Ludo director Anurag Basu on helming an ensemble film, his creative process, and challenges after Jagga Jasoos
'Ludo is also about life, it is a perspective,' explains the Netflix film's writer-director, Anurag Basu.
Anurag Basu, best known for films such as Life In A Metro, Barfi and Jagga Jasoos considers himself an adventurer who hates taking the safe routes, “Because they are most unsafe ones”, he laughs, and justifies his claim in his next, Ludo, a dark comedy anthology inspired by the popular indoor game, which the filmmaker says gave him a chance to blend different genres to create a comical world. He juggles multiple storylines and different sets of characters in the movie, which premiered on Netflix on 12 November.
“It is just like when you fall in saccha ishq (true love) how and when it happened you don’t remember, similarly I don’t remember how this idea came about (laughs). But for a long time I wanted to make a film which was blending different genres, so here we have four different stories, and here, not just the genre, but even the performance sur is very different. To bring all this together was very difficult because when you are telling, say four romantic stories of the same genre you can still interlink,” says Basu.
He furthers, “Ludo is also about life, it is a perspective. We often take a moral stand in films between what is right and what is wrong but in real life it does not work like that. Your right can be my wrong and vice versa. That poetic justice doesn’t always happen in our real life. So the film tries to convey that everything has a viewpoint..aap apni jagah sahi hai aur main apni jagah sahi hoon (You are right in your place and I’m right my place). This is told in a very light-hearted way in an absurd, whimsical world and characters. It tickles you and keeps you engaged throughout and that was the only intention.”
The film’s ensemble cast includes, Abhishek Bachchan, Rajkummar Rao, Aditya Roy Kapur, Sanya Malhotra, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Rohit Saraf, Pearle Maaney, Pankaj Tripathi, Asha Negi, Shalini Vats and Inayat Verma.
Basu is happy that he could cast the very same actors that he had in mind. “All these actors were my first choice. I remember contacting them while I was halfway through the film and if you come to know which actor will play which character then writing becomes more fun. I told all of them that I will narrate the story after one month. But yes, initially when I started casting I was wondering if it was possible because actors usually don’t come easily in ensemble films and what you need is trust and someone who is comfortable with their own craft. But we have not shot them together as their stories are different."
Most actors who have worked with Basu have found his ‘unrehearsed’ process extremely novel and refreshing as he is someone who gives a lot of freedom to his actors in exploring their characters. In fact, some of the Ludo actors have said that they worked without the script which the director begs to differ. “At times it is not important to give a particular brief because kirdaar kirdaar ko banata hai, film film ko banati hai and that process is also very important. For instance, the first time when Pankaj and Rajkummar’s characters took shape was during the costume trial, then the second time their characters became a bit more pronounced was in their make-up van after the make-up was done, and finally when the actors came in front of the director in that get-up, then their characters took a definite shape and form. With Rajkummar, after two days his complete character came out and he batted on the front foot,” said Basu.
“But”, he continues, “Without script you can’t make this kind of a film. So, there is a script but it depends upon the director if you want to give the script to the actor or not because sometimes less information works for better performances and that process has always worked for me. You must have never seen bad performances in my films. I don’t want my actors to think too much at a given point of time. They can be within their story, their scope or limit, you have to just think about your parameters to avoid complications and only then you can perform better. Ludo is one of the easiest films I have ever done. I didn’t come to know when it started and ended.”
Abhishek says he agreed to do the film knowing nothing about his character or a proper script brief only because he was drawn to the comical, quirky and innocent world of Basu. In Ludo, Abhishek plays Bittu, a goon whose life turns over a new leaf after he meets a six-year-old girl, Mini. "For me it was only the name Anurag Basu that motivated me to do the film. I just showed up. I knew it was an ensemble film but I didn’t know who the other actors were doing the film. I didn't even know that my character is a father. It was only during the time I would go to his office for fittings, he'd tell me bits and pieces about the story. I absolutely love his process. He doesn’t want to inhibit you in any direction. He tells you the situation, and lets you interpret the way you want,” said the actor who sounds extremely excited about his multiple forthcoming projects — The Big Bull, Dasvi alongside Yami Gautam (shoot starts early next year), next season of Breathe, Bob Biswas and couple of other projects that are lined up.
Further, talking about his process of giving creative freedom to actors, Basu says that it helps him get different nuances and shades to the character. “Director is a very greedy person, he always has this greed that perhaps the actor will bring something new to the table and enhance the scene further which often happens, and why should the director stop that from happening,” says Basu.
“It is not that there is no script on Anurag’s set. It’s a creative journey, abhinay/acting, filmmaking is an amazing art and an amazing collaboration where there are many people involved and we actors are small tools. I enjoy exploring my characters. Many times I wouldn’t remember my first or the second take, or I wouldn’t remember the continuity of certain scenes. That is the whole fun, you are on such a journey that the visual ahead you don’t know,” adds Tripathi.
And the one story, or character that connects the arc of Ludo is that of Pankaj Tripathi, who plays an endearing gangster ‘Sattu’. “The film was like a road trip but without a destination. My character is like a sutradhar jo har kahaani mein ghus jaata hai. I really enjoyed myself. It was for the first time that I was made to wear a leather jacket, shiny satin lungi and yellow shades. I am usually not given such stylish costumes and most of the directors make me wear dhoti-kurta, or kurta-pyjama. They always make me look like a neta (politician). Sattu is an unpredictable character. He does a lot of nonsense and nonsense is always entertaining. There were no challenges for me, it was full of fun and masti. I have been a huge fan of Anurag and the world that he creates in his movies. I am always in search of directors like him,” says Tripathi.
Basu says he wrote the role of Sattu with Tripathi in mind. “You can't play ludo without a dice, similarly, you cannot make the film without Sattu. His character can affect any story. He is the villain in everybody's story but in the process he gets his own story. His unpredictability really helps the film. There is no right or wrong in the story, we never mark things like that. Sattu is right in his place."
And the director is all praise for Aditya Roy Kapur, who plays a ventriloquist in the film. “He was amused and was laughing when I was narrating the story to him. I told him many times that he can work on his voice in post-production, or we can do while dubbing and that someone else can do it but Aditya learnt the skill. He got trained from a professional trainer (by a member of the third generation of the Padhye family, which has traditionally been in the movies or trained actors to play ventriloquists) for three months and I appreciate him for that."
Since Basu’s previous film Ranbir Kapoor-Katrina Kaif-starrer Jagga Jasoos underperformed at the box office, the director candidly states that it became difficult for him to make his next. “Making Ludo after Jagga Jasoos was difficult because when a film doesn’t work then getting an answer to what next becomes more difficult. I had written three films but I was not able to make a decision just because my previous one had not worked. But I always take advice from people like Pritam (composer) and my wife Tani. I would narrate stories to them and ask…actually I didn’t want to start Ludo first, I had another film in my mind but Pritam and Tani insisted that I do Ludo first and I am very happy that I went with their decision."
Ludo is now streaming on Netflix.
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