Director, screenwriter producer, part-actor, total non-conformist – that’s Anurag Kashyap in a nutshell. For a more updated version, one can throw in a man in love, blissfully married to his girlfriend and muse of many years, Kalki Koechlin.
With several hits under his belt, the latest being Shaitaan, the filmmaker is poised for the release of his next venture, That Girl in Yellow Boots, which will be his first film to see an international release. This dark thriller, based on a girl’s (played by Kalki) frantic search for her father, is already generating a lot of buzz. The man behind the camera gets candid with us about his latest release, why working with his actress wife can get too intense, and his inspirations from world cinema.
What would you want to tell us about That Girl in Yellow Boots?
This film was emotionally the most draining to shoot – made with borrowed money, borrowed on a daily basis. After we finished shooting, we had no money for post-production, till the National Film Development Corporation came on board as co-producers. This is the film everyone warned me about; the most progressive of filmmakers told me not to do it, because of the subject.
How did you settle on this title?
It is a funny story. After Venice [the film festival], in 2009, where I was on the jury and where Kalki wrote the first draft of the film, we went to London and walked into a Doc Martens shop. They only had three colours available: orange, red and yellow. We chose yellow, and the title followed.
There is a hint of bleakness in all your work. But has that grittiness in your perception of things been affected by the changes in your life... the fact that you are in a relationship now?
Well, I don’t know... I still like my films gritty and real. But yes, new themes do inspire me. The big difference in me is that my anger has given way to cynicism. But I still get angry with the way the industry functions, the attitude to newcomers and newer ideas.
The big change that my relationship has brought in me, perhaps, is that I’m trying to write a romantic film. Another big change is that I’ve given up trying to impress everyone with technique and style. I’m more focused on just telling a story, starting with TGIYB and Gangs of Wasseypur. Kalki has emotionally settled me, but there are also other factors, like Vikramaditya’s Udaan, which is the one film I am proudest of. It taught me that sometimes all it takes is a big heart to tell a powerful story.
Many filmmakers are now using Delhi, as opposed to Mumbai, as a physical as well as cultural and colloquial setting for their stories. What do you think of this shift in our cinema?
A lot of filmmakers now are not from film families; they come from various parts of India. And they are looking back at where they came from.
There was a time we only made films for NRIs and shot them in London or New York. But our own heartland is a goldmine of good stories. I also believe we’re a country that will out-survive every other film industry in the world, because we haven’t really explored our own selves yet. But we lag behind in the art of storytelling.
We get an idea and we think that’s enough. We get lazy and complacent, and God forbid, if some stars come on board, then we stop worrying altogether and start revelling in our own mediocrity. We tend to be like a frog in the well – we celebrate our relative greatness because we get blinded by the surrounding mediocrity. We really need to come out of this well, and not just hypothetically or figuratively. No one feels the need to reinvent. What our industry needs is a Narayana Murthy.
Has your relationship with Mumbai changed since you first came here? I was in awe of the city when I came here.
It probably showed in Paanch and Black Friday. I am not anymore. I’m tired of the city and I’ve stopped exploring it. I don’t go beyond the suburbs if it can be avoided.
I’ve started to go back to my roots and a lot of my films are based there now. Bombay Velvet is the only exception. That is a film about the Mumbai I would have loved to be in. I don’t like what the builders have turned this city into; they’ve taken away the whole romance of the city. I cannot write here anymore, I take frequent breaks to get away from this place.
Are you now getting to do all that you dreamed of doing as a filmmaker?
Yes, I am. I’m also enjoying my role as a producer. These are exciting times. The new generation of filmmakers are far more imaginative and courageous than most of us. They owe nothing to the traditional Hindi cinema and have strong points of view. My interaction with them inspires me and I try to get their films made as well.
We have a good system going here; we are a bunch of partners who handle different aspects of the company’s work. Also, there are co-productions we’re involved in – Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna, Amit Kumar’s Monsoon Shootout and Q’s Tasher Desh. We have six ready films, and that does not include my films as a director. We have little or no money. It’s like a cottage industry where passion and integrity are the biggest bundles of cash we have. Everyone gets to make their film and I try not to be Ramu.
What sort of working relationship do you have with Kalki?
A very volatile one. It is complementary in a way, but mostly volatile. It gets very intense working with her, especially in TGIYB. Since she was also the writer, she had problems letting go of the story. I wanted her to leave the writer at home and come to the set as an actress, but she couldn’t. That caused a lot of problems. As an acress she is very professional, she doesn’t leave anything to chance. She’s not fluffy. And being in love with her makes the whole exercise very difficult.
How was it directing her in That Girl in Yellow Boots versus Dev D?
During Dev D, I didn’t know her well at all. She was selected through an audition, but I felt her Hindi wasn’t very good. So my focus was only on her diction. I didn’t give her the space I gave Abhay or Mahi as actors. I limited her. Then I fell in love with her and we started spending time together. I saw her plays Hair and The Skeleton Woman. That’s when I realised what a great actress she was.
During Dev D, I would tell her, “Look here, look there, walk this way.” Abhay would work out various ways to take her mind off the language so she could perform, like in the scene where she was painting his face.
She is a natural artist; I used all her skills as a part of her character in that film. By the time TGIYB happened, I knew her and I let her be.
There is this perception that you are the anti-Karan Johar. How do you feel about that?
I have recently discovered Karan Johar, the person, and I love him. He is very funny. I don’t say the same about the films he directs. But I’m not anti-him.
There was a time when the atmosphere in the industry was not conducive to all of us co-existing and that’s when I went against all mainstream filmmakers through blogs and stuff. It has changed now. All kinds of cinema are being given space and I am happy. We can’t exist without the mainstream; earlier we didn’t exist at all. There is a difference. But most people carry this image of me from then. I only protest against the laziness, the lack of vision and the underhand, self-congratulatory practices of the industry.
Which directors, authors, mediums inspire you at the moment?
I read a lot of pulp and serious crime fiction. Right now, I am on the fourth book of an author I discovered a week back, Leighton Gage. His books are set in Sao Paulo, where I’m going end of September. I like to discover filmmakers and watch their whole body of work.
Two months back, it was Yelmaz Guney from Turkey, now it is Jerzy Skolimowski and Fritz Lang, whom I keep going back to. I’ve managed to source 31 of Fritz Lang’s films from various parts of the world and am revisiting most of them now. Did you know he made two films about India, and Nehru had invited him to make films here, which did not materialise? Graphic novels and new artists who do video installations inspire me a lot.
What is the last film you watched and really liked?
Oh, I watch films every day. It’s difficult to choose one. I saw In the Loop yesterday and really loved it.
Are you still making the film Doga? What else is in the pipeline?
The script of Doga has been ready for a couple of years now. The rights to it are the issue. I don’t know who has them. I will need one year of pre-production on the film after the issue gets solved. But I’m not going to wait around and do nothing till that happens.
Can you tell us anything about your project with Danny Boyle?
He’s busy with the 2012 olympics and I am busy with my films. He was on the board of Bombay Velvet. We have to now pick up where we left off, as the film goes into production next year. We will work together soon on something else too, we don’t know when or on what.