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“If my comedy is working, why change?”

Director Anees Bazmee is all geared up to start shooting for his next film Pagalpanti. He talks to Bhakti Mehta about his upcoming comedy and why this genre holds a special place in his heart

How is the prep for Pagalpanti coming along?

Very hectic! For the last one or one-and-a-half months, I have not slept for more than three to four hours at a stretch. Before a film begins, there is a cloud of nervousness, mess and excitement looming. It has been so many years, I have made so many films, but there is still this sense of insecurity and fear before a film commences. Sometimes, I look at the posters of my films in my office and realize it has been 40 years for me in the industry. There are very few who get to play such a long innings.

Your first comedy was No Entry in 2005, and since then you have made many comedies. What is it about this genre that fascinates you?

It was not a deliberate attempt to make only comedy films. People have told me that I have made different types of films in the past and I should continue to make them even now. If people appreciate my comedy films and they are working well at the box office, why should I not make them? I have an innate sense of humour.

I have been observing people for the last few years. It’s almost as if they have forgotten to laugh; people are so worried and anxious these days. The world is full of problems and people have so many problems in their lives. If I can make them forget their problems and laugh for two to three hours, then I think I am doing something good. What is more virtuous than making someone smile and bringing them joy?

After Pagalpanti, I will be doing another film which is a suspense-crime-thriller called Aankhen. However, it was not a deliberate attempt to do something different.

You are also known for the ensemble casts in you films…

(Cuts in) It is very difficult to assemble such a huge cast. But I have always made ensemble cast films with no difficulty. I have never cast a star just to increase the poster value of my films. In No Entry, Salman (Khan), Anil (Kapoor), Fardeen (Khan), Lara (Dutta Bhupathi) and Bipasha (Basu) have important roles. Likewise, Akshay (Kumar), Katrina (Kaif), Feroz Khan and Nana (Patekar) have fantastic roles in Welcome. All of them feel like the film belongs to them.

For Pagalpanti, I needed four actors to play villains. When I started writing the film, I realized that I might not be able to do justice to all four of them. So I reworked the script and brought in only two villains, so that I could pay better attention to them. The actors I work with love and respect me a lot. My body of work makes things convenient for me. Handling individual actors is very difficult. But the sets of my films are like a picnic where everyone is happy.

How did you come up with the idea of Pagalpanti?

My team and I wrote this film long ago. We have written 15-17 scripts that we have set aside to work on later. One day, we took one of them out from this bank and decided that it could be reworked. We started working on it and realized that it is a film worth making. You will get to see John Abraham in a completely new avatar. This film is tailor-made for him. We are going to London for our shoot soon. It will be a start-to-finish schedule there. 

In the era of content-driven cinema working big time, there is a debate about whether commercial cinema still has the same relevance. What is your take on this?

It is a beautiful phase in the industry as we see the content-driven films doing so well. It hasn’t happened all of a sudden. The attempt to get these films to work has been going on since a long time. Back then, some films worked and some didn’t. But, now, the numbers are coming in. However, I don’t believe that due to these films working with the audience, the out-and-out commercial ones will not work. Even commercial films have content but in this line of work, people become self-appointed pundits by blindly predicting the outcomes of films. I believe that any film of any genre which is made with honesty and is recognized for it by the audience, will work. There is no formula.

A lot of actors say that comedy is the most difficult genre to portray on screen. As a director, do you find it the most difficult too?

I have made and written all kinds of films but I have to say that comedy is the most difficult. You can plan to make someone cry. That quotient can be managed. But, humour is subjective, so it is very difficult to get that right. When I wrote the line for Nana Patekar in Welcome, which went, ‘Bhagwan ka diya sab hai…’ my team told me it didn’t sit right. But as I wrote it, I thought the audience would laugh when they hear him saying it. And that is exactly what happened.

We have this technical term in writing called ‘wanted reaction’. I don’t know about others, but I work with this method. When I am writing a scene, I can figure out where the audience is going to laugh. Then I will give them a break between jokes. I plan everything in my mind and 90 per cent of the time, the ‘wanted reactions’ I had imagined hit the mark.

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