laughs) I am proud of Kites too. I am not being diplomatic. It wasn't so bad. It's my film, I don't disown it.
True, it was made in the democratic spirit and the producer Rakesh Roshan was also present during the shooting. But I called the shots.
Kites is as much my film as Barfi!.
Image: Movie poster of Kites