Anurag Basu’s big screen treat from last year, Jagga Jasoos, fell through the cracks despite ticking every box of the commercially successful Hindi film: popular actors in the lead, beautiful locations, song-and-dance. The negative buzz that started from its troubled production seemed to follow it till the end. It’s not perfect, but the film—in which Ranbir Kapoor’s boy detective goes on an adventure in search of his missing father—is one-of-a-kind. It was a proper musical, it boasted of great performances, and it took wild risks with the narrative structure. The delightfully loony film evoked passionate reactions from a small section, but it failed to reach out to the larger audience–that either didn’t care for it, or simply didn’t watch it. A year after its release, Basu looks back at his expensive passion project, explains why it should have been promoted differently, his experimentations with the screenplay, and his equation with Ranbir Kapoor.
It’s been a year since Jagga Jasoos released in theatres. Why it is not available on any of the OTT streaming platforms?
I don’t know. We make the film and we give it to the…it’s Disney’s film right now. I can’t sell it to Amazon or Netflix. They have to do it, and a number of people ask me where they can watch it.
The biggest regret is we couldn’t communicate the film in the promotions… that the dialogues are in songs, that it’s a musical adventure. I’ll not blame anybody… but when you have decided to back a film, you have to back it till the end, you should not chicken-out before the release. It went for a safe promotion. …The audience should be aware and be ready for what they are getting into. I am not saying we would have done better — but I would have got the audience who were ready to watch that kind of a film… It’s sad that the kids didn’t go to see it, on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday. By the time there was some word-of-mouth, and reviews, that kids must watch it, it was too late.
What should have been the pitch?
That it’s a musical-adventure, a family-children film. In India the problem, at least when it comes to Hindi films, is that it’s the parents who take their children to the cinema theatre, and not the other way around. For example, say, parents will take their kids to see Golmaal because we don’t make pure kids film… It becomes a different story altogether when your kid is taking you rather than when you are taking your kid… you will go with that frame of mind. In this case, I don’t think kids took the parents to the theatre.
The musical numbers, which were in the film but not in the album, weren’t released either. Pritam has been publishing them on his own.
Pritam is doing it independently—he texts me asking me to retweet him (laughs). But without visuals it’s not getting anywhere… it’s very sad. I see some movies which have done worse than this film, and they are not important films, but they are available in all the platforms like Amazon and Netflix. It baffles me… I can request, I cannot do anything more than that.
Anything about the film you would have liked to change?
I could have done something about the climax, it could have been polished…nicely spoon-fed. Otherwise I have no regrets.
Also in hindsight, I think…there are rules of screenplay writing which every film follows. I wanted to break those rules in Jagga… but the human mind is used to watching a certain kind of screenplay pattern. In any film, there are three sections of the story track: beginning, middle and end. We thought we’ll structure Jagga with three beginning-middle-ends. So there was beginning-middle-end, beginning-middle-end and beginning-middle-end.
Where did the structure come from?
It comes from my “Tintin” ka binding. Back in the day, we used to make our own volumes and put all the “Tintin”s together, so when you start reading one “Tintin”, you finish it and read another one, and another one. So I had that feeling of that, you know, just putting three stories in one film, and make it part of the whole film…I think I had done too many experiments in one film… I don’t know how I would have done it differently…I could have kept one thing safe, either the screenplay structure, or something. I experimented with everything: the screenplay, in narrative it’s a musical, the characters, father and son.
Do you regret the fact that you took about four years to make the film?
I don’t get why that aspect was talked about so much because every filmmaker, if you see, takes four-five years. The last Rajkumar Hirani film was PK, now Sanju, how many years in between? They are writing, scripting, shooting. I think Ayan (Mukerji) has been writing Brahmastra for 5-6 years… I went on the floors early because it’s a musical; it was very difficult to have the whole soundtrack ready and then go on the floors. Also, RK was shooting three films during Jagga—Bombay Velvet, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, and Tamasha. So I thought it’ll be wiser for all of us that Ranbir takes out some in-between time from his films for Jagga. That was the idea from the beginning. But people started talking so much about four years, and how we are confused and we aren’t sure, and all these negative news. But I think we knew what we were doing.
“…what Jagga has taken away from me is one more experimental film I would love to do. So I’ll have to wait for another good film, a successful film, to again do something new.”
How did it affect your relationship with Ranbir Kapoor (also, one of the producers of Jagga)? Rishi Kapoor lashed out at you after the film bombed.
See Chintu ji is Chintu ji (laughs), so no… it never changed, I think we are special, we are more than friends. It’ll take a bigger thing to change our friendship…I’m not saying I am a guy he is meeting and partying with everyday but the connect is too deep. And for every important decision of his life or my life, we are consulting each other.
Has the commercial failure of Jagga hurt your status in the industry?
If I had made a bad film, it would have hurt. In terms of craft, I’m not being questioned. Thankfully the industry is not so rude that they only go by box officers numbers. But again, what Jagga has taken away from me is one more experimental film I would love to do. So I’ll have to wait for another good film, a successful film, to again do something new.
Is your next film with Rajkummar Rao and Kangana Ranaut?
Yes. I don’t know which one will release first, but there are two I am making right now. There’s Imli—tentative title though… it’s a script I had written long time back. It’s very close to me, slice-of-life, a lot of things from my own life are in that film. When I narrated the script to Rajkummar and Kangana, they were excited.
The other one is an ensemble-cast, multiple-story film. It’s a relationship story, and it’s set in four cities; Lucknow and Allahabad have also become metros now. In last 10 years a lot of things have changed in India. I’ll not call it a Life in a Metro sequel though. A lot of the actors have said yes, but putting all of them together, in one given time, is tough.
Are you looking to cast Irrfan in it?
Yeah, I definitely want him. I am in touch with Sutapa (Irrfan’s wife), and he is doing really fine. Sometimes I see positive side of things, I think he is rediscovering life, after a long time he has given time to himself, and spending time…he is reading, I think he is good. Your outlook toward life changes, he’ll come out of it a better actor, person.
You are a cancer survivor yourself.
Yeah, thats’s why the khujli of doing something new. You have got one life, and you want to do everything. I don’t understand why people make one kind of film again and again. It’s so boring.
What happened to the Kishore Kumar biopic?
A lot of things went wrong in the beginning: Ranbir had other commitments, some aspect of the script, and the usual issues that comes with making a biopic, because his life touched so many other lives. It’s in a limbo, and every 2-3 months, it comes out of it, and I run around, talk to people. I think every film has its own fate and destiny, it will find its own way. Soumik (Sen, Gulaab Gang) has written the script. A lot of filmmakers want to make it, I have told Amit da (Kumar, Kishore Kumar’s son), even if am side-tracked, and somebody else is making it I am happy. It’s an amazing story, and it should be made soon.