Joined: 06 November 2010
From feminists to the film industry, Anurag Kashyap has managed to get everyone's goat.It's been called a "Rs.100-cr mess". Nothing that leads up to the release of Bombay Velvet has been easy. Viewing have been closely guarded. Its marketing, desperate. Critics, vicious. Rumours claimed portions have had to be reshot , that actor Ranbir Kapoor wouldn't promote it. That co-producers Fox Star Studios had to intervene on the editing of the original four-hour play time. At first Anurag Kashyap bursts of anger, then sullen silence. His tribute to a city that shaped him comes as he prepares to leave it for Paris, where he will relocate once the release is complete. We spent his last four months in the city tracking his state of mind-from bedroom to set and studio. An exclusive insight into mind of Bombay's darkest living noir...
Ghosts of Kashyap's Past.
10 a.m., a Thursday morning in February.
Kashyap cocoons himself in the dark.
Kashyap, 42, is huddled under a beige blanket on a mattress in his upstairs library, all four walls covered with books save for the little window with blinds drawn against the mid-morning light. An ashtray overflowing with cigarettes and papers, used coffee cups and the art work for Bombay Velvet posters are strewn around his laptop on which he watches cuts.
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Anurag is special. He is unique. He's had a huge hand in changing the narrative of Indian cinema. With Anurag was the advent of guttural, street language. He has immense street cred, and it began with the films he began scripting- from Satya (1998) and Yuva (2004) onwards.
His Black Friday and Paanch (2001) were stuck for such a long time that he had very little money. He has a very strong storytelling style and he proved that you could tell a great story with not a lot of money. In that sense he is true-blue indie. He created a lot of filmmakers and though he was not trying to, he became a brand.
He was just so different that he became mainstream. He is very hot on the indie scene and when you become that hot, you become mainstream. He is a star director. He loves films himself and he's always pushing people to make better films. So if he's relocating overseas, it's not something that's come overnight. He's worked really really hard to open those doors. And Indian filmmaking needs it. We need to convert to a global audience, and expand beyond the diaspora, and so far nobody has been able to bridge the gap between Indian storytelling and the foreign audience. If anyone has worked hard at it, Anurag has, and I'm sure he will in turn open many doors for Indian filmmakers. He is the guy to take it to another level.
By now, he has a full-grown beard that he's been stopped in Paris and patted down for, and that makes him look wilder than he feels. He has not exited the room, his permanent refuge since soon-to-be-ex-wifeKalki Koechlin moved out, for the better part of 10 days. He has not even replaced the furniture in the now bare living room. He doesn't mean to ask anyone to sit down anyway, and his opening the door is a whim. Even as friends worry, buzz ranges from his depression over the (tragic, it is said) state of Bombay Velvet to his being on every available drug.
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He is just back from Paris, where he's finalised a small studio apartment that will allow him to move base out of Mumbai in May. He will retain his business interests here, he says: Phantom, that he forms a quartet with Madhu Mantena, Vikramaditya Motwane and Vikas Bahl; and Anurag Kashyap Films Pvt Ltd (AKFPL), managed by Guneet Monga.
The All India Bakchod (AIB) Roast debacle has just happened, the entire Central Board of Film Certification has just resigned, producing a new list of expletives that the board has issues with, targeting his genre of films. His bank accounts have been frozen in a service tax issue, and that's just pissed him off even more.
Even at this, his purportedly most broken, Kashyap rummages in his fridge for sticks of dark chocolate you can chew on while he guzzles dark shots of freshly brewed black coffee. He is a kind man. The kind of man who has, since his days of running around to get Black Friday (2004) a screening, delivered pro bono work for fellow directors such as Vishal Bhardwaj, Imtiaz Ali and Tigmanshu Dhulia. The kind who feeds the clique their edgy world-cinema fantasies. The kind who gives struggling directors and their scripts the once-over.
Naysayers and yes-men end up at the same place: The floor of Kashyap's studioSince he first got off the train in 1993 and found work at Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai as a waiter while he dreamed of being an actor, 32 Kashyap-backed films have received nominations at international awards festivals and 16 have won. This is still not his biggest contribution, says Monga. Rather, that "he has empowered us all. He doesn't want to own your journey, he wants you to have your own and use him strategically on your path". At the cliff edge it's Kashyap who will tell you jump, and you will fly. Ranbir Kapoor calls him a very misunderstood director. "He's really just a teddy bear. He's very sensitive to actors, to performances and very attached to his cinema. All his films may not be big money spinners but the impact Anurag has, his contribution to Indian cinema, is immense." The seeds he sowed are why aDeepika Padukone or Kangna Ranaut push beyond the mainstream. He opened the door to de-exoticise "festival circuit" films. As such, he has been crucial to the reshaping identity of Indian film in the last two decades. He has lent himself to causes beyond the thrust of his filmmaking alone, often to his own detriment. He pushes directors to act and actors to produce. "There isn't a single cinematographer, assistant director or actor who doesn't want to work with Kashyap today," points out actor Kalki.
He is tired of it all.
