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“I miss solo producers.”

It’s another film that’s attempting to break the mould, and everyone associated with the project is excited about stepping out of their comfort zones to deliver splendid performances.

Anurag Basu tells Soumita Sengupta why and when the concept of Barfi! took root

How did Barfi! happen?

Barfi! started as a short film when I was shooting Kites. While shooting any film.That’s how Barfi! came to my mind. I always write short stories as a stressbuster. That’s how Barfi! came to mymind.

What inspired you to make a film on an off-beat subject like this?

I visit my in-laws regularly. One of their neighbours was this guy who was autistic.Besides, I have been associated with an NGO which has been working with autistic people since many years.So I thought, why not make a film for them? Why not make a film for selfless love? That’s how the idea came about.

To whom did you narrate the story first?

Actually, while I was shooting Kites, I narrated the story to Duggu (Hrithik Roshan) but I hadn’t written it for him. I just wanted some feedback and he liked the script. So it was Hrithik who heard the script first. But I wanted Ranbir (Kapoor) to play this character.

Was it easy convincing Ranbir?

When I narrated the script to him, he hugged me. And even before I got back home, I received a text message from him, saying he would do the film. So,no, it wasn’t difficult to convince Ranbir.

Was casting a big star like Priyanka Chopraa challenge as there was a chance she might overshadow the character?

When I was wondering who to cast as Jhilmil, I knew Priyanka would do justice to the part. And, yes, it did strike me that she might overshadow Jhilmil. SoI told her that I didn’t want Priyanka Chopra to dominate my Jhilmil. She heard the script and suggested that we secretly do a few workshops to see if it would work out. We did that for three days. And, as I had assumed, she was perfect for the role. Given the right platform,PC is a tremendous actress. After all, it was her idea to do the trial runs to see if she suited the part.

Ileana D’Cruz’s character was earlier offered to Katrina Kaif. Why did Katrina walk out of the project?

There were huge issues with dates.Ranbir was busy with Rockstar and Katrina had other projects lined up. And this film was getting delayed. PC had her share of dates but was able to adjust them. Barfi! had so many date issues that I am grateful the film happened at all!

So thats how Ileana came into the picture?        

Yes, I had not watched a single film that Ileana had done but some friends of mine who work with South cinema told me about her and said she wanted tomeet me. When I met her, I knew I had found my Shruti. Still, I asked my wife for a second opinion. I shot two to three scenes with Ileana and when my wife saw them, she was convinced. It was a gut feeling that made me sign her.

Whose character is the most challenging?

Priyanka’s. She plays an autistic girl. Every autistic person behaves differently,their body language is different, and she has played the part very naturally.We met many autistic people so that we could create an authentic character.

What kind of response has Barfi! received, pre-release? Do you look at box-office collections?

When I was ready with the Barfi! script,I knew it would not break box-office records because this is a low-cost movie.

Despite Ranbir and Priyanka’s presence,my film is a small-budget movie, even Ranbir didn’t charge much. Since I was trying out something new, I had to be very careful with the producer’s money. And as actors, they loved the script so much that they agreed to a suitable price. I think we will all be safe.

Why not follow the trend of making sequels and remakes?

No, I have done all that in the past when DVD ripoffs were working. I knew films like Rowdy Rathore, Ek Tha Tiger and Dabangg would be made and that there would be a new phase and I wanted to break away with Barfi! It’s a very simple film. But, its very scary to make a simple film.People are comparing Barfi! with many international films.

I am told it looks like Amelie or the Korean film, Oasis. To that, I urge people to watch the film and not to judge it by its trailer.

You initially worked with solo producers and now with a corporate house. Whom do you prefer to work with?

Indeed corporate houses are taking a keen interest in filmmaking but I miss the solo producer’s enthusiasm. I have worked with Vishesh Films, and whether it is Mahesh sir or Mukesh sir, both are very interested in their projects.Their ‘interference’ is thrilling.They always have new ideas that help make the film better.With corporates, there is an executive producer who deals with you, and he/she may not be quite as enthusiastic as you are about the film. Since a solo producer invests his own money into the project, he takes a keen interest in it too. Yes, I miss solo producers.

Will you be working with Vishesh Films soon?

Oh yes! Because they are great producers and businessmen. Every time Mukesh ji and I meet, we discuss a film and I say, ‘Give me one more year, sir.’ Somehow, I want to try different things and that’s why I made Life In A…Metro with another production house. I miss working with Vishesh Films but will work with them again, soon.

What next?

I am not sure what I will do next. Whether it will be an action film, a romantic comedy or Kishore Kumar’s biopic. I am right now only interested in Barfi!, seeing how it shapes up and the response to the film.

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