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"The Script motivates me":Anurag Basu

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He had just stepped into his twenties when he was handed over the task of directing that cult like soap of the mid-nineties Tara by Tracinema's Raman Kumar and Vinta Nanda. A third year B.Sc student at that stage, Anurag Basu took to it like a fish to water and went on to direct 70 episodes successfully. And gained recognition as a talent to watch.

A promise he has lived up to. Today, at 27, Anurag Basu, has his hand in several projects: Koshish Ek Aasha, one of the top two shows on Zee TV, a movie with TV's creative queen, Ekta Kapoor and her brother Tusshar Kapoor. He has tried his hand at several genres, ranging from daily soaps to thrillers (Saturday Suspense on Zee TV), action, drama (Rishtey), and horror (X Zone).

It was Basu's passion for theatre and television that led him to drop out mid way from an engineering course and opt instead for a three-year-degree course in Science from Royal College, Mira Road.

"I quit the five year engineering course so that I would be able to get a degree from FTII sooner," explains Basu.

The FTII degree did not materialise. Reason: Kumar told him to get on-the-job training, rather than join some course - a decision he does not regret. "Ramanji told me FTII would be a waste for something which could be learned in a year's time through on-hand experience," say Basu. "Imagine I would have graduated in 1999 year had I chosen to join FTII and not done all the work I have done so far," he adds with an elated look on his face.

His work has also won him recognition in terms of awards: Koshish Ek Asha recently won best soap opera at the 26th RAPA awards (Radio & TV Advertising Practitioners' Association of India) show. Basu is additionally joyous about the fact that some of his assistants are doing well. Among them Anil Vishwa Karma (he is directing Kkusum and Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki), and Kaushik who is working on Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.

Indiantelevision.com's correspondent Harsh Khot met up with Anurag Basu to try and understand what is it that makes him tick.

Excerpts:

Which projects did you enjoy working on?

Ajeeb Dastaan one of my least popular serials but it is also one of my favorites. That was my best work, it was for 'classy' people not 'massy', it never got popular. Aired on Star Plus these episodic serials were based on short stories written by renowned authors like Rabindranath Tagore. These episodes had a classic touch to them, and I enjoyed doing them.

I don't think television will ever offer a slot for this kind of a serial. But it could also be that Star was not popular then, and only Saans was a hit on it. I don't know the reason why but it had to be wound up.

What brought you to directing? When did you realise that you wanted to take it up as a profession?

My father was in a theatre group (called Abhiyaan; in Madhya Pradesh) so my childhood passed with loads of drama going around. I used to study in the rehearsal room. Watching my father direct plays sparked a desire. So an inclination towards directing was but natural.

Until my higher secondary year I was still weighing direction as a career option. I was confused because at that point of time my father's example stood before me. He had dedicated most of his life to theatre and yet he did not gain much out of it. He used to caution me and did not want me to follow his footsteps.

However this did not deter me. Even while graduating whenever I used to go to pick up academic books say on thermodynamics or Metaphysics, I would inevitably pick a book or two on theatre. I have even acted and directed plays in college. That's where it started.



What does directing mean to you?

Directing is experiencing the joy of watching the way people react to an entertaining story. It's like a puppet show where all the strings are in your hand, the better the puppetry the more involved people get into it. It's a craft.

What do you think about pilots and series being launched without a full script in place?

Setting out to make a pilot or a series without a concrete script/storyline was one of the mistakes I made with my first ventures. The script for only two episodes was ready. I have noticed that pilots without the complete script and its progress in place fail to take off - even with me - leaving no trace.

While approving a project, the channels demand to know how the story is going to unfold after 50 or 70 episodes, so if you don't have a concrete storyline on paper then it creates a hurdle and blocks the project. And that precisely is what had gone wrong with my first pilot. The channel liked the pilot but since I did not know how the story was going to develop, it was rejected. Similarly another pilot which took off around the same time had to be shelved due to the same reasons.

What factors do you consider before taking up a project? What makes you say yes to a project?

Honestly ... primarily the set up. How much freedom will I get is of utmost importance because most producers put restrictions like don't shoot here and there, shoot within this budget in order to save a lot. I feel uncomfortable working with stingy producers.

Then the theme matters. I avoid taking up projects that are similar to the ones that I already have in hand.

