Namrata Joshi on Anurag Kashyap
thanks to Bliss..
It was in the August of 2001 that Outlook got a call from the writer of Satya, Shool and Kaun about a run-in with the censors over his directorial debut, Paanch. About five youngsters who are part of a rock group called Parasites, the film was rejected by the Central Board of Film Certification for glorifying drugs, sex and violence, besides the foul language and negative characters. Paanch never saw the light of day and jokingly came to be referred to as the most widely seen unreleased film in the history of Indian cinema. Its director Anurag Kashyap, however, became a regular presence in our Bollywood forays—mostly for controversial reasons. In a scathing column in 2004, he got after every big name in the industry, from Khalid Mohammed to Subhash Ghai. “We are running a donkey’s race, swimming in the shallow end of mediocrity, believing we are masters of the sea,” he wrote. Letters poured in, in provocation.
For many years thereafter, Anurag remained a filmmaker in search of a debut, acquiring in the process a new middle name: jinxed. Black Friday, a no-holds-barred recreation of the 1993 Bombay blasts, came to be stuck for a few years because of a court stay. No Smoking (2007) did get a release but got roundly thrashed for being a dense, pretentious and self-indulgent take on fascism. Eventually it took Dev.D (2009), a reinterpretation of Sharat Chandra’s Devdas, to rescue him from oblivion and set him on an upward trajectory.
It was still hard, though, to imagine a Kashyap film as the stuff of huge kitschy hoardings, releasing with more than 800 prints and running more than five shows a day in some suburban multiplex. Gangs of Wasseypur 1 and 2 has changed that. They have made him a brand, one with more than a dozen films riding on him (see box). Anurag Kashyap is now the toast of international film fests, attending Cannes with three films and a 40-strong contingent, and due at Toronto, four films in tow. “He has got acceptability, visibility in a certain constituency that frequents the multiplexes,” says Shohini Ghosh, professor at the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia. “In that sense, he is a mainstream filmmaker now, but an interesting mainstream filmmaker.”
Remarkable about Anurag’s success is that he has no qualms about working with new people, taking risks with untested talent or backing projects of debutants. If Gangs… brought us face-to-face with lesser-known names like Nawazuddin, Huma Qureshi and Richa Chaddha, Bombay Velvet will have a script written by historian Gyan Prakash. “I like their energy,” says Anurag, “and I have believed in a conscious attempt at not playing safe.” No other filmmaker in Bollywood, not even his favourites Vishal Bhardwaj and Dibakar Banerjee, is taking such risks. Says Umesh Kulkarni, director of Vihir and Deool, “Good cinema has to be a movement like the New Wave, Dogma. And he has the courage to back and produce all kinds of films, not just his own.” Filmmaker and friend Sudhir Mishra affirms that: “He’s putting his weight behind all sorts of films.”
Anurag also gives the young creative freedom like no one else. He handed Wasseypur’s script to composer Sneha Khanwalkar and lyricist Varun Grover and asked them to create music of their choice for various points in the narrative. “I delegate a lot,” he says. In return, he expects total commitment and hard work. But unlike even his own mentor RGV, he doesn’t hog the limelight. “It’s about the whole team,” he says.
His greatest strength, Anurag claims, is his lack of insecurity. He will let industry people read his film scripts. He has let journos see early cuts of his films. “It improves films, it’s a constantly evolving process,” he says. The only rule is not to do what people expect you to do but what you want to do. Says Mishra, “He is stubborn in what he wants. He has the courage to say no even when circumstances demand a yes.” There is one thing, though, that he has learned over the years. “You are taking money from someone and he needs it back,” he says. The Wasseypurs may have changed that.
With success, however, has come criticism. Many feel he has lost his innocence, begun playing to the gallery, is using and abusing media at his convenience; that his idealism is nothing but empty bluster. “I don’t wear idealism on my sleeve any more,” he admits. “I am going along the industry way but creating my own path.” Criticism keeps him going, it’s praise that makes him anxious. “I am trained to deal with the public not liking me. I am used to being criticised.”
And he has criticised others in return, recklessly at that. Bollywood’s enfant terrible has taken on many holy cows and powerful individuals, be it Bhansali or RGV’s films, YRF’s filmmaking or blasting Amitabh Bachchan for allegedly playing dirty with Bedabrata Pain’s Chittagong over Abhishek starrer Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey. “We’re used to nobody saying anything. I engaged and fought.”
Success, however, is also the great equaliser in Bollywood. The Big B has been recommending Wasseypur to his Twitter followers even as one wonders whether the white flag portends Abhishek landing up in a Kashyap film. In an answer to the query, Anurag shows me the long SMS he has sent Big B, an apology as well as a dig, from Bachchan’s “sabse bada, moonhphat aur bewakoof fan”. There is no reply in his inbox yet.
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