Anees Bazmee has done it all – and done it well. He is known as the mastermind director of some of the biggest cult comedies the last couple of generations has seen, including No Entry, Welcome, Singh is Kinng, and Mubarak, and will now be coming out with Pagalpanti this year. But before he became an ace director of comedies, he has years of experience as a writer, and has done much more than comedy. When I got on the phone with him, I realized just how much hard work Aneez Bazmee has done. Here’s out chat on his journey:
Sir, you said in an interview that you have struggled for many years in the film industry. You have worked in the art department, you have done writing, you have been an AD and have done a lot of work behind the scenes before you started the writing process. You have also written for cult films, like Gopi Kishen. Can you recall the time when you first entered the film industry and can you tell us more about your struggle and how long it took you to get where you are?
I was very young when I entered this line (of work). I was thirteen, fourteen years old. I was in sound, I was in editing, I was in the art department. About four or five years after that, I became an official director. I worked with 15-16 other directors and then I became a ghostwriter and started writing. So, it was a long journey.
When you are writing a script, I have heard that you didn't have an actor or director in mind and that you had written about thirty, forty scripts for a variety of films. Out of these film scripts, which ones are the closest to your heart – that is, before you became a director.
Before I became a director, I really liked Aankhen, Swarg, Raja, Bol Radha Bol. There are many films that I really liked!
You are known as one of the best comedy directors but you had directed a wonderful film by the name of Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha. It was one of your first films. How did your journey in comedy films start? Some of your most successful films have been comedies. Was the transition natural or did you feel that I should stick to comedy since it was working out quite well for you?
No, no, it was not planned. It happened on its own. When we made No Entry, it turned out to be a huge hit. After that I made all types of films but I don't know if it is a coincidence or not but I made a love story which did not release, then I made an action movie that didn't release. The comedies just happened to release but I was actually making all kinds of films at that time.
Your dialogues in scripts, many of your characters are very iconic. Whether it is Majnu Bhai or Prem. There is a scene in No Entry that I find very funny, which had to do with Anil Kapoor always repeating the phrase “be positive” in the film. Near the end when Fardeen Khan’s character asks Anil Kapoor’s character what he actually means by “Be Positive”, Anil replies by saying that “It’s my blood group”! Moments like these, how do they come to your mind? Are they inspired by your life or the lives of your friends?
Exactly! If you are a writer, you stay aware and observe what people are doing and how the lives of your friends are going. You keep observing. I think this is the main difference between a normal person and a writer. A normal person sees everything happening but doesn't remember anything. However, a writer/director observes and remembers things.
‘Be Positive’ and ‘Aloo Lelo’ (Welcome) type moments, are probably not as funny when initially written on paper in the script. How do you translate these moments onto the screen? Actors like Anil Kapoor and Nana Patekar also have methods and styles of dialogue delivery that are unique and interesting. How do you make sure what you wrote translates on screen?
As a writer, when you think about it, you know immediately whether a certain dialogue will work or not. As you said, Anil Kapoor and Nana Patekar both are very good actors. So when they perform these type of scenes, naturally it comes out better than what was written. But you find out right when you are writing a film whether it will work or not on screen. However, that comes with experience and there is no shortcut to it. When you write many films, you come to understand how you should and shouldn't approach a scene.
When you watch present day films, you must have noticed that masala or comedy films are becoming infrequent. Such films aren't made as much anymore. In the last several years, we have noticed a shift. They want comedy but they lean towards smart comedy. They don't want slapstick comedy anymore. You once said that often another person’s tragedy becomes comedy for someone else. What did you mean by this?
I meant that all the movies that I have written or made, I didn't try to make them slapstick. The comedy was based on actual problems that are quite serious in nature, but it has a bit of a comedic twist. For example, in Welcome, Nana Patekar wants to get his sister married but he has been unsuccessful in doing so. So in itself, this situation is not comedic, it is actually quite serious in nature. Similarly, at the end of Welcome, the house is about to fall. This is a serious situation but the comedy lies in how the characters react. In No Entry, the heroes are hanging from a cliff and they are about to die. This is also something quite serious and tension-inducing. What needs to be observed is how to bring comedy into actual serious situations.