Basically there are only six kinds of stories that are going around in this medium, romance, revenge....etc. These are considered to be some kind of formulae that are going around. So what really matters is how the story is being woven, who the actors are and the format in which it is presented. ... and how much I'm getting paid for it.

How much do you rely on the script?

The script is the base of the story. If you don't have a good script then the director cannot do anything about it. And now I have begun to believe that direction is not about angles, it is about how easily and nicely you convey the story to the audience.

What things are you particular about in the script? Do you have a say in the script?

Yes, I have a say, but more than the script, a director has to be in during the screen-play sitting and know where and how the flow of the graph is going to be. A director cannot just take the script and go to the sets and start directing.

During the screenplay the scenes that are going to stand out are decided and also the flow of the episode graph. Each scene in an episode has to stand by itself. There is the main storyline and within that each episode should have a crescendo and have good points.

Television has become very competitive; if you are not giving something to the audience between the breaks then your audience will go way from your programme. The viewer has to come back to you and that is what I actually look to do. Every scene has to have that meat to keep viewers glued. Most of the serials have content-less scenes, the absence of which will not make that much of a difference to the episode. I leave them out.

How do you plan your shoots?

We are always working against time. I am basically a very disorganised director. That is my one of my weakest points.

Does it affect your work?

No. I enjoy it most of the time, besides last minute improvising helps actually.

Before coming on to the floor what kind planning do you go into?

Well, I am quite disorganised. I don't plan. I often reach late the sets late. But I prefer being spontaneous, because if I plan before going on floor then the things are most likely to go haywire.

How do you improvise on your work?

I never do short revisions or mull over how will I proceed with the work next day. If you plan according to the scenes on the day of shoot and get to know that that artiste is going to come late, then the whole schedule goes haywire. So I have changed my style. Now I go on the sets, see the circumstances and then execute things accordingly.

What do you expect from your unit? How is your approach with your unit?

Honesty and sincerity. There is no hierarchy in the unit and I never put a shot which would be difficult for the cameraman to highlight, because I myself get behind the camera, so through experience I know what the limitations are. Such thoughts need to be given in all directions.

Why do you think Koshish has become so popular?

Koshish is not just another story. The character of Neeraj had not come on television before and that's why I took it up. I was approached with two projects. Both were good but this one had the interesting character of Neeraj. You get to explore the emotion and mind of a mentally-challenged being human. How such a person would think? What must be going in his mind? are some of the issues you have to deal it.

Then the whole concept of a girl being kept in the dark and getting married off to a mentally-challenged person and how the girl tries to keep the marriage going is quite interesting.

How do you get the best out of artistes?

Actually it depends on the whole ambience. If the artiste is scared he/she will never perform. If you yell at the artiste for not giving a good take, than the second take will be worse than the first take. The performance depends on how you encourage them. But then again after 20-30 episodes they get into the skin of the character and you don't have to do much.

How do you work on you characters?

I don't sit for hours together and mull over them. You generally know your character and I always take a reference from people around me. My close relatives, my chachi (Father's sister-in-law) or maasi (Mother's sister) and then mould the character according to them, so you know nuances of the character better and it becomes much easier. Otherwise to create a whole new different character out of one's imagination becomes a little difficult. If you have a real life character it is much better.

How much do you rely on TRPs?

Actually it is very confusing. For instance in Koshish most of my worst episodes have high TRPs. Earlier I would get scared about TRPs slipping down when I thought the episodes aren't good, but when I saw the ratings I was taken aback, they were actually good and had actually crossed the ratings of Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki and Kaun Banega Crorepati.

It is actually shocking that my bad episodes get good ratings while the good ones have let me down.

How do you differentiate the good episodes from the bad?

When the episode isn't moving and there is little change. Generally I shoot four five episodes. The first three are normally executed very well. Because I have taken my own sweet time in making them better, the last episode is always shot in a hurry. And then it hits me that one more episode is to be shot and there is just one day in hand. So I rush through it.

Which genre do you enjoy doing the most?

All. It like you can't tell an actor to do only comedy.

What inspires you?

Script. If you don't have a good script then you don't even feel like going on the floor. But if you have a good script then it motivates and makes you want to create magic with it.

What are you particular about while on the sets?

Food. I am fond of eating good food. I won't bother about what time we have to pack up. But it is crucial that the lunch break has to be at 1.30 pm.

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