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Anurag Kashyap, The Misunderstood Genius Of Bollywood

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I’ve heard many people say that Anurag Kashyap makes arthouse films. Nothing could be farther from the truth. His films are definitely indie films, but they do not exude those over-the-top arthouse aesthetics, even in the least. Compare Anurag’s films with films like “Court” or “Ship of Theseus”. The stark differences stare us in our eyes.

Kashyap’s films make me contemplate. They unflinchingly depict the harsh and brutal ground realities of rural India as well as the hideous underbelly of the superficially posh urban society.

After watching “Paanch”, I realised how far and ahead this film was of its time! I don’t know why exactly the Central Board of Film Certification acted like it did, but the opening credit sequence of the film was enough to make my mind spin. It reminded me of another brain-spinning opening sequence in Fernando Meirelles’ “City of God”. Maybe, “Paanch” was poor and amateurish as a thriller, but the dark and unpretentious portrayal of the transmogrification of the situation among four friends, was unprecedented in Indian cinema.

The one thing which “Paanch” definitely did not lack was ambition. Vikramaditya Motwane, who went on to make the brilliant film “Udaan”, which represented India at the Un Certain Regard category of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, was the sound designer for “Paanch”The film was also Vishal Bharadwaj’s first break as a music composer.

After watching “Raman Raghav 2.0”, I sat down and thought for a few minutes, whether the film went on to glorify the gore, or if it had anything more to say. It did – it had volumes to say. But, the depiction of the blood and gore was the only takeaway from the film for many of its critics. After watching “That Girl in Yellow Boots”, some critics had expressed their disgust and had criticised the film. Why? Because the girl ends up giving a handjob to her father! That was their only take away from the film – and they failed to comprehend what Anurag wanted to say through the film. And we are talking about respectable critics here!

Misunderstanding has been Anurag’s steady companion. For the greater part of his career, Anurag has been misunderstood. People did not appreciate “No Smoking”, a film which actually reflected Anurag’s seven years of hardship and struggles to get a space in the industry. People did not watch “That Girl in Yellow Boots” – a vent for Anurag’s childhood, which was marred by sexual abuse.  Anurag confesses that the sexual abuse he faced was a major life-changer for him.

Another turning point in Anurag’s career, which also turned out to be a learning experience for Phantom Films, was the massive failure of “Bombay Velvet”. Phantom Films, which is a production house run by Anurag Kashyap, Vikramaditya Motwane, Vikas Bahl and Madhu Mantena, suffered a major setback in 2015 when two of its productions failed miserably – “Bombay Velvet” and Bahl’s “Shandaar”. A flop movie is the one thing which critics decry with caustic cynicism, which the public does not recommend. But, “Bombay Velvet” was far more than a flop movie. Anurag had worked with people like Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Karan Johar, who are the poster children of the mainstream industry. In fact, the film itself is the most commercial project in Anurag’s filmography.

After this, he started receiving flak from both the mainstream and the indie community. The former did not like an indie guy venturing into its territory, and the latter was disappointed at their leading figure working not with Nawaz or Manoj Bajpayee, but with Ranbir Kapoor. In a Facebook post, Anurag famously expressed his desire to leave India and go to France. He does have a huge following in France, thanks to his stable fixtures in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival. Probably, the same fate befell “Shandaar” too. Both Anurag and Vikas went back to work the following Monday after the release of their respective films.

Anurag, however, returned to critical acclaim with “Raman Raghav 2.0”, which probably features Nawazuddin’s finest performance on screen till date. Phantom Films also regained territory with films like Abhishek Chaubey’s “Udta Punjab” and Vikramaditya Motwane’s “Trapped”.

Anurag has never made a film because he had to. He has always made films because he badly wanted to. A dark film like “Dev D”, was prompted by his utter dismantling of the classic “Devdas” tale, which essentially portrayed male ‘self-pity’. “Ugly” – one of his finer works, arguably his best – was a product of his comprehension of how greed manipulates the world.

In the meantime, Anurag had also understood that the industry wouldn’t probably let him make another ’60s crime drama after “Bombay Velvet”. So, instead of depicting the life of the real Raman Raghav, he subtly changed it into a modern 2.0 version inspired by the actual serial killer. He found it shameful to read only about what Sanjay Dutt was up to, after the 1993 bomb blasts in Bombay. The newspapers were only concerned with Sanjay Dutt. So, he wanted to make something which would show what actually transpired during the turbulent time. But, he could not find any credible sources, until he found Hussain Zaidi’s book. Thus, “Black Friday”, his most successful film before “Gangs of Wasseypur”, came to life.

Anurag Kashyap, for Indian cinema, is what Martin Scorsese was to American cinema in the 70s. I am personally in favour of calling Anurag the pioneer of a ‘Bollywood New Wave’. The man, who started his career as a screenwriter for Ram Gopal Varma’s “Satya”, ended up kickstarting the career of another man – Zeishan Qadri, the screenwriter of the “Gangs of Wasseypur” films. Zeishan later went on to direct a film called “Meeruthiya Gangsters”, a film which was edited by Anurag.

In 2018, Kashyap’s “Mukkabaaz”, which opened in film festivals worldwide, came out as a scathing portrayal of the ignominious caste cauldron in North India – and how social constructs like caste hierarchy stand as formidable impediments to people making it big in life. The way Anurag grasps a topic, a concept, and delivers it on the screen with deadpan panache, but with no fuss or fanfare, is something highly admirable, and is worth talking and discussing about. I will not shy away from calling him an auteur since his signature and vision are often obtuse but always conspicuous in his films.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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