Distracting Anurag Kashyap

Kashyap unplugged

“Ask them questions about their cleavage,” he chuckles as he sprints past the room where the two lead actresses from his latest franchise ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ are fielding questions from journalists. But director Anurag Kashyap is a lot more than just cocky. Stubbornly resolute about the kind of cinema he wants to be associated with, he was once perceived as a filmmaker who didn’t care to subscribe to a mould for his films to be commercially lucrative. A fanboy of dark and edgy realism, his first film as a writer, at the age of 22, was ‘Satya’. But when he finally earned his director’s cap, his film was banned by the Government of India. After years of enduring personal turmoil, a Supreme Court judge happened to watch the film on a pirated DVD in Dubai and learnt that it had been courting for a release for seven years. Once he returned to India, the case was reopened and the film was released. The film was ‘Black Friday’ (based on the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai) and its biggest achievement was inspiring Danny Boyle (as he admitted) in scripting the multiple-Oscar winner ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. Despite all the laurels, his definition of a successful film is simple, “It is one that survives in the long-term and keeps giving back. It should have a shelf life. The movie should be alive, like Sholay- people still watch it. There were films which weren’t box office successes like ‘Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro’ and ‘Kala Pathar’ but they’ve survived beyond their time and people still watch them.”

Curling with an iPad
Today, Kashyap is a far more relaxed or so his demeanor would speak of as he finds himself absorbed in a Scrabble game on his iPad when this journalist went to chat up with him. He is deservedly confident of his latest two-part crime-thriller ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ that screened at the ‘Festival De Cannes 2012’. With the first part having received an overwhelming response, he feels that ending the film on a high point has created enough curiosity about the sequel. The secret behind the defining calm on his face is obvious but he chooses to elaborate, “The biggest high is that my hobby is my profession and that I am happy all the time. I am getting to do what I want to do. How many people can say that? I am not forced by the market forces. There is no compulsion of doing something or not doing something.”
Anurag explaining an intimate scene on the sets of GOW

Is too much a good thing?

Kashyap’s satiated state of mind today is quite contrary to how it was when he was filming ‘Black Friday’ with minimal resources. Francis Ford Coppola had once famously said that it’s difficult to be a good artist if you’re rich. With a lot more at Kashyap’s disposal today, would he concur with this quote? He begins on a defensive note, “I don’t have anything at my disposal.” And then adds, “Gangs of Wasseypur is an 18.4 crore film, although I needed 60 crores to make it. ‘Black Friday’ needed 8 crores to make but I had to make it in 4.5 crores. It’s not that relaxing. Tomorrow, when I am making a ‘Bombay Velvet’, I need 500 crores and I want ‘Doga’ to be like ‘The Dark Knight’ so I’ll need much more than that. I know that I won’t get budgets like that but I will be very happy if I can pull up the budget to a 70-80 crores and make it sustainable. Every film I work on is still a low-budget film compared to what it actually needs. And yes, I largely agree with the quote, you have to be hungry, frustrated and on the edge to be a good artist some times. So I agree with him 95 percent but there have been 5 percent good artists who have been rich too.”

Fears of making a two-part film
Budgets and limitations of filmmaking are always a sore point for every director and Kashyap looks a little flustered at being poked at about it. So we move on to his latest franchise and whether the gap between the two parts worries him? Would he admit to any risks that he is battling on this account? He calmly looks up from his iPad and rattles away like he was prepared for this one, “It’s a two-part release but it is one film. The risk is that the audience may get bored and get up and leave. The risk is that we may never recover our money. There are too many risks. Does that scare me? Pehle thoda sa dar tha (Initially, I was a bit scared) but once the reactions began rolling in, dar chala gaya (my fears disappeared). What we’re doing is still a safe option by releasing it in a gap of a month and a half. Worldwide, people release sequels with huge gaps. Twilight chal raha hain na? Game of Throne ek ek saal baad aata hain. The ‘LOTR’ came over 3 years, while Harry Potter came over 8. They’re like continuing sagas. The idea is to leave people at a point when they’re curious and they want to know what happens next.” But Indian audiences have been accustomed to watching films which end conclusively, isn’t that a bother? “Sometimes not having a conclusion is also a conclusion,” he jokes.
Huma Qureshi on the sets of GOW 2

