Love him or hate him — Anurag Kashyap is one of the only a select few with the guts to keep pushing the proverbial envelope further
Cannes, Venice, Berlin — he’s at practically every international film festival. And he’s a fixture on platforms dissecting the yins and yangs of Mumbai cinema. Clearly, he is the closest Indian cinema has to the Young Turks of the 1970’s and the 80s — a phalanx that included such names as Saeed Mirza, Ketan Mehta and Kundan Shah. Like them he’s rewriting the rules of filmmaking, albeit with fluctuating success.
Anurag Kashyap is detested by the movie barons for making controversial statements and criticising the escalating greed levels of profits in show business. On the other hand, the campus crowd and aficionados of unconventional cinema admire his guts for pushing the proverbial envelope further, and for outpacing his mentor, the Aag hi Ugh Ram Gopal Varma.
The 39-year-old iconoclast presides over a virtual filmmaking factory. Besides directing and writing films, he produces projects that are either widely acclaimed (Udaan) or just about break even at the cash counters (Shaitaan). In fact, he’s so hyperactive and brash that he could be in danger of taking his image as a cult filmmaker too seriously. Kashyap has made nasty comments about a sizeable number of his film peers but eventually apologised to them, as he did to Karan Johar.
For a small-town Gorakhpur boy, who had to wage a Herculean struggle to survive in Mumbai, today he’s blissed out. Whatever his lapses may be, he sticks to narrating stories that have a contemporary relevance, besides experimenting with technique. He shoots on digital camera format, affirming that multi-crores aren’t essential to connect with the post-2000-millennium audience.
At the outset, Anurag Kashyap gave the impression of being a rebel without a cause. Whimsically he refused to adapt Franz Kafka’s The Trial for Govind Nihalani. As a writer, he felt that the classic novel had to be made as an animation film — or not at all. Lore is that he wanted Amitabh Bachchan to act in an adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge. But he wasn’t deferential enough to the Big B.
Undeniably when he draws from his personal experiences, his writing has been terrific. Evidence: the dialogue for Shool or Udaan which he scripted. Kashyap is familiar with the relatively lesser-filmed India. And he knows how it is to be subjugated by an authoritarian father, since he went through a disturbed childhood.
The still-unreleased Paanch (2003) marked Kashyap’s debut as a director, unafraid to teeter off the edge. Dealing with an ensemble of low life, it was dark and edgy, evoking the death wish that can be detected in Jim Morrison’s music, which it quoted liberally. For years it was banned for its graphic scenes of drug abuse and violence. Eventually, it was passed but still has to be released.
His Black Friday (2004), a docudrama about the 1992-93 communal riots in Mumbai, was banned by the censors for two years. Instantly, he was written off as a jinx — someone whose work would fail to see the light of the projector. Once it was cleared, it became a must-see, for its uncompromised screenplay, an eclectic music soundtrack, gritty photography and mature direction.
No Smoking (2007) followed. To put it politely, it was a disappointing head-trip. Some love it, and can get vitriolic about those who don’t. Believed to be inspired by Stephen King’s Quitters Inc, it vacillated between the surreally shallow and a juvenile nightmare. Okay, so Kashyap may have had to contend with his
own addiction to the weed, but the film was impossibly pretentious. Kashyap’s next, Dev D (2009) — or Saratchandra’s Devdas retold — was a knockout, deeply interiorised and sexually discursive. His portrayals of women — an updated Paro and Chandramukhi — were progressive. As for Devdas, he was depicted as a man of contradictions, more cowardly than heroic. On its heels, Gulaal (2009) exposed the nexus between politicians and the fading royalty. Another creative triumph.
That Girl in Yellow Boots (2010) served as a showcase for his real-life wife Kalki Koechlin. It wasn’t up to scratch. The upbeat news for aficionados of decidedly different cinema is that the director has just completed Gangs of Wasseypur, an unsparing look at the mafia gangsters controlling a key sector of coalmines. It toplines Manoj Bajpai, and will be released in two parts — each lasting two-and-a-half hours. In effect, Gangs… is a five-hour long film.
That’s Anurag Kashyap, out to smash the rules and spring surprises. Fingers tightly crossed that this surprise is a pleasant one.
(The writer has been reviewing Bollywood for decades, has scripted three films and directed three
others. Currently, he is
working on a documentary and just finished a book of short stories.)
win some, lose some: No Smoking (left) vacillated surreally; but Dev D (below) delivered a knockout punch with its eclectic-ness