Anurag Kashyap, the Godfather

Updated on Jul 09, 2013 06:40 PM IST

Anurag Kashyap, godfather to aspiring filmmakers, a writer-producer-director whose stature has reached almost mythic proportions among his fanatic fans. Kashyap has scripted a success story fit for a Bollywood blockbuster.

Hindustan Times | ByText by Parul Khanna, Photographs by Harikrishna Katragadda

The youngest boy in class is bullied by his peers.
Forlorn and dejected every day, he stands near an iml itree.
The boy aims stones at the low-hanging imli fruit.
One day, while he is taking aim, one of the bullies happens to be passing by and the stone hits him.
The Principal decides to let the boy go - 'He was seen trying to get the imli every day. He didn't mean it.'

A simple story. Right? But now comes the Anurag Kashyap twist. The boy was actually practising to miss the imli every day - hoping to hit the bully one day.

Anurag Kashyap, godfather to aspiring filmmakers, a writer-producer-director whose stature has reached almost mythic proportions among his fanatic fans, was just a little boy when he wrote this story.

He was the youngest in his class at the Scindia School, Gwalior, didn't have enough facial hair to prove his machismo, wasn't confident enough to talk in English and was often at the receiving end of severe ragging. He would run and hide in the school library. Sexually abused and bullied as a child, he brooded over his anguish - for years.

Kashyap created a whole parallel world inside himself. He wrote stories with unexpected twists and surprises, stories that would one day come to define his style of filmmaking. All of this has shaped him into the man that he is now. "My survival instincts were always very strong. To avoid the bullies, I would go to places no one would go to. I would read. And till a student fell ill for an inter-house race and I stepped in and won, nobody knew I could run, too. That's about all my achievements in school," he says, grinning. For his father, he was always the prodigal son. He was brilliant (he could remember the entire contents of his Biology textbook without trying too hard), but he never studied much. He could have done so much, but he drifted. Till he found himself. "And today, my father (Prakash Singh) is very proud of me", says Kashyap. Maybe even more proud of him than of his two other children (his siblings are brother Abhinav and sister Anubhuti Kashyap), who are also involved in the business of making movies.

A troubled childhood

All of 41, with a life studded with enough twists, turns and struggles to give filmmaker Guru Dutt material for an epic tragedy, Kashyap is nonchalant about all that fate has thrown his way. "Sexual abuse is common in schools, especially residential ones. It's not the children's fault, it's the system that's faulty, but that I realise today. Then, I was deeply affected by it," he says, sipping French coffee in his Versova home. He bought the coffee recently from Cannes, where four of his movies were at the festival this year - Monsoon Shootout, Ugly, Bombay Talkies and Lunchbox (either from his production house or directed by him.)

The Mumbai rain hammering on the drawing room window pane picks up tempo, from a mellow treble to a forceful bass, as Kashyap goes back in time. The walls of his no-fuss home are littered with posters of films he has loved all his life. Movies from America (Black Swan, West Side Story) and Belgium (Man Bites Dog), along with snapshots of iconic New Wave French-Swiss filmmaker Jean-Luc-Godard. Photographs of Kashyap with wife Kalki Koechlin, and daughter Aaliya, sit on a side table, adding the finishing touch to his living room. The only hint of indulgence (something he has been accused of in his films by critics) is a small cushion with a caricature of his face on it.

Originally from Varanasi, since his father worked in the Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation, Kashyap spent a lot of time in places like Anpara and did a few years of schooling in Obra, Faizabad, Dehradun, Gwalior's residential Scindia School and Delhi. After school, he decided to go to college in Delhi in the late '80s, because that's what everyone around him was doing. "As a direct effect [of the abuse in school], I built muscle in college, started playing sports, and would often be seen with a hockey stick in hand. I would get out of the oppressive college cliques, and form my own parallel world, all the while protecting those who weren't strong enough," he says.

In 1992, after finishing a BSc in Zoology from Hansraj College, Delhi University, he was lost for a while. He cleared the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) exam in Delhi -- because the college girl he loved (but who didn't love him back) had got admission there. He decided to back off, got through the Short Service Commission of the Army, but didn't join. In the midst of these existential dilemmas, Kashyap discovered international cinema. A new world opened up to him, with stories he couldn't relate to but stories which affected him. And even now, he searches the Internet for some of the films he saw back then. That's when he decided - he would go to Mumbai!

With dreams of becoming an actor, Kashyap came to Mumbai in 1993 with just Rs. 6,000 that he took from his father. Because that's all that he thought he would need! But he ran out of the cash quickly.

