Ludo still
Rajkummar Rao and Fatima Sana Shaikh in 'Ludo'. Image Credit: Netflix

Bollywood’s maverick director Anurag Basu learnt the true meaning of the adage, ‘Desperate times call for desperate measures’, when he had to shoot a portion of his latest wacky misadventure comedy ‘Ludo’ just before India went into a COVID-19 lockdown. The actor who was designated to play a significant role couldn’t make it, but Basu had a plan.

“The actor I had in mind couldn’t make it because of the coronavirus outbreak, so I tried my best to hide my face with a beard and with a lot of make-up … We had to learn how to roll with what came our way,” said Basu in an interview with Gulf News.

Anurag Basu.

Learning to roll with the times seems to be the philosophy behind his new star-fuelled, jam-packed ‘Ludo’, a nod to the popular board game.

Poised to premiere on Netflix this November 12, Basu’s film boasts an impressive list of talents including Pankaj Tripathi, Abhishek Bachchan, Rajkummar Rao, Sanya Malhotra, Fatima Sana Shaikh and child actor Inaayat Verma. The film chronicles the misadventures of different people whose lives intersect in a comically cosmic way towards the climax.

Gulf News spoke to the chief players of ‘Ludo’, including Tripathi, Bachchan, Kapur, Malhotra, Shaikh, Verma and director Basu …

Player: Actor Rajkummar Rao as the incorrigible romantic

Fatima Sana Shaikh and Rajkummar Rao_LUDO_Netflix-1605001640620
Rajkummar Rao and Fatima Sana Shaikh.

His quirk: Channels his inner Mithun Chakraborty mannerisms

Rao's take on his role and the film: “‘Ludo’ is a mad caper and is one of its kind. I have never played a character who had to do so much physical comedy and who better than Dada [Director Anurag Basu] to try something new with … Mimicking someone is tricky and there’s a thin line between getting it right and going overboard. I tried to give my character true emotions, too. He’s madly in love with this girl [actress Fatima Sana Shaikh] and he is such a hopeless romantic that he’s willing to lose everything in his life for this young woman. When he’s around her, he cannot see anything but her. His whole world revolved around Pinky.”

Working with an innovative director like Basu: “Dada expects you to explore the scenes on the sets and he’s happy if we bring something new to the table … I like that process because it indicates your director’s trust in you as an actor and I felt equally trusting of his talents. I felt I was in safe hands because he is one of the finest filmmakers of our country … He is a filmmaker who isn’t scared to try and that’s the beauty of his art. In Bollywood there’s a tendency to bracket actors, directors or writers.”

The characters other than his own that fascinated him: “The one played by Inaayat … That kiddo is so brilliant and her confidence is unbelievable. She’s an absolute natural … And we all know that Pankaj ji [Pankaj Tripathi] is such a fine actor … The film set was a masterclass in acting.”

His biggest takeaway from ‘Ludo’: “Dada gave me confidence as an actor … even though I do a lot of physical comedy, I still managed to maintain a semblance of humanity in my character … I am the complete package, ladies.”

His thoughts on ‘Ludo’ premiering on Netflix directly: “After COVID-19 hit us, we were unsure about what’s going to happen to our films … Fortunately, OTTs were already in place and its reach became wide and broad during the lockdown … As an actor, all I want is people to laugh and be entertained through our work … The show must go on.”

Players: Aditya Roy Kapur and Sanya Malhotra as confused lovers

Aditya Roy Kapur and Sanya Malhotra Ludo
Aditya Roy Kapur and Sanya Malhotra.

Their quirks: They like each other, but aren’t keen to be serious about each other

‘Ludo’ in their own words:

Malhotra: “Working in a wacky comedy like ‘Ludo’ was a breather for me and I felt relaxed as an actor for the first time in my life. I was going onto the sets without doing much homework and I am the kind of actor who likes to do her homework and get into the skin of my character. But this time for ‘Ludo’, I just trusted Dada with everything and to be honest, I felt relaxed. I had to learn how to be in the moment as an actor.”

Kapur: “The beauty of working in a film directed by Dada [Anurag Basu] is that there is a method to his madness. But as actors his method is never fully clear and it’s all in his head … We were kind of unprepared on set, but it was such a noble, fun and liberating experience.”

On their chemistry as a naughty pair who get into trouble:

Malhotra: “We hate each other, but we are very good actors … Just kidding. Aditya made me feel very comfortable on set and perhaps that translated into good chemistry.”

Kapur: “The credit has to go Dada because he was putting in these zany situations, but was shouting that it should feel unscripted and spontaneous. We were also dealing with some very relatable situations that young couples face today … Our characters are contrasting personalities and that clash made it interesting … Also, the sticky situation that find ourselves stuck in — I don’t want to give spoilers now — can happen to anyone in today’s times and that’s worrying. It makes us anxious.”

