The year 2012 will be remembered in Bollywood as the year of Anurag Basu and Sujoy Ghosh, who wrote and directed Barfi! and Kahaani, respectively — two of the year’s most commercially successful and critically acclaimed films. Both films cornered a majority of the top awards functions this year— some 25 and counting, in various categories. Barfi! got the best film award at the Filmfare and Zee Cine Awards; at the Screen Awards earlier, it shared the honour with Paan Singh Tomar. Basu was adjudged best director at the Zee Cine and Screen Awards, while Ghosh got it for Kahaani at the Filmfare. Between them, the lead cast of the two films — Ranbir Kapoor and Vidya Balan, especially — swept all the best actor awards. Ghosh also got the Zee Cine best story and best screenplay awards.
Producers who have worked with them say that behind the quiet and sombre demeanour, both Basu and Ghosh are master storytellers who don’t like to be limited to any one particular genre of film-making. And that — the variety in themes, subjects and stories that they’ve tackled in their films — is evident in their filmography. Murder, Gangster, Life in a... Metro, Kites and Barfi!, for Basu; and Jhankaar Beats, Home Delivery, Aladin and Kahaani to Ghosh’s credit.
The filmmakers themselves say that the story is the most important part of any project for them. “I keep writing short stories... three-four pages and later develop them. Gangster, Life in a... Metro, and Barfi! all happened like that. I am a writer first and then a director. The writer in me makes me work hard. Till I am fully satisfied with the screenplay, I don’t start the shooting, but once the screenplay is in place, shooting is a party. My actors say that Anurag takes few shots between cricket and food breaks,” Basu says.
Ghosh is equally candid. “I follow a few basic steps of film-making,” he says — “get a script, go out with a begging bowl, get the money and make the film. The key thing is to get a script which excites everyone. If that flies, then everything else falls into place.”
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Interestingly, both come from a non-film background. Basu, who is from Bhilai in Chhatisgarh, got into engineering college but didn’t join because he wanted to study cinematography at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune. His parents were theatre actors, and he had grown up seeing their performances in the theatre company that his father ran. However, in his early twenties, he got an offer to direct a television serial called Tara. He was then in third year BSc — he’d joined college in Mumbai — and had also enrolled at FTII. He didn’t join the course, as it happened, and with Tara becoming a huge success, Basu got drawn into the world of TV, advertising and cinema.
However, the beginning of Basu’s film career was choppy. He left his first film, Kucch Toh Hai, midway, and his second film, Saaya, was not a commercial success. But he hit the jackpot with Murder, his third, which dealt with the theme of adultery. Over the years, Basu has directed several successful TV shows and advertisements.
Incidentally, Basu was diagnosed with acute leukemia while shooting for Tumsa Nahin Dekha in 2004. He did direct parts of the film from the hospital bed, but Mahesh Bhatt and Mohit Suri finished the film later. Basu underwent chemotherapy and was on medication for three years.
As for Ghosh, films happened to him quite accidentally. Born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1966, Ghosh’s family shifted to London when he was 13. He has a degree in engineering, an MBA from Manchester University and was the south Asia head of the media division of Reuters, before he quit in 1999. As Ghosh says, “I had a standard Bong background. Middle class — school, college, MBA... everything needed to lead the good life. Then I came to Mumbai and was happy working with Reuters. I wrote a screenplay to teach myself to write. That f****ed me. Everyone said it was good, so I decided to try my luck. I gave up my job and tried to sell the script. After two years, I finally found a buyer — but no one was willing to direct the film. So I had no option but to direct it myself.” The film, Jhankaar Beats, was Ghosh’s tribute to R D Burman.
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Both Basu and Ghosh say they find inspiration in the life around them. “The inspirations are many. Comic books, people, cinema... I guess life in general is an inspiration — the best place to learn,” Ghosh says.
Basu agrees, “Inspiration is everywhere. I see plays and art; read books, comics, etc. There are many stories floating around. Barfi! is, in fact, inspired by a real-life story which I wrote a long time back.”
Barfi!, however, was accused of plagiarism with bloggers pointing out, especially after the film was selected to be India’s official entry to the Oscars, that scenes from the film were remarkably similar to those from the 2004 romcom The Notebook, Singin’ in the Rain, besides various Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films.
Both directors say they do not follow any particular style of filmmaking. Ghosh says that he honestly “doesn’t know” what his style of cinema is. “Every script appears to have its own demands. The creative search, I am guessing, is to find the right style in order to tell a story properly. Personally, my biggest challenge in film-making remains how to represent the same emotions differently, whether it is love, anger, happiness or jealousy. I try not to adopt ‘a’ style but use whatever that the story demands,” Ghosh explains.
The director within Basu, on the other hand, is more playful. “As I said, the writer in me is a hard worker. Direction is a party. I just go and enjoy the shoot. I like to create an environment where every member of the team likes to come everyday and contributes happily,” he says.
The studios which have back their ventures — UTV Motion Pictures for Barfi! and Viacom18 Motion Pictures for Kahaani — are all praise for them. “Anurag knows his craft to the T and inspires others. He is so clear in his mind, and he makes exactly what he wants to. When he first narrated the story of Metro, he came with Pritam [Chakraborty, the music director of Metro and Barfi!). In his narration, he had crafted all the scenes and moments well in advance. It is very difficult but he encapsulated everything. Barfi! was such a difficult film to make, but again he managed to do that so seamlessly,” says Siddharth Roy Kapur, managing director of Disney-UTV Studios.
UTV Motion Pictures has already done two films with Basu, Life in a..Metro and Barfi!, and is working on the director’s next — a Kishore Kumar biopic with Ranbir Kapoor in the lead. The shoot will begin in 2014. Meanwhile, Vikram Malhotra, chief operating officer of Viacom18 Motion Pictures, says that Ghosh is a rare talent in today’s times. “He has a style of storytelling which involves the viewer as if the story is playing in front of his eyes. There are very few such storytellers in the world today. Behind his easy-going demeanour is a very sorted director who has a grassroots understanding of India.”
He recalls that, during the shooting of Kahaani, the entire team of Viacom18 Motion Pictures was in love with Ghosh. “He is awe-inspiring. I remember, the first time he showed me a rough cut of Kahaani in his small office in Bandra, I was speechless; I just said bye and left. He got so nervous, that he climbed down four floors just to get my response. We still talk about the incident,” Malhotra remembers. Viacom18 is working with Ghosh on his next project, too.