When you are writing, do you already have the tone and dialogue delivery of the dialogues in your mind or do you let the actors do it in their own style? Do you have it all planned or do you let them do it however they can?
I allow the actors to do what they organically feel is right. I don't force my ideas on them. I also observe whether the actor performs the scene in a way that was better than what I had imagined. If it is better than what I imagined, then there is no need for me to say anything. If at any point I feel like I need to say anything, what I have observed is that all these actors are quite accomplished and all they essentially need is a small indication of what I want. They catch on quite quickly.
I have observed that the climax scene in many comedy films ends up looking quite stupid. As you said, there is a tragedy that you build a comedic scene around. What often happens is that the comedy becomes very over the top and outwardly. People begin to wonder how and why is this happening. What is your opinion on this? And do you feel there is a fine line between very good comedy and something that is stupid and unrealistic?
It is a very difficult job. I feel that this is something that one is always scared about as a writer and as a director. Crossing this line does not take much and we are often on the edge of it anyway. You are right, it is a cause of worry for any writer, director and actor. We need to make sure that whatever we are doing is within the realm of good comedy. I feel that if you have written your comedy or situational comedy well, then it is easier to avoid crossing that thin line. However, when you haven't written a scene well, then the actors have to try more from their end and I think that is where things often get out of hand.
Sir, people often say that those that are very good at comedy sometimes aren't as funny in real life and they are actually a bit serious in their demeanour. They often have a tragedy of their own but are somehow able to light up the screen with their presence – the late Robin Williams being an example. Do you feel that this is often the case or do you feel that you are actually quite funny in real life and so are many of your actors?
I feel that in order to write comedy, you don't necessarily need to be funny in real life. When I write comedy scenes, I’m not an overly happy and jolly person but I feel that if a scene is bringing a smile to my face then maybe the audience might also find it funny. I don't know many people but I don't believe that what you are writing has to match your personality completely. I feel that the dialogues that I write often contain something funny or unique that the audiences find funny.
Many of your films have had huge star casts with some of the biggest names around. Pagalpanti, which will be releasing later on this year, also has a multi-star cast. Managing so many actors, especially for a director, is a very difficult thing. How do you prepare your actors? Do you prepare them with blocking, rehearsals or do you go for no rehearsals so that the acting is impromptu? What is your process?
Making a film with many stars and actors is indeed a challenging task because of differing dates and also because they are all different types of people with different moods. Sometimes they are also insecure about what their role is as well. So it is a very difficult task for a director. When you narrate a story to an actor and they end up liking the story, if they like their role, you begin to create a relationship with them. After that, you need to establish a rapport and friendship with all of your actors. You also must establish a sense of trust within the actor from the perspective of a filmmaker. So all of these things are quite challenging and difficult to achieve. But I have worked with many big-time actors and what I do is I tell them the story with a truth and honesty and I never cast an actor just to add another face to the poster. Their roles and characters are quite strong. And we always try to shoot something even better than the narration with total honesty.
Pagalpanti is releasing this year and it stars John Abraham, who has dabbled with comedy in films like Dostana, but he isn’t particularly known for comedy in films. What is your process in considering and selecting actors for your movies? There is Arshad Warsi, who is known for comedy for many years. And even action. He was featured in the Golmaal Series and the Munna Bhai Series. He has a natural flair for comedy. So how do you choose your actors? What is the casting process?
When you are writing a film, at one point or another, you begin to imagine someone as your characters. In the case of Arshad, actors like him are very good at what they do and I have wanted to work with him for quite some time as well. So I had him in mind. Pulkit has also done good in several films and has surprised me. John was in my film Welcome 2 and although his character didn't have much of a comedic touch, he had two or three scenes where I felt that he did very good comedy. I think what he does in this film will really surprise the audiences.
So what is the film about?
Like the title suggests, Pagalpanti is full of madness. It has a good story and a big star cast. It has good music, action, drama, romance. It has everything that a hardcore commercial film contains. We had a lot of fun making it. We shot for it in London. It was an amazing time and I am sure the audiences will love it.