Challenges they faced playing their roles:

Malhotra: “Those [intimate] scenes gave me thoda [little] anxiety. Many people think there are only both of us in those scenes and we are in this room sharing a romantic moment … But there are a lot of people around us and we have to perform.”

Kapur: “The parts where I had to play a ventriloquist parts were challenging. But it was fun to learn.”

Their takeaway from ‘Ludo’:

Malhotra: “‘Ludo’ is one of those perfect entertainers that you can watch and re-watch with your family.”

Kapur: “There’s some truth to the saying that opposites attract … In life, you have often seen couples who don’t make sense to the outside world, but somewhere their minds meet and their love story becomes a possibility.”

Players: Troubled father Abhishek Bachchan and neglected child Inaayat, who form an unlikely bond.

Inaayat and Abhishek Bachchan in Ludo
Inaayat and Abhishek Bachchan.

Their quirk: They are not connected by blood, but the unlikely pair form a close bond mimicking a father-daughter tie

On working with each other:

Bachchan: “You don’t need to break the ice with Inayat she breaks the ice for you. She’s so loving, friendly and a consummate professional … From the minute she walked onto the set, we hit it off and Dada was happy at our instant camaraderie … I don’t look at her as a cute actor, I look at her an accomplished actor.”

Inaayat: “I felt the same with Abhishek Bhaiyya [brother] … He used to talk normal things with me and that made me feel at ease. I never felt nervous at any point and he made me feel comfortable from the word go.”

On how they shot this comedy with multiple actors:

Bachchan: “We had no idea about what others were up to. We just went about our job and that was it. All of us shot our portions separately.”

Inaayat: “Apart from what Abhishek Bhaiyya said, I really didn’t know much about my character. All I knew is that we had a lot of masti [fun] … I was given a script and my dialogues and I just said them.”

Working with director Anurag Basu:

Bachchan: “He doesn’t like it if his actors deliver a rehearsed performance. He loves it if his actors are natural and unrehearsed … A lot of the time, we are not really aware of what’s really going on, but then the pieces come together … All he wants is his actors to show up and he will make you perform the way he wants you to … He’s truly the grand puppeteer master. As an actor, you must learn to go with his flow and trust him … I can’t take any credit for my performance in this film.”

‘Ludo’ in their own words:

Bachchan: “It’s a sweet, pleasant film … We are going through a phase where we are a bit lost … ‘Ludo’ is a light-hearted film where you might smile and have a small tear in your eye … It’s an important film in these times.”

Inaayat: “‘Ludo’ taught me that I love acting and it’s a perfect time pass. This film taught me so many new things in my life …”

The most challenging scenes:

Bachchan: “The scene where my character sees his biological daughter for the first time … I had to look happy, shocked, scared and angry … It was such a layered scene because he realises that his life decisions have their father-daughter relationship … My relationship with Inaayat is so wonderful, but my relationship with actual daughter isn’t. There was a lot going on in that scene … I stayed away from the actor who was playing my daughter for the whole day so that she gets intimidated and scared of seeing me … I had to capture the emotions of a father who has not seen his biolgiocal child for the last six years … Dada put on some random music, before the camera rolled.”

Inaayat: “The scene featuring the dog was the most difficult one to pull off because I am scared of dogs … But I just prayed hard and went about that scene.”

On their film releasing on a streaming platform directly:

Bachchan: “‘Ludo’ was intended for a theatrical release, but obviously now times are different and we are happy that Netflix decided to pick up the film … We have the right audience for this kind of a film … The aesthetic and the narrative of this film along with the director’s vision have a great symmetry. By and large, it’s a very clean film … Many streaming platforms have sadly and unfortunately developed the reputation of being cutting edge and pushing boundaries … Trust me, you can watch ‘Ludo’ with the whole family … Plus, it’s wonderful that people continue to tell new stories and these platforms are allowing story tellers and content creators to reach a larger audience. They are now daring to be more audacious in their story telling.”

Players: Actor Pankaj Tripathi as the trigger-happy gangster and director Anurag Basu, the captain of ‘Ludo’

Pankaj Tripathi in Ludo
Pankaj Tripathi

His quirk: Takes incredible pleasure in spraying his enemies with bullets. Has taken a crash course on being stylish while waving a gun

On Ludo:

Tripathi: “I had so much fun playing a don with such swagger and such cool quotient. I have played gangsters in my career before, but playing somebody like the one in ‘Ludo’ was always on my wishlist. I had to give off chill and cool vibes. Daada wanted me to be a gangster with a twist and I sunk my teeth into this role … The filming was the most fun. We were more concerned about what we were going to eat at breakfast, lunch and dinner and in between managed to film the comedy … I am clueless about what other actors are doing in this film or their roles, but I had a lot of fun.”

Basu: “My intention was to make everyone smile and I have created this whimsical world where most of my characters are zany and mad … This film is tangentially different from my other whimsical film ‘Jagga Jaasoos’.”

Don’t miss it!

‘Ludo’ will stream on Netflix from November 12