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I Had 18 Months To Prove Myself But No Work. My Journey From Background Dancer To Today

A life like a Bollywood movie

Foreword

Our lives are like most Bollywood movies where every happy scene follows a sad one. It was the same for this Bollywood director as well. Coming from a small town of Chhattisgarh and then making it big in the maximum city was like playing hardball.

Finally, when success walked through the doors into his life, destiny had some other plans. He was diagnosed with blood cancer and his body started giving up. Rather than accepting his fate, he stood strong, and fought that battle. And here he is! From conquering the slash and burn of Mumbai, to making gems like Barfi, Life In A… Metro, Gangster etc., filmmaker Anurag Basu has had one heck of a journey.

In a warm conversation with KenFolios, he talks about his far-fetched dream of being a director, his fight with cancer and the lessons of life.

Excerpts:

“I grew up in a typical Bengali family in Bhilai, Chhattisgarh. I feel very fortunate to grow up in a city, which at that time, was very culturally rich. I believe that the first half of my life was very good, which created the second half.

I come from a family of artistes and grew up seeing my parents act in theatre plays. However, back then, the only way to climb the ladder of success was by studying. Like everyone else, I chose engineering, studied for various entrance tests, and even got selected. In school, I was very active in cultural activities. My teachers looked up to me for various functions. And that was when I realized that I was good at telling stories.

I dropped the idea of pursuing engineering and after completing STD 12, I told my parents that I wanted to go into films and direction. It was not very hard to convince them, as they were lover of arts. My knowledge and experience expanded in rehearsal rooms where I witnessed many artistes performing, and that somewhere built my base.

Dreaming a dream

However, at that time, coming to Bombay was like a far-fetched dream. But somehow, after completing my graduation in 1996, it happened. After reaching Bombay, I realized that it was very difficult to survive in this city. I wanted to be a director, the captain of the ship, but I did not know direction.

Back then, approaching people was not easy, and I faced a lot of rejection. I started feeling like I had made a big mistake. I decided to give myself one-and-a-half-years. If nothing would happen in that time frame, I would pack my bags and go back. But at the same time, I was a very mad person. I kept on pursuing my dreams and decided to enter the film sets at any capacity. So I started taking up small jobs.

You need to earn people and not money. When you earn people, money follows you.

I started as a background dancer, assisted as a makeup man, etc. I would meet people and make connections. I was fortunate because at that time, there was a boom in the satellite television. There were many jobs and very soon, I got to know about a new television show called Tara. I was 22 then, and by the end of 1996, I was an assistant director in Tara.

Spitting blood and life lessons

I started directing many shows, and that is how I learnt the craft. After doing TV for a very long time, I realized that this is not something I came to Bombay for. I was doing great but I was hungry for more. Finally, Bhatt sahab (director and producer Mahesh Bhatt) offered me my first film Murder. It later went on to become a huge hit. I was very happy and that was when my journey in films started.

Like many films, my life was perfect. My career was on up-graph, I had gotten married, and my wife was pregnant. In 2004, I was shooting for my next film and that was when I got a big shock. I was spitting blood and was rushed to the hospital. I was diagnosed with blood cancer. I could not believe that it had happened to me.

I didn’t fight cancer. Cancer had to fight me.

It was spreading like a wild fire and I had 50 percent chances of dying. I was being shifted to another hospital and the ambulance journey was scary. I could not breathe and was scared to die in the traffic jam. I just wanted to see my child’s face before dying. That was the only motivation in my life. I just wanted to survive for three months. So I started making targets.

One year at a time

Yeh sochta hoon ki mazaa aayega ki nahi (I just think whether doing something will be fun or not). I do whatever I want. If I am lucky enough, people will like what I am making. Earlier, I was much into earning money but after my illness, my perspective changed. I realized that it is very important to be happy and keep people around you happy.

I started taking small steps. My body was giving up, I was on ventilator for several days but I came back. I just wanted to wake up the next day, and get out of the hospital. After I got out of the hospital, people were scared to give me films. So I went back to TV and decided to start from zero. That was when I was offered Gangster, and I shot the entire movie while undergoing chemotherapy.

After this I announced Life In A.. Metro and started working on that. And here I am today, still making targets, just one year, not much. I think that is how it works. The love for my work keeps me going. I do not touch any subject that does not make me happy. I do not think if the movie is going to be a hit or a flop.

I never thought that I would land up here in life. I just followed a road and kept moving. I kept on shifting my targets according to the situations and it just happened. When I was doing TV, I did not know that I would do films. It just happened eventually. And it is a natural process. I always say and believe that there are only two types of people in this world- nails and hammer. It depends on a person to decide what he want to be. You can be either of the two.”

Conceptualized by Shubha Shrivastava

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