New Delhi: A year after his infamous labour of love, Bombay Velvet, hit screens, Anurag Kashyap is back with Raman Raghav 2.0, a thriller based on the life and crimes of the notorious serial killer who haunted Mumbai in the 1960s. The film premiered at the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival last month and releases in India on 24 June. Often seen as the face of new-age cinema in the country, the filmmaker talks about going for a 2.0 version on Raghav as opposed to the biopic he originally wanted to make, his fascination with, what people ordinarily term as, “dark" characters and why Raman Raghav is not his way of getting over the Bombay Velvet debacle. Edited excerpts:
Raman Raghav looks very gritty. Is it a return to the kind of cinema you believe in? Do you think each filmmaker over the course of his career comes to be identified with a certain style?
I never went away from the cinema I believe in. I wouldn’t do something if I didn’t believe in it.
Yes, we all get typecast. But I think everyone has their own journey which should be based on their own curiosity rather than others’ expectations. And I would like my journey to be my own instead of what others expect of me. Because I’ve never seen myself as a caterer. If I explore a certain zone, it’s because I want to explore it. And there’s so much more in there. People say the cinema I make is black and that of the rest is white, but not all aspects of black have been explored. So even when somebody says Ugly or Gangs of Wasseypur is dark, what I’m saying is they’re very different from each other in mood and temperament. At a broader level, you can say they are all dark films. But within that zone, there’s so much more to explore.
So what made you want to explore Raman Raghav?
I wanted to explore Raman Raghav for the longest time. Though I don’t think I really got to explore him because I wanted to make a biopic on him which I never managed to. So I made the 2.0 version of it. The biopic would cost a lot of money, it would mean a period film and creating an atmosphere that a lot of people are alienated from. I didn’t want to go there. So the whole thing was I was getting ₹ 3.5 crore for my complete freedom, but in ₹ 6-7 crore I would lose it.
Plus I’m fascinated by the ’60s more than anything else. For me, any era of prohibition, or a vibrant world that died out, is an exciting time. We were still figuring ourselves out, putting aside the hangover of the (British) Raj and coming into our own. So that time period for me is very interesting cinematically.
Why do you think filmmakers are so fascinated with people like Raghav?
I don’t know about other people, I’m fascinated by them. I think people have suddenly discovered the idea of a biopic. But we still haven’t learnt how to make one because all our biopics end on a similar note of turning people into superheroes. I’m fascinated by anything that alters our expectation of humanity. At a very impressionable age, I read Crime and Punishment (by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky) that changed me forever. I would read things like Manohar Kahaniyaan (a monthly Hindi magazine devoted solely to the sensational) and was always fascinated by how an absolutely normal person commits crime. I’m very sensitive to those things. A whole lot of the world thrives on insecurity. And for me, that aspect of life always makes good literature and good artistic content. Nobody questions why people keep making happy films. It’s because we’re conditioned to certain things. For the longest time, cinema was meant to be a family thing. But my point is, you don’t read a book with the family. For me, cinema too is an individual experience. I like to watch films alone and I want my audience to watch them alone.
When you’re making a dark film, does it take a toll on you or the team?
It takes a toll on some people, but definitely not me. I’m always exhausted and drained by the end of a film but it doesn’t affect me much emotionally. For me, it’s more like a vent. So I’m actually in a very peaceful state after the film.
How did you zero in on the two leads, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vicky Kaushal?
I zero in on people whom I trust and who trust me. And who’re willing to go all the way. Plus before that, I shortlist people who I think fit the character. Nawaz was meant to do Raman Raghav from the day it was conceived. After we told him about the biopic in 2008, he was completely prepared. When we told him we weren’t making a biopic, he had to undo everything and start fresh. So he was the one who suffered the most.
Where do you stand on the actors versus stars debate? Your previous film had two big faces.
See, I’ve worked with big stars who I also think are great actors. I don’t have a problem working with stars. The problem with them is the expectation from their fan base. There is a fan base of Ranbir Kapoor that loves him as the boy-next-door or the romantic hero and wouldn’t want to accept him doing something else. Whereas Ranbir Kapoor is dying to experiment. If it were up to me and had Bombay Velvet worked, I’d have done more of this. But now it’ll take him a lot to come back and do that kind of stuff. So more than his, it’s my failure.
Will you ever work on a big-ticket Bollywood film with a big budget and stars?
In the next few years, I don’t think I will. But never say never. Kabhi bhi ho sakta hai (It can happen anytime). But right now, I don’t think I’m confident enough to handle a big budget.
How did it go for Raman Raghav at Cannes? How much do festivals matter to you?
For me, festivals are very important. A lot of people in India may think I make art-house movies but they are genre films. And genre films play very well at festivals and sell very well abroad. My films don’t have stars and foreign distributors don’t know how to sell non-star films to the diaspora. But when I go to a festival, it helps me find a market with the non-diaspora. My films release in countries like France, Germany, not to the Indian audience but to the world-cinema audience. That journey begins with the festival. So to me, festivals are very important and genre films play best at the Director’s Fortnight. And the response was terrific this year. We sold in some eight-nine countries, including France, Germany, Japan and Australia.
You said earlier that films are a vent for you. What is Raman Raghav then?
Whatever’s happening around me will somehow find a way into my film. So when you see Raman Raghav, you will realize it’s about all kinds of violence that’s going on around us. It’s got nothing to do with (what happened to) Bombay Velvet though. It’s a vent about things that I’ve seen in the society, in the world around me. But it’s not like Bombay Velvet ka badla (revenge for Bombay Velvet doing badly).