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.