‘Ludo’ has bagged three nominations at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne 2021 awards in different categories. How does it feel?
It feels great. Actually, I was thinking there are no award functions this year. There were a few online. But this is huge because this is happening in Melbourne. People will be able to watch the movie in Melbourne too. We always wanted that, so, it is great. It is not only about this film; it is about Indian films. All the other films that have been nominated are great too. To be able to be amongst them is humbling, actually.
How and when did you conceive the idea for ‘Ludo’?
I wanted to try making a film where various stories have a domino effect on each other. I wanted to make it like ‘Life in a Metro’. So, I gave it a shot. I thought I will try to write it for 15-20 days, if it works out, great, otherwise, I would move on. But everything came together organically. We actually came together and started the film very quickly, but due to the pandemic, it got delayed.
‘Ludo’ is probably your biggest film in terms of the cast. Was this also the most difficult to write and direct?
Not really, actually. I had all these actors in mind when I was writing the characters. I didn’t know at that time if they would agree to be a part of this film. If they had said ‘no’, it would have been a huge disappointment for me. But I was really blessed that they all said ‘yes’ to the film.
You are at a place where people not only appreciate your novel filmmaking process but come on board without knowing anything about the film or their characters, just to be a part of the Anurag Basu world…
That would be an exaggeration. I tell people what that world is going to be like. I don’t take people for granted. I narrate the story to them when they come on board. I see to it that when they see the film, they find there is more than what I have narrated to them. This is what I always aim for. It is all based on trust. Even if you give people a bound script, things will not work out if there is a lack of trust. I really enjoy that kind of trust from my actors.
The film boasted of an ensemble star cast. Who according to you was a complete surprise package on the set?
They are all brilliant actors and more than that, they are great human beings. So, it was riot shooting with all of them. I know how talented each one of them was, based on their previous work. Even when you tell them to do a certain thing, it is surprising how better it turns out to be when they actually do it during the shot. For example, I always saw Rajkummar Rao’s character a certain way, but when he gave his first take, I was really surprised by how good it turned out to be. Even Pankaj Tripathi is a great actor! Even though it is an ensemble cast film, both these actors have been nominated. I am really glad that IFFM has acknowledged their performances.
Is it generally difficult to get good actors on board for an ensemble film?
That used to be the case earlier, but things are changing now. People don’t see it that way anymore. In the West, big stars feature in ensemble films, and now, in India, too, things are changing. I hope it remains like this.
You played a cameo in ‘Ludo’. You have done it before in Onir’s ‘I AM’ too. What is it that lures you to the other side of the camera?
A director has to be an actor too. He has to live all the characters himself before writing and directing others. So, when an opportunity arises to be on the other side of the camera, one should just jump in and do it. It is fun. For ‘Ludo’, it was more a compulsion because we were shooting it amid the pandemic. A window of only a small week was available, so, instead of hunting for actors, I decided to do it myself.
‘Ludo’ was your first direct-to-OTT release. What is the best compliment that you received for the film after its release and from whom?
I have been getting a lot of compliments for the film. What I personally find amazing is that when people watch a film, they let the filmmaker know good and bad things about it through their reviews, or people do it on social media today. I am the kind of person who watches a film, thinks about what was good and bad about a movie in my mind, and then goes to sleep. I don’t tell anybody. Of late, people have started telling me how they like my film. This never happened with my earlier films. I feel you really learn a lot of things by reading those reviews. While you get a general review by looking at people’s reactions in theatres, you don’t get in-depth analysis.
What are your thoughts on OTT?
It is really great and has given us a lot of power. It has helped us flex our creative muscles in terms of content. I also feel the audience is ready to see all kinds of films. The digital space has not only given filmmakers like us a new platform, but it is also churning out some talented and young directors. I always tell people that we will know the value of this (lockdown) phase two-three years from now. This pandemic has been a blessing in disguise for Indian cinema.