"I can't stand fans. They want you to be a certain way. They want you to keep shouting and be angry. I am not angry. I've been angry enough and destroyed my own life. I'm not living my life for others. I'm doing things for myself." For all evidence to the contrary, Kashyap is un-ostrich-like as a filmmaker. He shows snatches of his films to peers in India and overseas. But the film is not the only thing Kashyap edits. It's also his clique. Naysayers and yes-men end up at the same place: the floor of the editing studio. He watches you as you watch the film.
The perception of the famed Kashyap coterie, his groupies and the entourage, the world-cinema-pontificating pothead artist, is one he is smashing up with a hammer. "I don't smoke up. I'm asthmatic. The perception that I do is because of the kind of movies I make and because I roll my own cigarettes. I've never had a coterie. I've never liked yes-men. Vindictive critics are out of my system. I have enough healthy critics around. I show my movies to all my peers. From Shimit Amin to Zoya Akhtar to Shoojit Sircar, they have seen various cuts of my movie and commented. And they've helped me make my film better without an agenda. So I have slowly eliminated agenda-driven people."
Kashyap on the sets of A.R. Murugadoss's film AkiraIt has seemed to his fan following, the one he now rejects, as though Kashyap is craving the approval of mainstream camps, abandoning his Nawazuddins and Rajkummar Raos to working with Kapoor, and his new-found friendship with contrary-to-his-grain, candyfloss-spinner-of-dreams Karan Johar. "I have always wanted to do what I've wanted to do. They've written me off with every film. Whether No Smoking (2007) or Gangs of Wasseypur (2012). Bombay Velvet is special because it's a big-budget, big-star film. Until it releases, they'll wait to see how they can say it's a sellout again."
The industry to him has become a sink hole. "It consumed me and f****** destroyed my personal life. Who are all these angry people? Those thinking 'Anurag is not producing our films'. Most think it's my responsibility to fix their lives."
In 2001, his feature film directorial debut Paanch, with its violence, and twisted cynicism, the story of how he and his peers were shaped by the city of Bombay, was banned by the Censor Board. It runs free to view on the internet. The city has been leitmotif to his cinematic vision, marking the arch from Black Friday to Bombay Velvet. It explains why Kashyap doesn't make noir; he lives noir. "Hard-boiled noir is the most practical philosophy one can speak of. It comes from living on the streets. And for me, that's the world that's always fascinated me: a man from the street heading into the world he is always peeping into. He enters that and becomes a participant in that. And then the whole sense of belonging. Or trying to belong." It is a belonging that still eludes him.
His seemingly non-Bombay subjects, such as Gangs of Wasseypur or Dev.D (2009), are touched by this noir-that positively reeks of the night and women who would just as soon kill you as love you, as critic Roger Ebert once put it-all distilled through the lens of a Bombay that shaped him.
He is burdened by the hypocrisy everywhere. Those who advocate freedom of speech have issues with a Yo Yo Honey Singh. "That's why I step out of it all. You can't get through to people in this country. He's too elite, he's too funny, he's too high, he's too low, he speaks bad English... these are the caste systems by which India is today deciding who should get freedom of speech and who should not. It's because we form a mafia like that that people end up doing what they do."
From feminists to the film industry, Kashyap has managed to get everyone's goat. "They can't get over themselves. We can't take jokes, because-god forbid-the jokes attack our hypocrisies." His connect with the younger generation of Bollywood comes from this candidness. In their newfound absence of regret, he becomes mentor figure to the likes of Anushka Sharma, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and the AIB team.
The fight for the self is a non-stop fight, he says. "The idea of cinema in this country has become about crores and zeroes and that has become justification for what is good and bad. What doesn't make money is bad and what makes money is good. If you have to fight to exist for a certain kind of cinema, you have to make certain sacrifices. You have to fight your own battle. And the reason why I want to get out of here is I have seen it enough." Creative sacrifice in exchange for financial success, which he has badly begun to need now, is not a price he has ever been willing to pay. His disillusionment stems from a community of filmmakers who make no sacrifices. Indie filmmakers who won't attend indie film screenings. "The community that wants good cinema is the community that watches good cinema only on downloads. All the perpetrators of jingoism, they are the first ones watching Birdman on the internet and Whiplash on laptops. And when it comes out, it'll go empty seat because the community it's releasing for has seen it."
His is a state of deliberate and painful retraction from this very not-putting-the-money-where-your-mouth-is brigade.
Ghosts of Kashyap's Present.
Noon, March 26, Versova. The sets
of A.R. Murugadoss' film Akira.
Kashyap steps into the light.
A dirty cop clad in khaki, a white banian, an emerald pendant around his hairy neck, and a standard police-issue moustache, he is ravaging Lakshmi, the Tamil heroine doing her first Hindi film in this, his first villainous nude scene.
"I am a villain in real life also, of course, all perception of me is that I am a villain," he grins, attempting to appear dastardly. He is far more relaxed, fitter today. His vulnerabilities masked with plumbing sealant. Kashyap seems to have moved out of his shadows. "Dark is a very relative term. Because in India everything is so candyfloss I come across as a relatively dark person. They see me starkly.
Photos by Rohit Chawla
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