Leukaemia almost did him in, but the film-maker had a miracle recovery, says Rishi Majumder

Photographer: Surya Sen

Anurag with his daughter

Action! Amol (played by Dharmendra) clasps Shivani’s (played by Nafisa Ali) hand while speeding her to a hospital. “Gaari Kyon Rok Di?” He shouts at the driver when the ambulance brakes, siren still ringing. “Traffic Jam.” Barging out, he jostles around a maze of cars, frantically looking to escape from one of a metro’s most poignant ironies…
– Scene from Life In A Metro, released 2007.

Director Anurag Basu was being rushed from Leelavati Hospital to Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) in an ambulance. Stuck in a jam with his pregnant wife, he had one thought running through his head: “I want to live to see my baby.” That was 2004. Three years later, Basu translates his favourite dialogue from Life In A Metro, conceived by him while still under treatment: “We spend entire lives in our quest for something better, and something more. The quest never exhausts itself. Time does, though.” Cut to shooting for Tumsa Nahin Dekha (2004) at Ballard Pier. Basu’s mouth started bleeding on the sets: “I visited the doctor, thinking it would be a tooth cavity!” Diagnosed with acute leukaemia, doctors at Leelavati told Basu he had a maximum of two weeks to live. Basu recalls being on the ventilator: “It was like having a pillow being pushed against your face, and you had to concentrate on every bit of oxygen you could get. And yet, thoughts flowed: How much money have I saved for my family? What about insurance?” At TMH, within two weeks, things were looking up: “Thanks to Dr Banawali there, survival seemed possible.” Fellow patients going
through similar illnesses helped him deal with his own. “Especially some children,” he says. “Who were happy and chirpy, despite having figured out what was happening.” And yet there were chilling incidents — a man, whose treatment and recovery ran parallel to his, had a sudden relapse.
A workaholic, Basu both recorded instructions for a shoot and supervised post
production via DVD views at the hospital. Once discharged, he was back to routine work to divert his mind from chemotherapy: “It actually took half the pain off.”
Now, having recovered, he’s “got life back to ‘normal’ as much as possible. Except that I chew paan now instead of smoking!” There is one difference, though. “For nine years, I never made time for my family.” Today, he slots work to make it for dinner, lays priority on things like “walk with my wife when it rains”… and spends a lot of time with his now two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Ishana: “This realisation was the basis for Metro.”
Basu recently tried to get Ishana to sing Alvida from the movie, to record as his ringtone. But she sang another song which, rendered with a charming lisp, sums up far better what a metropolitan has to combat daily: “Lakdi ki kathi, kathi pe ghoda, ghode ki dum pe jo maara hathauda… Daura daura daura ghoda dum utha ke daura!”
Cut, it’s a wrap.

This article originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India:


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