Ever since Black Friday released in theatres in 2004, its director Anurag Kashyap has made some original, provocative and stylish films—a powerful antidote to formulaic Bollywood. In 2009, Dev.D gave Kashyap the commercial success he needed. He has also produced and promoted films such as Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan and recently, Bejoy Nambiar’s Shaitan.
The new film directed by Kashyap, That Girl in Yellow Boots, is about Ruth, an English girl who is in search of her long lost father. It is a naive and somewhat gimmicky story co-written by actor and Kashyap’s wife Kalki Koechlin who also plays the lead role in the film. In Kashyap’s hands, it is a cinematic triumph.
The director spoke to Lounge on how the story evolved, what he has tried to do for the first time in this movie and what an Anurag Kashyap ‘school’ of film-making is. Edited excerpts:
What is the germ of That Girl in Yellow Boots? When did it strike you and Kalki Koechlin, your co-writer and wife?
I have for long wanted to deal with the subject, never had a story and didn’t want to deal with it in a way most “social causes” films do. It’s the subject of trust and abuse of trust—child abuse, incest, in a most distant yet personal way. A rough story started forming in my head when i read this article.Then there was this story of the German girl looking for her father in india. Then there was the case of beauty parlours being raided where they doubled up as massage parlours. They had cubicles and were used to solicit sex and then this friend who narrated me his brush with being offered a “handshake”. In a very organic way it became a story. And you can’t do such a film without having a trust between the director and the actor. There was also Kalki’s experiences of growing up in India with white skin and being objectified all the time. The opening scene at the Foreign Registrations Office is her real experience. After Dev.D, when I started seeing Kalki, I discussed the idea with her. She was reluctant, but then I convinced her by asking her to write. I said to her that i wanted a woman’s perspective in that world.
Is there something that this story demanded, that you’ve tried to do for the first time in terms of film-making?
Yeah...I wanted the story to unfold at its own pace and let the camera be. Give space to actors to breathe, and to the scenes to move slowly. I just picked up four crucial days towards the end of her journey and shot around that and then came to the final revelation. We catch the story towards the end of it when she is already in the country, more than her allowed time. Also since her visa was invalid, and not having work permit and paying off authorities to the tune of 10,000 a week, paying off police stations, rent, she needed to make more money than a normal person can and keeping in mind she wasn’t comfortable sexually and the only way she could control her men and not be forced to sleep with them was work in a massage parlour and gratify them manually. This is what actually a male masseur told me in Goa. These were the things we had to think through to put the story and the film together.
What were the particular challenges while treating this subject? And what after you made it?
The biggest challenge was to do it in a way that it doesn’t come across as vulgar. The idea of it might appear so to some, with their easily offended morality but we should make sure that we don’t do it. The next big challenge was to do it in a way that it can be released and our biggest fear, which still stands is how people are going to judge us and our relationship after they see the film. Should we have succumbed to that fear and not do it? Emotionally, it was the most draining film we have ever done and it still makes me anxious.
Ruth is an extremely vulnerable yet resilient girl. How much did you work on the character’s dichotomy at the scripting? Do you change things while filming?
We worked on the character only at the performance stage. Kalki cut herself off completely, she became unsociable, she would always listen to heavy metal, dress grungy, stopped talking to me too. We worked out various aspects of her personality like, this was a character who has never had sex, her fear of sex because in her mind sex will lead to pregnancy and pregnancy is what had killed her sister and was also the reason for her father to leave. We improvised on her performance keeping those things in mind.
How was the working equation with Kalki from writing to filming?
She wrote on her own. I didn’t come in until her writing was done. After that I took it from her and rewrote on it. She basically is a playwright and she wrote 60 pages of scenes after scenes. I turned that into a film script. After that shooting with her was difficult. The actor wouldn’t let go of the writer so we ended up fighting a lot. Finally she decided to let go off the script. She wanted a happy ending, I didn’t.
There is a history to India’s cruelty to women from the West. Were thereany references?
Most references were from various experiences of Kalki and her friends. Everyone from the West go through their FRO experiences, even NRIs. The complexes of the Indian babu, his attitude to a civilian and his arrogance are well-known.
Visually, did you intend a particular look, and why?
Rajeev Ravi (cinematographer), Wasiq Khan (art director) and I decided to use few paintings as our basis for colour palette, overall design of the film—in terms of looks, costumes, lighting, properties, walls. We decided to stick to light pink, green and yellows. We were shooting digitally and using a lot of yellow lights, warm tones to make it more intimate and isolated. There had to be a sense of alienation to the places Ruth inhabits.
Is there an Anurag Kashyap school of film-making, as many say, based on the kind of films you promote and make?
There is no Anurag Kashyap school of film-making. The only ‘schooling’ I give to people is how to be independent and make films with less money. All I teach them is to have the courage to follow through with their instinct and idea. But what each one does is their own film. I guess because there are a lot of people who identify with my struggles and what I intend to do or am doing, they keep coming to me. They know that I understand them, so together we become a school of independent film-makers or may be stubborn film-makers. We have become a collective, but in this back-slapping industry, where everyone functions in a camp, they probably look at us also as a camp. We are not a camp. We are more democratic than that. There is free flowing criticism of each other, sharing of ideas and supporting each other to make their films.
Can you tell me a bit about Michael which premieres at the Toronto Film Festival later in September in which you play an important role? How does acting help you in direction?
Michael is a psychological thriller. Its about an ex-policeman (Naseeruddin Shah) who now pirates films for survival. His past is sketchy and someone from his past is threatening to kill his son. How his life changes after that is what the film is about.
Acting helps me understand actors, and also actors as people and their need for space. Which is probably why I can work with newcomers and the performances in my films are always good regardless of how I perform as a director.
That Girl in Yellow Boots released in theatres on Friday