I took to Anurag Kashyap even before I met him. What was there to not like? He had co-written one of my favourite movies, Satya, and almost everybody who’d seen a preview of his debut feature, Paanch, had been reduced to a dribbling mess of shock and awe (Paanch hasn’t been released till date, but more on that later). Kashyap already had a reputation for shooting his mouth off, and his directness was a welcome relief from the guarded interactions I’d had with other directors.
More than personal reasons, I had a professional one to embrace Kashyap at the time. Time Out Mumbai, the magazine I work for, wanted a cover story on his adaptation of S. Hussain Zaidi’s novel Black Friday, which was supposed to release in January 2005. The magazine was only a few months in the business and hadn’t yet built up a cachet among industry veterans, but Kashyap didn’t appear to care. He seemed to be feeling his way around just like we were, and he offered to show me Black Friday before I interviewed him.
Getting a preview before an interview is still rare in Bollywood, even though it makes all the difference between bland copy and a nuanced story. Time Out Mumbai’s issue hit the stands with Kashyap on the cover. Even though a court case held up Black Friday’s release for two years, I felt I had found an ally in an often unfriendly world.
Colour me red: A still from Gulal, directed by Anurag Kashyap.
Kashyap is a bit too familiar with controversy. His 2004 directorial debut, Paanch, the violent and dystopian story of a murderous rock band, ran into trouble first with the censor board and then with the producer. Had Paanch been released in 2004, it would have earned the exaltations being showered on Kashyap’s latest offering, Dev D. Paanch gives voice to his favourite buzzwords—among them, darkness, dystopia and despair—and the movie’s no-show seems to have condemned him to keep revisiting its marvels and excesses in his subsequent films, No Smoking and Dev D. If a film-maker’s first film is his or her purest and most honest work, then what does one say about the mind behind Paanch, which is as nihilistic as it gets in contemporary Hindi cinema?
It is increasingly clear that the realistic docu-drama Black Friday is a stylistic departure for Kashyap. He loves film noir and the genre’s attendant moral twists and perversities. He adores neon-lit sequences, preferably washed in a single colour. He likes to pepper his scripts with curse words, pop culture references and tributes to his favourite films. He prefers verbal violence to physical displays of power. For Kashyap, every cloud must have a dark lining. His latest release Gulaal, which opens on 13 March, is a typically Kashyapian look at student politics that takes in brutal ragging, rigged college elections and power-hungry politicians. If there is hope, it doesn’t lie in the proles.
We know a lot of this because he has told us. He certainly isn’t the first outsider or maverick in Hindi cinema, but he’s the most vocal. I keep pace with his thoughts and deeds through his interviews and stream-of-consciousness blogs on the website Passionforcinema.com. Kashyap’s garrulousness, which sets the teeth of several industry professionals on edge, always makes great copy. It has also endeared him to young film-making hopefuls and cineastes, for whom he is the man who will save Bollywood from itself. Kashyap has charmed Generation Right Now by anticipating its interests and needs. Dev D and his new release, Gulaal, are perfectly timed to snatch away audiences from please-all schmaltzy movies.
Kashyap has always been attracted to cultish subjects and characters. All these years after he came to Mumbai from Gorakhpur via Delhi, he has become something of a cult figure for several under-30 Indians. A virtual entourage follows his every word and refuses to listen to any critique of his work. This isn’t surprising. Kashyap is part of an age that values the pose rather than the position. The noughties are celebrated as the decade that encouraged individuals to rewrite their destinies. The decade that allowed Shah Rukh Khan to come in from the Delhi cold and conquer Mumbai, India and the world has also left some space in the margins for the likes of Kashyap. Now, it’s time to talk rather than listen.
Kashyap, of course, realizes this. As he does in his movies, he subverts our hunger for headline-grabbing copy by always obliging with opining and posturing and, in the process, slipping in disruptive thoughts. The difference between the days of Paanch and Dev D is that hip is also hot. Dev D has earned its producer, UTV Spotboy, enough money for Kashyap’s future projects to be taken a bit more seriously. The outsider hasn’t quite become the insider, but he’s moved a few steps closer to the inner circle.
Nandini Ramnath is film editor, Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Gulaal releases on 13 March.
Write to Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org