Last Friday saw the successful launch of the London Indian Film Festival with a jam-packed screening of the epic crime saga Gangs of Wasseypur. Fresh from making waves at Cannes, we caught up with the acclaimed, groundbreaking director of the film, Anurag Kashyap.
Your films have influenced Danny Boyle. You’ve been called the Indian Tarantino. You’ve also equally been hailed as the Godfather of Independent Indian Cinema, along with being accused of selling out to Commercial Cinema. But who is the real Anurag Kashyap?
Neither am I the Godfather of independent Indian cinema nor am I a sellout. I'm just me. Everybody has an organic growth and I'm now at a point where I can make films that I want to make. I can continue making films that other people want me to make, but I want to make films that I want to make. I just want to keep making films. As long as it gives me the freedom to do what I like, I'll take it.
You have a bit of history with the London Indian Film Festival. What attracts you to come regularly?
The key reason is a man called Cary Sawnhey. Because Cary picked my films when they were not being screened anywhere in the UK. He brought Gulaal here, along with Dev D. He's shown Michael here. He showed That Girl in Yellow Boots, which then found distribution here. And now Gangs of Wasseypur, which should hopefully now find distribution.
It's a great time for non-mainstream Indian cinema. Gangs of Wasseypur and Shanghai prove this. Do you think the appetite for alternative Indian cinema is growing?
I think Indian audiences are becoming much more intelligent and more aware of cinema from all across the world, and its not alternative cinema but the mainstream that's being redefined. I wouldn't say that it's alternative cinema creating an appetite. At the same time alternative filmmakers are bringing in slight mainstream elements within their own films. So that gap between mainstream and alternative is reducing. I feel Kahaani, Paan Singh Tomar, Vicky Donor, Ishqzaade, Shanghai and even my films - they're not very alternative or art house films. But they're just not like the ‘old’ Bollywood. There's a ‘new’ Bollywood that's emerging, and I think we should start looking at that, because the new Bollywood is not art house or anything like traditional Bollywood films.
The censor board has given your film the green light but refuses to release The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo or a film like Gandu. As a filmmaker, do these varying morals frustrate you?
I don't think there's a varying moral. In my years of experience with the censor board, I've realised that the problem is not the with the censor board. The problem is that the government does not make the censor board an autonomous body. A censor board would actually have the sensibility to clear something like Gandu, but then the government would immediately clamp down on them and say "Why did you do that?" just because some vote bank will react against it. The censor board often have problems with the health ministry, the animal welfare board, the SEST board, some moralist, some small town, some religious leader will get up, maybe some dispute from a coalition government, some particular party government member will stand up, the coalition will be under threat – any of these possibilities. They'll just clamp down on the film. Censorship has just become a tool.
Gangs of Wasseypur is about the corruption in the coal industry. What is your motivation when choosing a story to turn into a film? Do you look at the social relevance of the story? What inspires you?
I don't look at the social relevance of a story at all. Gangs of Wasseypur is not about corruption in the coal industry. Its about Wasseypur, its about the changing political and physical landscape of a place - how the mineral-rich state of Bihar came from one of the most corrupted and poorest states. It's a revenge saga and a family drama. We tell the entire story through three generations of one family. So when the family is in coal, the film is about coal, but when the family goes away from coal, the film goes away from coal.
What inspired you to make the film? How did the story come about?
I was quite suspect when the writer (who is actually from Wasseypur and plays the part of a gangster called ‘Definite’ in the sequel) offered me the script as it read too much like City of God. I told him this, and he got really offended. He immediately went home and brought me a lot of newspaper cuttings and underlined the bits he wanted to use in the script. But then I found the bits that were not underlined more interesting. The world had so much more to offer. So I agreed that I wanted to do a film on this, but I wanted to rewrite it. And then we started researching more stories. Initially the script was in more contemporary times, which you will see a lot more in part 2. But when I started digging into it, it began to focus more on the emergence of the mafia in Northern India, and how natural resources played a big role.
The music for the film is also far from a conventional Bollywood score. What can you tell us about your decision to sway from the norm?
I worked with Sneha Khanwalker on the music, who also did the music for LSD and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye. Both films had different milieus but she proved she could do her research and find new voices. I knew she was the person who'd go to any length it would take to find the right music. I told her I wanted to find music that was rooted in Bihar. I told her I didn't want any popular references - she had to go to local people and find it. When I was growing up, I'd hear women singing these songs like "Saare theen bajna zaroori mujhse milna saare theen baje". These kinds of songs don't exist anymore.
You also did the film on a reasonably low budget of 18.5 crores. Did this prove the shoot difficult?
It was actually a lot of strife. We had no money until 2 days before the shooting started. We just knew we wanted to make the film the way it should be made – on its lowest possible budget. The small house shown in the film where Manoj Bajpai's kids are born is actually the house I grew up in. It's the house that my brother, who made Dabanng was born in. We shot in places we grew up. The town has not changed much since the 60s and 70s. We looked for three real places that could create three different time zones of Wasseypur and Dhanbad. The challenge was not in making the film but in putting it together and getting the release. We had no idea how well this film would go. What's happening now is great, the buzz it’s making in India, the way its being sold worldwide.
With your new role as a producer, you are giving new talent their first break. Is it difficult to raise money for these projects?
I have bizarre, stubborn philosophies on life. I don't like making life comfortable for new filmmakers. I want him to struggle to make his film. I'll illogically slash their budget to half the amount and ask them to do it for that. And every time they'll pull it off. I'm interested in filmmakers who break boundaries. People are willing to give us money, but I don't want it from them.
What is your interest in violence?
We discussed how we'd depict the violence in the film, and all I said was that it has to look real. Lets try and do every scene in one single shot. Let's try not to cut away lest it loses its impact. I cannot do gore, I can't even watch it, but at the same time I want people to flinch when they see violence. Unrealistic violence is the kind that excites you - its the kind that makes you want to be that fighter, be that superhero. I prefer my violence real, raw, rooted.
Your next film is going to be a comedy. How far is that through and what can we expect?
The next two films I have only produced. They are Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana and Aiyya, directed respectively by Sanjeev Sharma and Sachin Kundalkar. They are very funny movies. We are also releasing Michael and Chittagong. And of course, Gangs of Wasseypur Part 2.
Can you say anything about Bombay Velvet?
Bombay Velvet will start shooting in April. Ranbir Kapoor is in the film and we have only started pre-production work on the script. The rest will get finalised… when it gets finalised.