When I meet director Anurag Kashyap for an interview in his Mumbai office, he is busy with post-production work on Gangs of Wasseypur, his next directorial work. Known in film circles for his critically-acclaimed, dark, hard-hitting films like Black Friday, Paanch, and Gulaal, most of which have enjoyed very limited releases, Kashyap attained a certain amount of mainstream attention with Dev D, a snappy, uber-cool contemporary retelling of the classic Devdas. His films have always veered off the beaten path and he courts controversy assiduously, taking on Bollywood icons like Amitabh Bachchan. Anurag also has a terrific reputation as a writer, honing his skills on films like Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya and getting critical recognition recently for co-writing Udaan, which won several awards.
When I tell him that he has an audience in California too, he alertly snaps, “How? [Most of] my films do not release there, and you cannot watch them unless you take DVDs from here.” I tell him about streaming and downloading sites on the internet like Torrentz. Both happy and sad about this fact, he gets into a part-sarcastic, part-light, freewheeling conversation. We begin with his co-productionShaitan, which released in India on June 10. He laments the poor collections of that movie, which stars his new bride Kalki Koechlin.
Shaitan is just two days old!
If my films are being watched on sites like Torrentz, there is no paying public! It becomes difficult to make films then. But at least there is an audience.
Do you think sites like Torrrentz should not be around?
No. There should just be a way [for the filmmaker] to make money out of it. As long as I get to make films it’s all right. The day I can’t, I’ll start considering other options.
What is cinema to you?
Cinema is everything to me. It is sometimes entertainment, sometimes experimentation. It is having a lot of fun while making it, most of the time. But it is very important that my films break even and no one loses money.
Have you been able to break even with all your movies?
With some, yes. Udaan, Gulaal, Black Friday, Dev D did. Shaitan should also do it.
Do you enjoy Govinda-style movies?
I love watching Govinda’s movies. But comedies nowadays are not funny. What I found funny was Hangover 1, not 2! (Smiles) What I find funny is stand-up comedy. Slapstick does not work for me. I like sarcastic films. I like films which have a political tinge to them, intelligent films.
You’ve done a lot of cameo roles in your own films, including Gulaal, Dev D, and Black Friday. Why?
I want to put a stop to it now, because I don’t rate myself [highly] as an actor. Acting, compared to filmmaking, is very boring. Sitting and waiting for a shot … it is painful. When you are making a film you are active all the time. It is more fun.
I am very camera aware and an actor should not be, so I make a very bad actor. I’ll never [willingly] cast myself in a film! But I’ve acted for various reasons. At times there was no money for an actor. At times I couldn’t find an actor who wanted to play that role. At times I was emotionally blackmailed into it! I never did a role because I wanted to do it.
What about your elaborate role in Shagird (Tigmanshu Dhulia’s 2011 film on corruption)?
I was emotionally blackmailed into it by Tigmanshu Dhulia. So now I’ve blackmailed him to act in my movie!
What about acting in I Am? Was it a promise to [director] Onir?
No one wanted to play the role of an abusive father. I thought the role was important. I told Onir to call me only if he didn’t get anyone else. He did that.
We’ve read that while I Am was being made, it was disturbing for you as you have been through abuse yourself.
Yes. I’ve been through it as a child.
I was doing the role, the little kid started trusting me a lot as he didn’t have a father. Had it not been a film anyone could have taken advantage of the child. So that was very disturbing—the trust the child puts in you after two moments of being nice to him, as kids are wont to do. That is disturbing.
You’ve penned lyrics and sung a bit of the song “Motumastar Iski Maa” for Udaan?
That happened, I think, over six cans of beer! They made me read it and retained it. The whole song was written over a lot of beer.
What is the aftermath of making such dark movies as you do?
There is too much to do to think. We try to pull out of it. Once it is over we start thinking of the next project. Like, I am over Shaitan. For me Shaitan released on Friday (June 10) and today (Monday, June 13) I am in my office working on Gangs of Wasseypur. I never see my films after they’ve released. I cannot stand them. Because all I see is mistakes.
What kind of mistakes? For example, were there mistakes in Black Friday, which was so well received?
It was full of mistakes. Only I spot them. There is an opening shot when the bomb was being placed. There you see a man carrying an Aquafina bottle which did not exist in 1993. He is wearing a Seaman’s Mobile T-shirt. There were no cell phones in ’93.
What has been the best and worst response you’ve got for your movies?
I got a terrible response for No Smoking. One review wrote, “What were the directors smoking?” Another called it the worst film of all times. The internet has been full of such reviews.
What did you think about No Smoking?
I loved No Smoking. The response is immaterial, but that is one film I really liked. I’ve not seen it since its release.
And the best response?
It was for Dev D. But I prefer Gulaal, No Smoking, Black Friday over Dev D. The best they said about Dev D was “There will be films before and after Dev D.”Dev D has become a dividing line. That was a good compliment.
What is more important to you—critical acclaim, which you get a lot, or monetary success?
Both do. I won’t say box office success, but recovery matters a lot. Success is very difficult. World over, the kind of filmmakers I admire have not had that kind of box office success. All of them, from Martin Scorsese, whose biggest hit was probably The Departed, to Aronofsky, whose biggest was probably Black Swan, to Danny Boyle, whose films other than Slumdog Millionaire have not been successful. Their films come only to be admired, it seems, but they don’t make money.
You and Kay Kay Menon go back to Paanch. Your initial films had him, but not anymore.
We go back to theatre in 1993. He was my teacher. I was the actor then! My initial films did fit him, but Dev D did not. He does not fit in Gangs of Wasseypur, which is set in Bihar. For that I’ve gone back to Manoj Bajpai with whom I did Satya and Shool (as writer). The other films I am [just] producing, so I don’t tell the filmmakers who to cast and who not to.
What are your hopes with Paanch? Will it release? (Paanch was only screened at film festivals)
(Sarcastically) It has already released on Torrentz! People can download and watch it. I don’t know what’ll happen in theatres.
Reviews of Shaitan say that it is quite similar to Paanch in terms of its plot.
That’s unintentional. It is Bejoy’s (Nambiar) film. He has not seen Paanch. I was the only one who was aware of the similarities between the two, but I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to tell him the similarities as this was his first film and I didn’t want to discourage him. Today, whatever the similarity is, the reality is there is a new good filmmaker.
Gangs of Wasseypur is yet another controversial subject (coal mine mafia)… are you expecting Censor Board trouble for this film too?
Why do you say it is controversial? It’s all about Wasseypur and coal mines are just a part of it. I don’t expect anything. I just want to make a film and finish it. It should work for me when released. I don’t want to make box office records. That is for my brother (Abhinav Kashyap of Dabangg fame). He’ll break it.
Will you continue to make such grim movies then?
No! I will make fictional movies too. I want to make a romantic comedy someday, but don’t know when. It’ll take two-three years at least.
What do you think about your films getting delayed?
Films get delayed, at times, because of inefficiency. Sometimes it is the demand of the market. And sometimes it is deliberate. Like, we are delaying That Girl in Yellow Boots deliberately as we are selling it to the international market first. People think my films don’t work outside India, so they don’t release outside India. So this time I’ve decided to sell it myself and see.
Is it working?
I don’t know yet. I cannot play the prediction game or I won’t be able make the movies I want to make. According to others every film of mine is a flop.
At the end of the day what bothers you in terms of filmmaking?
The way people in India worship heroes. And they want to see heroes in everything. They don’t want to see anything else. For them it is only entertainment. For me it’s more than that.
Suchi Sargam is a journalist in India.