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When it comes to Indian movies, Bollywood songs and dances are definitely what pop up in people’s mind. “In India, music is part of our culture.” Yes, I still remember the first time my eyes met an Indian movie, Three Idiots - a vivid production with of endless dances and strong rhythms; and that movie says the same. Indian movies, however, are more than dancing and singing, Anurag Basu, the director of Barfi! – last year’s international blockbuster explains, “Bollywood is so much bigger than that. Indian movies are very broad. There are so many languages in the cinema. They are so unique that you have to taste it slowly.”
Parented by theatre artists, Basu grew up amidst the entertainment world; the influence of the upbringing on him is inevitable. Devoted their lives to the stage, Basu’s parents were keenly aware of all the dark sides of Indian cinema, and hence expressed discouragement when Basu, inspired by his father’s passion for movies, wanted to follow their craft. “I love what he does, I really love it.” He never dared to tell his parents his choice of career, which back then was nothing more than a hidden desire. As he waved farewell to school life, he decided to follow his heart and chase the dream.
His first take was Kucch Yo Hai (Something is there, 2003), yet in the middle of the production he left and let Anil V. Kumar took charge as the director. A remake of the Hollywood Horror I Know What You Did Last Summer, the romantic horror film was inspired by 1998 production Urban Legends. For it a massive promotional plan was launched and the box office was positive in debut – yet it failed commercially. Critic Taran Adarsh gave it a harsh comment: ‘A poor copy of the Hollywood flick I Know What You Did Last Summer, Kucch To Haioffers nothing much except a few chills and thrills’. Basu joined Vishesh Films where he directed his next three movies. Saaya‘s the box office fell short and was criticised for having a loose screenplay. “No, I was not giving up.” The road never seemed to be easy, but he never thought of going back. “I was not producing any of them. I directed them. The other thing was the company had faith on me.” His faith and passion motivated him to move forward and follow what he enjoyed to do.
When the question came to his career turning point, “the time when I got cancer” was all that shocked my ears. In 2004, when Basu was halfway through his film Tumsa Nahin Dekha, he was diagnosed with Leukemia and had to be immediately hospitalised. His doctor told him that he only had two more months to live. Though clouded by despair, Basu did not give up on his movie. For some time he even remote-directed the film on the hospital bed by giving instructions and discussing all technical issues and the scripts with his crew over the phone. “Now I am okay, don’t worry. But I consider being sick as my turning point here.”
After recovering, Basu decided to shoot with a different style and to create a different texture for his movies. He started to dig in themes of dark passion and adultery, which led him success. The 2004 thriller Murder triumphed at several leading award ceremonies by winning the Award for Technical Excellence – Best Song Recording, the Popular Award – Best Lyricist from the Awards of the International Indian Film Academy, the Filmfare Award – Beset Playback Singer – Male and R.D. Burman Award from Filmfare Wards. Life in a Metro(2007) got another 8 awards and 12 nominations.
When Kites, a 2010 romance film, hit the silver screen, it was the largest Bollywood release in North America to that time, and Kevin Thomas, film critic of the LA Times, commented: “In its telling, the love story draws from westerns, musicals, film noir, chase thrillers with stunts so preposterous they verge on parody — and it gets away with everything because of Basu’s visual bravura and unstinting passion and energy.”
Barfi!, the latest film of Basu, opened with plentiful positive reviews. It was also well received at Busaan Film Festival 2012. Good news come in pairs, it was also named India’s official entry to the Oscars. It registered a powerful box office collection in its opening week by earning Rs. 58.6 crore. It is undoubtedly a milestone of Basu’s career. Nevertheless, he never expected such an international wow. “No, I never really thought about earning money. I have no idea why all these happened either.” Barfi!‘s success comes from his passion, believing what he did was the right thing to do.
Basu’s movies are highly acclaimed to be different from all other traditional Bollywood ones, yet, this Indian film master said there was no secret behind the scene. In other way, everyone has the key on hand, it all depends on you, whether you are willing to spend it – time. “You have to spend time, spend a year, or even more. Do what you love, otherwise it’ll be boring. Enjoy making something different.” Of course, no fun if everybody’s doing the same thing. Someone ought to jump out of the zone, make changes and inspire. “I am part of the audience too, and I wouldn’t like to repeat myself. I make movies that I want to watch.”
Navigating multiple identities, such as film and television advertisement director, actor, screenwriter and producer, Basu feels comfortable in all the ways. If he has to pick one favourite, he loves the label of screenwriter most. “I love writing, I enjoy writing scripts a lot. I can truly reveal messages I want to tell.” In a market where personal interest outweighs the commercial market, “all kinds of movies are popular,” he comments. “We don’t have to think too much about the market. We don’t have to consider the commercial box office.”
From a green director to a famous and well-known director, Basu has come a very long way. No big secret behind his success but a life motto: inhaling life and exhaling cinema. “Be humble and love what you do.” so well said by this man, experienced failure but kept trying, trying so hard just to follow his heart and believe in himself.