Struggler in Maximum City

A friend (a cough syrup addict) offered to let Kashyap stay with him at his cousin's place. But the cousin turned him out. An addict was bad enough to deal with, she didn't want his friend too! Some days were spent on the streets of Mumbai, at forgotten nooks of Andheri where cars were less likely to run him over. On other days, the same friend ('a predator in a good way') would hook up with a girl who had a place to stay and often, would ask Kashyap to stay over, or invite him for breakfast.

"The days she would refuse to let me in, he would be with her, and I would just sleep on the roof next to the paani ki tanki in her building," he recalls. On better days, when he had Rs. 30, he would sleep in a lodging house right outside Dadar station in a room that already had several people in it. Belongings were to be kept in the pocket, as even underwear would get stolen. But Kashyap loved these experiences, "These experiences are now a part of my filmmaking. In Murabba (his story in Bombay Talkies, which included short films by three other filmmakers), I recreated that world. So many people had slept on the mattress that it would stick to your back when you woke up in the morning," he laughs, oblivious to the grossness potential of his statement.

Back in his Delhi University days, he fell in love with a girl, would stare at her in class, and tell everyone she was his. Once, he even gifted her a life-size singing Archies card that she didn't take (obviously). These are the little moments he recreates in his films. Dev's alcohol-induced trips in Dev D, his walking around the city, his sudden realisation he didn't love Paro are all things Kashyap has been through himself. "People say you don't realise something suddenly, it's a gradual process. But believe me, it happens in a snap," he says, defending Dev's (the lead character played by Abhay Deol) sudden falling out of love in Dev D. Audiences had complained on Internet film forums that people don't realise something in a moment, it's a gradual process. But Kashyap insists otherwise, picking from his own life experiences.

Kashyap was a natural at writing scripts. "Soon after I arrived in Mumbai, in the '90s, cable TV had just come in, and there were these shows - Superhit Muqabla etc - for which votes were counted a day before, and the script had to be turned in fast. I became known for churning out scripts for two episodes in a night. So writing started to sustain me," he says. Kashyap would write for everyone, sometimes without remuneration and often even without credit. This irked his brother, director Abhinav Kashyap, known to be better with money dealings. By the time Kashyap was able to sustain himself with writing, Abhinav too had come to Mumbai to prepare for the IIM exam. The brothers took up a flat on rent and Kashyap realised there was a lot of money in writing. "Though I would often refuse people whose script ideas didn't excite me. But Abhinav figured it was Rs. 10,000 a night's work for me. He would accept it on my behalf, write it himself. Slowly we got a fridge, then something else in the house, and I'd be wondering where the money came from," says Kashyap.

Abhinav bought a house in Mumbai 15 years ago, but Kashyap did so only recently. His father often worries about his finances. Kashyap's business partners put a salary in his bank account, enough for his expenses every month. "They know any extra money I get, I'll give it to someone to make a film," he says laughing.

The Making Of Brand Anurag
Today, Anurag Kashyap has arrived. He completes 20 years in Mumbai, and finally Mumbai is giving him his due. He is now a filmmaker who is expected to give viewers something edgy, something different, something cerebral in his films. Even people who don't like his films, watch them. Strong in content, casting, music and visuals, he's known for breaking the myth that audiences only like films with big stars. Credited with making unknown faces - Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Huma Qureshi, Richa Chadda - overnight stars, and rebuilding flailing careers, Kashyap is 'The Man' to go to. During the four hours I was at his place, he was inundated with calls from people who wanted something or the other from him. A casual comment by Vikas Bahl, friend, director and co-owner of Phantom Productions that he runs with director Vikramaditya Motwane and producer Madhu Mantena, gives a clue to Kashyap's success: "Kyun cover kar rahe ho Anurag ko? Wo waise hi bada chad gaya hai."

Gangs of Wasseypur is a huge commercial and critical hit. Legendary Hollywood filmmaker Martin Scorsese wrote to Kashyap, saying how much he loved Gangs…and Dev D. The two will be spending 15 days together at the end of the year. Kashyap's first big-budget film, Bombay Velvet, being co-produced by Fox Studios, went on the floors this month. He's getting to direct Amitabh Bachchan, whose movies of the '70s greatly influenced him, for a fiction TV show. Megastars such as Shah Rukh Khan are keen to work with him. "An Amitabh and a Ranbir working with me means they are coming midway, they want to do something different and don't want to be slaves of their image. That says a lot. We both are meeting midway. A Ranbir is as good or an even better actor than a lot of those on the fringes," says Kashyap.

The production houses Kashyap floated with the intent of maintaining creative freedom, Anurag Kashyap Films Pvt Ltd (which he co-owns with film producer Guneet Monga) and Phantom, run like well-oiled machines. "I have spent many years trying to get other people's films out. Now, I want to only focus on directing. Even in the production houses, I focus on the creative aspects, my strengths - casting, reading scripts, and deciding the music. My weaknesses are taken care of by everyone else. They don't even take me for the money meetings because I am a liability there," he says.

