Anurag Basu’s Ludo (streaming on Netflix) is a genre-blending multi-starrer that discusses life, death, right and wrong. What was his inspiration to write such a seemingly ambitious film after his previous one, Jagga Jasoos , a musical adventure, failed at the box-office?
“I had two ideas: to make a fun film or to make one with four or five genres,” Anurag explains, “I started writing the second. Initially, for two or three days, I couldn’t think of anything. I wondered if I could pull it off. But it just happened.”
It just happened, he says, as if the script wrote itself. But such answers are perhaps characteristic of Anurag. For, he comes across as a filmmaker, who goes by instinct than intellect. Ranbir Kapoor, the lead actor in Anurag’s previous two films, had said in an interview that he would cancel a 40-day shoot on the third day. Abhishek Bachchan, who plays one of the lead characters in Ludo , says he never discloses the entire script to his actors. “Working with dada [Anurag] is a bit like opening presents. As an actor, you are kind of looking forward to going on set the next day to discover what you are going to do and how you are going to do it.”
All this makes Anurag’s process interesting. The filmmaker discusses that and more about Ludo in this interview.
Actors of your films have said you do not disclose the entire movie to them and that you don’t have a script. You are a spontaneous filmmaker. But does that get difficult for your actors sometimes?
Their performances are good in my films. And, this is because of my process. Giving them less information helps the film. The actors give their 100% and the performance is organic. And, I do have a script. It is not possible to make a film without one. But I decide on how much I want to share, when to share and with which actors. I think my biggest problem is I don’t commit to the scenes until the last minute. I thrive on some magic happening at the set. You suddenly see a table or a window and your scene changes. And, I can’t find this inspiration, sitting at home in front of my laptop.
Ludo is probably your biggest film in terms of the cast. Was this also the most difficult to write and direct?
Writing, yes. But not to direct — that was a cakewalk. Even Life in a Metro had many characters. But that was easier because the genre was the same and the character arcs were similar. In Ludo , every character is different. And, when you watch the film, it should be wholesome — with a beginning, middle and end. It shouldn’t be like you are watching four or five different films within the movie. So, I felt like a music conductor conducting separate pieces and putting it together. There was a risk of this becoming noise and not a melody. So, the writing was the biggest challenge.
Did you decide the cast while writing the movie?
Yes. I always do that. While writing, it becomes easier to put an actor’s name against your characters. And, I got 90% of the actors I had in mind.
It spells out a message about life towards the end. Was that the starting point of the movie?
Well, you ask these questions, sometimes, to yourself. Why, what and all that. So, that became a part of the script.
And, what about the title?
When I was writing it, I thought of ludo as a visual metaphor. And, that became the title. The screenplay was moving like a ludo game.
Was the film intended as an OTT release? What is your take on OTT platforms?
Ludo was supposed to be released in theatres. But it kept getting delayed. Then, we gave in. But it was a blessing in disguise because it will reach larger audiences now. And, OTT platforms are improving the taste of the Indian audience. More people are becoming cinema-literate. And, because of that, Indian cinema will change. But theatres won’t go away because cinema is meant for community viewing. But we now have more options.
There are a few Anurag Basu elements in the film — an old song, mirror shots and trains. Do you include them while you are writing?
I think it is always on the set. And, these things have to do with my aesthetic sensibilities. For instance, I like reflection. Not just in films. Even if I am taking pictures of my kids, I try to find reflections.
Pritam has been another constant element in your films...
I think there is a lot in Pritam that is yet to be discovered. With every film, he rediscovers himself. None of my films has a similar soundtrack. And, he is my best buddy. What more can you ask for?
Ludo , due to its multiple storylines and overarching philosophy, reminded one of Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Super Deluxe . Did you watch the film?
No. Super Deluxe came out when I was shooting Ludo . I heard about it and asked my ADs to go and watch the film and see if anything was similar and we needed to change it. Thankfully we didn’t have to. It is amusing that a film similar to Ludo released when I was making it. It is good that this kind of films are getting made and are being accepted.
There is a mention of COVID-19 in Ludo . You had finished most of your shooting before the pandemic. Why did you add that line?
The theme of the film is right and wrong and karma. So, it kind of became relevant. We had just one day of shoot left when the lockdown started. We were allowed a 15-hour window to shoot. The whole set was nervous. We added that line thinking the world will be Corona-free when the film releases. Well, it was just wishful thinking.