Rage against the system
The filmmaker who is known as the brand ambassador of indie cinema, spoke about his journey and struggles at the TED Talk in Sao Paolo, Brazil last year. He claimed to have started a revolution in Indian filmmaking, lending others the courage to go against the tide. But what is the ultimate goal of his movement? He modestly makes a slight correction, “Firstly, I haven’t started the movement.  I just fight for my own survival and I am one of the people in that revolution. The fight is only when people give you a chance. My fight has been, ‘don’t reject me without seeing what I’m doing, please see it once’. So my whole fight with the system has been that ‘don’t reject the film if you don’t see a star on the poster’. Reject it only when you don’t like it. So to increase the number of eye balls who will give me that chance has been a struggle.” But isn’t that reducing the Indian audience to be fickle enough to size up a film based on the star cast? In which case, it would be an impossible to get people into the screens to watch most of his films. Kashyap has a solution, “Everyone wants to see a star on the film poster, everywhere in the world. Very few people are interested in films without stars. So to get people to watch a film with no stars, you have to become a familiar name yourself. You like my body of work so you will come to watch my film. Somewhere people have become familiar with my work but that’s just a small number of people (squints his eyes to convey the proportion). And very few people watch films at the screens in India despite being known as a nation that is film-crazy. They will wait for a TV release or watch it on VCD or pirated discs and everywhere else. This is why our highest earning film is just 50 million dollars. Make it exciting and they will come and watch it. You have to turn a film into an event.”
Kashyap like to unwind by playing a game of Scrabble on his iPad
‘My films don’t pay my bills’
Numbers and box-office results don’t dictate the kind of cinema that Kashyap has forever subscribed to. This brings us to the defining question: would he compromise his vision for a film to make it more profitable? In other words, would he ever make a ‘Dabangg’ or a ‘Singham’? Or is there a mid-way between conserving one’s vision yet making it commercially viable? “I have to increase my pay cheque by increasing the profits of my film. For now, there has not been a pay cheque from my films. My pay cheques come from other sources. My movies don’t pay my bills. I do so many things. I teach, I do ads, I do television appearances, endorsements and so many other things. My films will pay my bills the day they pay the bills for everybody involved and they make profits for everyone. Then I will happily take my share from it,” he responds with a smile. So the money from his films is just enough to break-even or he doesn’t even care for that? “I do care that my movies make money because I want the investor’s money to be recovered. But I don’t want that pressure to force the movie to become something which it should not be. I will make my movie the way it should be made and then I’ll work backwards. When I know that this movie will not make more money than this, I will make it within that much money,” offers Kashyap.
Nawazuddin on the sets of GOW 2
Ganging up against Wasseypur
In his latest, as in many of his previous films, Kashyap has always dared to break societal norms, which, we can now safely assume, is a pre-meditated plan. But would Wasseypur be any less thrilling without doing that? A little irritated, Kashyap responds, “I don’t care. I am telling the story of an individual. Any man who lives by the norms of society is not interesting enough to be in a story that is being told on the screen. What is the story of man who does a 9-5 job and does everything that society expects him to do? So for me, any subject that is interesting has to challenge any norm of society. The film is full of stories that I had read about Wasseypur and other places and a lot of the elements are borrowed from real life often.” 

Another concern about ‘Gangs of Wasseypur 2’ raised by many is against the lead character Faizal played by Nawazuddin Siddique. While the first part paints him as an unassuming, reserved and dark character, the second sees him as a strong lead defining his own destiny. Would this radical personality shift be believable? “Nawazuddin is an extraordinary actor and he fits the role and the character was written with him in mind. It was crafted based on childhood stories like ‘kisi ne apne pet mein itne zor se baat rakhli ki uski height nahin badhti hain aur skin kaali padne lagti hain. Kaala isliye kyun ki usne apne ander kuch gaanth baandke rakha hai. So I wanted to use these village stories in my film. In fact the child who played the younger Nawaz was of the same height as him and his shoulders measured exactly as Nawaz’ as well. Nawaz plays a rockstar in the second part but his personality has been altered gradually. See, I am storyteller, give me that much, I know how to tell my story in a way that it is convincing,” Kashyap pleads sounding a bit insulted.

Reality bites

As a filmmaker who’s always been obsessed with reality, be it showing the lives of the lower middle-class in Mumbai in ‘Satya or depicting the ominous chain of events in ‘Black Friday’. But today, he is compelled to fictionalize more instead of borrowing from reality to make compelling cinema. Is this a small yet regretful step towards selling out? Kashyap’s defense, “When I am allowed to use real names and real events, I will stick to reality and do it with complete honesty. When people are aware that this is a Suraj Dev Singh’s story or whoever’s story, they’re aware of the background, similar to ‘Black Friday’ where I didn’t have to fictionalize it at all. But the moment I fictionalize, it has to become a story as a whole. I only fictionalize because we live in a country where the democracy is a joke. I live in a country where I cannot make a film on anything that is real. Everyone is too hypersensitive and everything is too political and motivated by vote banks.”

Few can watch their own film
On a lighter vein, can Kashyap step back from being a director and slip into a theatre to enjoy his own work? “I can’t,” he says firmly with a grin. “I enjoy making the films and after that I get bored of them. I enjoy watching films made by others. When I am watching other people’s films, I take in everything like a complete audience member. I look at the shots and everything. That is the reason I watch the film from the third row because I don’t want any heads in front of me.” This could also be seen as a sign of unsatedness as watching one’s own could make one realize what could’ve been different. But Kashyap has a different philosophy, “For my own films, I find it boring. I live with the film every day and I am watching it every day when I am editing it so by the time it releases in the theatres, I can’t go and watch it. I rarely know any filmmaker who can. Most of them can’t. I haven’t watched a single one in the theatre ever. I have watched it at festivals but not post-release at a theatre. I stand outside to hear people’s response but I don’t go in.”

A final word of advice for people going to watch ‘Gangs of Wasseypur 2? “Please go and watch Part 1 before you go to watch Part 2,” he says grinning from ear to ear.

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Gangs of Wasseypur review

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