Breaking The Jinx
Aaj Anurag ke paas bangla hai (a duplex to be precise), gadi hai (a recently bought Mahindra XUV, his first car, which his brother Abhinav Kashyap teases him about -- 'Class nahi hai tere paas,' he chides) aur biwi bhi hai. But mention his tales of epic struggle and he says, "Who doesn't struggle? People just love these stories. Those were the fun days. And those are the experiences that I borrow from now. If Paanch (the first movie he made in 2000, but which didn't get any backers and still remains unreleased) had been released, I wouldn't have been half of what I am today." He then started work on Gulal, completed the script in 2002 and the film in 2008, but nobody wanted to distribute it. He finally got it released only after the success of Dev D in 2009. For seven years, he struggled to get his 'stuck' films released. Alongside Gulal, Kashyap worked on Black Friday, which too got mired in legal hassles and released only in 2007, after being blocked for two years. It was his first release, but the third film he had directed. "People believed I was jinxed. I had to sit on Shani pujas only to give people around me some peace, even though I didn't believe in any of it," he recalls without a trace of residual hurt. When Black Friday released, it got tremendous critical acclaim. That was when people in the industry started warming up to him. Dev D became a critical and commercial success. It still remains a cult classic for the Kashyap fan club. This was the film that made India sit up and take notice of this director who could give an old tale of love and loss a gritty touch - his Dev was a b*****d, and no one was supposed to feel sad for him. Then there was the over-indulgent No Smoking, which left most people wondering what they'd just seen, and the not-so-great That Girl in Yellow Boots. Eventually he released Gulal in 2009. The film earned rave reviews. Critics called it 'compelling.' 'Trust Anurag to give something different' and 'courageous,' they said. He'd had his revenge.

Poster Boy To Mentor
It was time to break the pattern, again. Kashyap noticed many others like him who were new to Bollywood. Creative, brilliant freethinkers who were fighting to get their films out to an audience that existed, but faced rejection by distributors and producers. He came across debutant director Vikramaditya Motwane's Udaan. "No one was willing to touch it. It got picked up by UTV only after it went to the Cannes International Film Festival. I wasn't a producer but I backed it," he says. Monga came onboard and helped him raise funds for That Girl in Yellow Boots, through Facebook, the Internet and even internationally. Soon everyone - his assistant directors and crew members -- started giving him scripts. From then to now, he's become a talent-churning factory. There's Michael, Peddlers, Monsoon Shootout, Shahid, Haraamkhor, Lunchbox and Shorts.

Kashyap became the poster boy for the indie film movement, breaking through the stranglehold of big-budget, star-studded films and family-run productions. Anyone and everyone who had a story had Kashyap in mind. Though that's coming to bite him now. Kashyap groupies are crying foul that he's sold himself out by agreeing to do the big budget Bombay Velvet. Kashyap, a little irked, says, "I didn't ask anyone to make me a poster boy. Because poster boys always end up on dart boards," he says. "Once people see the film, they will calm down. Fans are your greatest enemies because they tend to bracket you. And the moment someone expects I should do something, I break out. I often tell fans who say, 'make a Gulal 2 or Gangs 3,' that I am living my dream, not theirs." Being from a small town himself, Kashyap has also become the face for a movement that is encouraging people from India's small towns to get their individual, interesting voices on the big screen.

He is the quintessential man with a golden heart - he spoils auto drivers by giving them Rs. 80 when the meter reads 40. "In the US, we are pressured we pay an extra dollar as tip. So I just replicate that here," he says.

Kashyap lets first-time filmmakers be. He believes they make the most unadulterated and honest films before they are corrupted by the demands of the audience or commerce. He gives them their big chances - music composers Sneha Khanwalkar and Amit Trivedi, actors Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Huma Qureshi, Richa Chadda, directors Bejoy Nambiar, Vikramaditya Motwane. He has an almost abnormal sense of justice and fair play. He cast Tejaswini Kolhapure in Ugly because she'd worked for him in Paanch, which never released. Music composer Amit Trivedi gave music in Dev D and Udaan for a pittance, but Kashyap promised to work with him next when he could pay him well. Trivedi is now doing the music for the big-budget Bombay Velvet.

Democratic, a visionary and a mentor, he empowers everyone around him. "Anurag stands by silently, collaborates and lets you make your mistakes, and helps you get up," says Monga.

He is the most unalloyed form of movie lover. His only agenda is movies - to watch them, make them and let others create them too. A familiar joke Kalki cracks about Kashyap goes like this: "If you want to see him head over heels, turn the TV upside down with a movie playing on it."

