Filmmaker Anurag Basu sees Barfi! as his coming-of-age film, one that takes him on the sunshine road of life

Murderous plots, adultery, alcoholism, crime and passion, gang wars, family feuds, reckless romance — filmmaker Anurag Basu leaves his hallmark dark brooding sensibilities behind…well at least most of it — to taste the sweet innocence of a Barfi! “In the last four or five years I’ve been working with NGOs, with differently-abled people, and I realised that the way they see life is much better than the way we see it,” is how Anurag Basu explains the paradigm shift in his filmi subjects. The director who saw the crashing of his mega project — the Hrithik Roshan-Barbara Mori-starrer Kites in 2010 — took time off feature films, to do commercials. He also worked with Muskan, a school for special children run by his ex-professor in Chattisgarh, where Basu studied.

Around this experience was born the sunshine romance of Barfi! — the love story of a deaf-mute boy (Ranbir Kapoor) and an autistic girl (Priyanka Chopra). “I can’t describe the film as being any one genre. It’s a romance, crime-thriller… it’s a feel-good genre,” he smiles, in an interview, promoting the film recently in Bangalore. “Disability is not the main theme of my film. It just happens to be a story about differently-abled people. I haven’t gone deep into the details of the disabilities. If you see from their eyes, we are not normal…” he trails off.

“I didn’t want to make a dark film. But it’s not a comedy on them either,” says Basu, who made a mark in Bollywood with Murder, following it up with Gangster, and then Life in A Metro. One must also remember that he’s the same guy who set the bar with the hugely successful epic TV soap Tara, often referred to as the mother of all soaps on Indian TV.

Basu argues that a film on disabilities does not have to be a serious one. “Why does disability have to be a serious subject?” he asks, almost offended. “Our perception is that it has to be dark, and full of tears. But disabled people are not serious in their life at all. They are so full of laughter…they live life better than us.”

His own battle with cancer also changed his perception of life, and filmmaking, “a little bit” he admits. Priorities changed; money and fame took a backseat. Family came first. “If I’d written any film immediately after I recovered, it would have been Barfi! It’s a coming-of-age film for me.”

When he looks back at Kites, he says it taught him what he should not do as a filmmaker. “It taught me that filmmaking is not a democratic process. It taught me what the audience really is — the diversity, what works, where. You know, on the viewer rating website Rotten Tomatoes, it was voted 80 per cent hit, but here in India, it flopped…that’s still a big question for me,” he shrugs. He’s quite critical of himself and says when he saw Life in a A Metro, he found a major flaw. “I could understand the whole film with my eyes closed. It means I wasn’t visually narrating it. It could as well have been a good radio play!” Which is why with Barfi! he wanted to mend that and make sure the dialogues were less, the visual narrative, high. “It’s not a silent film, but yes, I finished dubbing in five days flat.”

Entitled to be entertained

His films have largely been non-templated ones by average Bollywood standards (he’s also perhaps one of the few new directors with so many A-certificate films to his credit). Yet, most often what works with audience, and brings in money, is the templated stuff. Does it frustrate him? “No I don’t get frustrated. Everyone is entitled to get entertained. We chose to entertain a different kind of audience. Unfortunately, such an audience is very less. The educated lot don’t really go to theatres. It’s mostly those who earn less who spend more on cinema,” he smiles.

The director who launched his career with television in 1996, with the rage that was Tara, (he later even directed some of the K serials including Kyun ki…) believes TV may not be as impactful as cinema, but it does have the bigger reach. “But we are misusing it. Politicians, specially, misuse TV through news channels.” And then adds: “I love working on TV. I don’t want to lose that audience.” Two TV series are in the pipeline, for Sony and Star Plus is all he will tell now. In the last two years, he’s enjoyed making advertising commercials for Britannia, Titan, Nissan, Micromax. “I’d never told a story in 30 seconds, that’s why…” is his reasoning for the change in medium. “Moreover, between two films, it’s a smart thing to make commercials,” he grins wide.

The through and through Bengali babu says he in fact shot Barfi! in Kolkata because “I know the culture, the places. It’s less work for me as a director!” He’s once again teamed up with fellow Bengali boy Pritam for the music. “I work well with him. ” He conceives all his stories in Bengali, but then it becomes Hindi. “The only greed is for an audience.”