Director-writer Anees Bazmee is among the scant few avid practitioners of Hindi formula films to have transitioned successfully to a creative innings in new-age Bollywood. After an eventful career as a writer and director, spanning almost 30 years, Bazmee has now taken it upon himself to create a Writer’s Room under his production banner to groom young writers. Work has already begun in right earnest with 12 scripts having been selected by his team.
On what prompted him to take on this endeavour, he admits that it is inspired by legendary screenwriters Salim-Javed who paved the way for writers getting recognised by the film industry. “Unka ehsaan hai ki unhone writers ki pehchaan banayi. There is a lot of talent (in the film industry) but there aren’t enough opportunities. Having been a writer and undergone the suffering, I can empathise with them,” he says.
Bazmee’s own apprenticeship as a writer began as early as 5th grade in school when his father, a poet, asked him to write down his poetry (written in Gujarati script) in Urdu. The young boy’s work also included getting tea, paan and cigarettes for his father’s friends, all shayars, gathered at Wazir Hotel in Mumbai. At the age of 17 when he was learning the ropes of film-making from showman Raj Kapoor (being his 7th assistant on Prem Rog), it was this knowledge of Urdu poetry and shayari that came handy and got him noticed by Kapoor.
The genesis of Bazmee’s love for writing and his aptitude for rigour and discipline perhaps explains why, despite the onslaught of the woke new wave cinema, Bazmee’s brand of family entertainers typified by No Entry, Singh is King and Welcome — all blockbusters — continue to have a following.
Ironically, although he has written over 60 films including thrillers and drama films like Shola Aur Shabnam, Bol Radha Bol and Laadla, Bazmee is best known for frolicking comedies like Aankhen.
While these films were all top grossers, they ended up in the heap as mere moneyspinners never making the grade as classics.
He stayed the course nevertheless and made his debut as a director with Hulchul, a thriller starring Ajay Devgn that turned out to be a dud. Things turned around with Pyaar To Hona Hi Tha with Ajay Devgn and Kajol, which was a commercial success. Many more blockbuster films like No Entry, Singh Is King and Welcome followed but landed in the category infamously tagged ‘Mindless Entertainment’.
Bazmee is not losing sleep over the pejorative tag though. If anything, he is throwing his weight behind family entertainers despite the middling performance of his last film Mubarakan. Another mad caper, Pagalpanti, staring Anil Kapoor, Arshad Warsi and John Abraham, is releasing in November this year.
“It takes a lot of effort to make a comedy. I have written dramas, love stories, thrillers (over 60 films) and directed 15 films but aaj bhi jab mujhe log bolte hain ki comedy likhni hai to mere haath pair phoolne lagte hain. Aur mujhe lagta hai ki yeh jo mindless cheezein dikhayi deti hain uske peeche bahut mind apply karna padta hai (Even today when people ask me to write comedy, I get scared. In my opinion, even the mindless stuff you see on screen needs to be created carefully).”
Citing No Entry as an example, he points out that Bipasha Basu essayed the role of a prostitute which he says was the toughest one to write because it was not within his comfort zone. To lend her acceptability within the frame of family entertainment, he opted for a justifiable back story about her husband who was hospitalised as an obvious motivation for her dubious career choice.
“At the end of it, she was no ordinary woman. There was comedy on the surface of it but there was also pain and tragedy,” he explains.
To the critique of formula comedies being weighed down by clichéd emotional justifications, he counters that light-hearted moments can stem from emotionally fraught and tragic situations as well. Citing examples from his own life, Bazmee recalls that his father had many admirers but his mother, who was uneducated, failed to understand the value of his poetry.
In another incident, he recalls a friend who wrote terrible poetry but on a lean day, Bazmee would happily play along and praise him. “I knew that if I didn’t hear a few of his ghazals, he would not shell out any money for a meal. After two to three poems, he would get emotional and ask me if I had had dinner. Food would soon appear on the table and after a few more recitations over dinner, we would call it a day. Main jab bhookha rehta tha usme bahut comedy thi (there was a lot of comedy in me staying hungry).”
Formulaic or not, so far, Bazmee’s comedy despite its chequered history has plenty of takers as far as the film industry is concerned. Top league stars Akshay Kumar, Anil Kapoor, John Abraham and Salman Khan feature regularly in Bazmee’s productions hinting at the bankability of these crowd-pullers.
“Comedy has been frowned upon for too long. Comedy ko log neechi nazar se dekhte hain lekin khair badlav ayega (Comedy is still considered lowbrow art, but there will be a change in people’s outlook),” he says optimistically.
Given that his new projects include Bhool Bhulaiya 2 with young stars Kartik Aryan and Kiara Advani, a comedy with Ekta Kapoor and a web series, Bazmee could well be having the last laugh if he successfully pulls off these laugh riots.