Inside The Aesthete's Den
Thousands of DVDs line one of Kashyap's rooms, hundreds of books another room. A connoisseur of noir, with a predator-like craving to discover newer places and experiences, Kashyap has films and books from all across the world. Next to Dostoyevsky is the Soho Crime series, graphic novels and Haruki Murakami. He points to a rack and says, "Yahan se bahut sara film churaya hai hamare filmmakers ne. I get to know so much about a place from the pulp writers. It's unadulterated knowledge. I love travelling and most scripts have been written while I have been travelling. Dev D was partly written on a plane, Gangs… was written in Madrid in a hotel full of transvestites. They reminded me of Bihar's 'launda naach' which I re-created in Gangs Of Wasseypur," says Kashyap, before he heads to his room for a bath. He hands me a copy of the graphic novel Persepolis. "Read it, you will start to love graphic novels."

The key to having a good conversation with Kashyap is to never ask him 'how'. He doesn't have a method to anything. He's a natural at what he does. As actor-lyricist-musician Piyush Mishra puts it, "He's a genius, just like Sahir Ludhianvi, RD Burman and Kishore Kumar. He has that something extra. One Anurag Kashyap is a necessity for us, but two would be too much," he says seriously.

Anurag Kashyap cooking (Photo: Harikrishna Katragadda)
Anurag Kashyap cooking (Photo: Harikrishna Katragadda)

Once out of his bath, Kashyap rolls a cigarette, and then goes to the kitchen to check on the chicken and meat dish he's making. Cooking is a big de-stressor for him. He often lures friends and co-workers to his home on the pretext of giving them good food, and then bounces ideas off them. They have no choice but to be his captive audience. He's one of the very few people in the industry who takes opinions from everyone. "Even his office boy can tell him, he's made a f**k-all film. He's that nervous about a product, as well as that sure of himself," says Bahl.

After his bath, Kashyap has changed from shorts and T-shirt to denims and a black shirt. "I only dress up when Kalki is around," he smiles. The women of his films are like the women in his life. They are strong, give men direction and teach them a thing or two about life. Sardar Khan (Manoj Bajpayee), a trigger-happy, hardened criminal in Gangs of Wasseypur I, literally pisses in his pants in front of his wife Nagma (Richa Chadda). In Gulal, women play an important role in the student politics. Paro (Mahie Gill) in Dev D and Durga (Reema Sen) in Gangs Of Wasseypur - Part 1, are sexual, sensual creatures. From a shy boy, for whom holding a girl's hand was tough, Kashyap has grown into a man who embraces and respects women's sexuality. It's a lesson he learnt from the many interesting women he met in his life. "My education from women started with sex, and then it went on to other things. I could always be around women who had a reputation. You'd never feel conscious about what you were saying. And that's how my evolution happened. Today, I cannot be around boring women or people who take on this mantle of judgment. It's just so dull," he says.

All the struggle he underwent couldn't dampen Kashyap's spirits, but his marital separation from film editor Aarti Bajaj did. Angered when his films weren't releasing, he sought refuge in alcohol, which eventually led to his divorce. He discovered jazz, on which Bombay Velvet is based, while on a trip to America, after his divorce. That's where he fell in love with a jazz singer. "I followed her around the whole night, till we got together. She made me see a world I had been dreaming about recreating in India," he says. And just like it happens in the movies, he met to-be-wife Kalki when he returned to India, and things were never the same again. "When you have a void, you fill it up with everything external. I drink now too, but it's controlled. Love did that to me," he says. At least some clichés are universal, I think.

Life, good wine, single malts, movies, movies, movies, travelling and freedom matter to Kashyap the most. But some things keep changing. "I have lived films all these years. Now I want to spend time with my daughter Aaliya, who, when she turns 13, will no longer want to see me. Kalki nearly dumped me last year because I was so busy with films. Now I want to just direct movies (I have so many stories I want to tell), and be a hanger-on when she's shooting, just sit in her room and read," he says. "And travel and discover," he adds as an afterthought. It's this child-like enthusiasm for discovery that keeps him doing ten things at the same time. "Through movies, I have met nearly everyone I have wanted to, except Woody Allen," he says.

Running a Bollywood empire is not part of that ambition. His captive audience is here. Meanwhile, his chicken dish is nearly done. He's still not taken out his iPad, which Rabia Chopra, his manager, says, is a sign of Kashyap getting extremely bored. "Don't you want to eat what I've cooked?" he asks. No, I think to myself. We have been chatting for the past four hours, and even though it was extremely intense and interesting, I don't want him to feel 'bored', I don't want that iPad out.

What has been the big learning of his life? "Things are as you see them. If you set out to set them right, they become right. Have conviction in yourself, because otherwise nobody else will. And, take responsibility. I do that for all the people who believe in me."

Follow @ParulKhannaa on Twitter

From HT Brunch, July 7

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