I like adverse circumstances and thrive in them – Anurag Kashyap
I am completely for struggle because that’s what shapes people and that is how they will find their voice,” says the multifaceted filmmaker Anurag Kashyap. The producer – writer – director known for out of the box movies has no qualms in pushing boundaries and challenging conventional norms. He doesn’t believe in mincing words and is very clear of what he wants, be it out of the cinema he makes or the people he works with – a feat that makes him the prolific filmmaker that he is. His critically and globally acclaimed films have created a revolution of sorts and inspired budding filmmakers to experiment with the art, which Anurag actively promotes through his many co-productions.
In a freewheeling and enlightening conversation, Pandolin gets an insight into the thoughts, beliefs and motivations that drive Anurag Kashyap and his cinema.
What role has revenge played in your life?
I think everybody has some kind of vengeance in them. Vengeance is not to kill someone or to get back at someone. I did a lot of things with vengeance in life but that vengeance is like I was determined to work harder. I’m determined to do what everybody tells me not to do. It also comes a lot from childhood, that you don’t want to be bullied anymore. Everything translates as a bully, if someone says don’t do that, I say that how can anybody decide what I should be doing or not doing, that’s how I’ve driven myself in life.
So you’ve always been a fighter in life.
I always fight back. And I don’t fight back to beat the other one down, I fight back to stand up again. I like the struggle, I like adverse circumstances and I thrive in them.
When someone had asked you about what motivates you to make a film like GoW, you said that it is anything that excites me and speaks to me. But what really sits at the emotional core of this film that you have made and how does it relate it you on a personal level?
I will twist your question to my answer, in the sense that, we are made up of our own experiences in life. So we as people go through our things – childhood, adolescence, we go through what we want to do in life. You are your experiences of life – good, bad or ugly. That is how you and I are different. So anything that excites me or engages with me, automatically qualifies the fact that it has touched a chord within my experiences. It has already done that. If there is something that I do not relate to, that doesn’t resonate with me, it is not something that will interest me. I am more of an internal person. If you look at my films, I’ve hardly shot in places I have not known. It is like I’ve been on a life long recce. I made my new film and I have gone back to places that I struggled in Mumbai, shot in those areas, I’ve cast actors from those days, so I’ve picked up this whole film from there. With Wasseypur, I got the opportunity to also fulfill a childhood dream. I used to be fascinated with cinema and would wake up in the morning and see the mountains and wonder why would anyone not make a film around such a beautiful place and I did that. I went to all the beautiful places that I grew up in and I shot there, using the same houses too.
And interpreting relations, I did not live the life of Faheem Khan and Shafiq Khan, so I don’t know what really happened between the two people, nobody knows that, but I interpret what must have happened and that interpretation is always based on my own personal observations and experiences.
You speak about pushing boundaries and redefining traditional norms, could you share some thoughts about finding that middle ground where things are redefined but audiences are not being alienated?
We are pushing boundaries to find the middle ground but we are much behind the middle ground. The problem is that we have been conditioned for years by a certain kind of cinema, such that my boundary pushing is not even nudging an international filmmaker who is outside my country. The perspective changes. For example, when I made That Girl in Yellow Boots, and the first thing that Fatih Akin said was, what a great subject and you wasted it. He said that you should have really gone for it and shown things that people don’t want to see, and you should have pushed that. To which I said that the film I have made already puts off people big time in India and if I would have done more, I would have been assassinated. So what is boundary pushing for me may not good enough for him. It is like the theory of relativity, more about where you are coming from. So what I do is boundary pushing within my own society.
What do you think lies at the bottom of that kind of a push to change the scope of things. Why would you do that?
Nothing. I am constantly doing these things because like when I made That Girl in Yellow Boots, people started judging that Anurag and Kalki must have had a very perverted, kinky life, what kind of a husband will make a wife do such things and so on. Till such morality is not addressed, till we don’t get out of that judgmental mode we will not really evolve from there. So let’s first get there. Let’s first assault people with things, tell them things as they are. If they can’t deal with it or think they can ignore it, let’s see how long they can do so and turn their back on it. We live in a land full of ostriches, when they see trouble they bury their head in sand, it’s like it doesn’t exist. First let’s pull their heads out of the sand and look them in the eye and say this is what I am. You can think that I am morally depraved and I have no sense of values and so on, but I exist, with everything that you think of me. And I am going to exist and you can’t do anything about it, so you deal with it.
The depiction of violence in your films scores very in your face and sex is only suggestive. You had mentioned that India is changing and sex is being shown pretty openly, but I was curious about your specific choice of treatment towards it?
I want to first deal with sexuality. Sex will come on screen that day when people stop getting titillated with it. Till the titillation doesn’t go away, how do I approach sex without it not becoming the high point of the film? If I put sex on screen, that is the only thing that will be discussed. But I cannot explore various aspects of anything without exploring sexuality, which is why I explore sexuality. I am not going to make someone strip and make them naked; because that will become the reason for anybody watching the film and that will become the distraction from the rest of the film. So I want to stay away from that. I don’t want to prove a point to myself, that I can do that. I’m waiting for people to first get used to language, they are not used to the violence and sex in the language itself. People find it extremely cool to say the same words in English, but the moment they are spoken in Hindi or Marathi, they flinch. That needs to be opened up.
Any rational person wouldn’t watch a film and then pick up a gun and start shooting people. But as you know America is having raging gun control troubles. And many people blame the video game and music industry, what would you say to them?
That is America’s serious problem. The same video games and same music is played across the world. Why are those gun troubles happening only in America? Films, music and entertainment is always a soft target, but these people, shooting others at random, are shooting simply because there are problems with the gun laws in this country. You cannot blame entertainment and everything. Yes, people have impressionable minds. If you put a gun here, everybody will like to pick it up and hold it the way they have seen in movies, it’s that exotic, unfamiliar thing that they feel one with, they want to do those things and have those instincts. But we have those baser instincts about everything but we control them. One sees a pretty woman and fantasizes about her, they don’t really do it, but they do fantasize.
Every man is aspirational; they want something they don’t have. That way you can then start blaming everything. You need to accept it and address the real issues. The same violent video games are played across the world, even in India, why don’t we have those problems? Because people have stronger gun laws. Here everything is controlled and governed by profit margins. People who have profit margins should think about larger things and act accordingly.
If you had a magic wand, what are some things that you would change about the Indian film industry?
I don’t really know because then the fun would go away. The whole idea is to constantly fight against something. It will become boring because if everybody thinks the same way, there will be no diversity. It’s fun because I really enjoy some of the mainstream, commercial movies. I can’t make them, but I am driven by the fact that I have to someday turn my cinema into one of those big films. And let’s see if we can do that without changing us.
Your process with the actors is said to be defined by theatrical rules that you don’t really rehearse and you have conversations with the actors utilizing some of their own history to really pull out a performance.
I talk about their personal history to everyone. I talk to them. I make myself emotionally naked in front of them and I want them to be like that. And which is why I feel very close to all my actors and they completely trust me and they do anything. The same process is with everyone, even non-actors. I use them as people and they become people on camera, they are not being actors. They become part of it and they react, in cinema you need to react and in theatre you need to really act it out. And that is the big difference.
There is a scene in the first part of Wasseypur, where a wife dies in labor, and after the husband returns from the coal mine, it felt like you made an almost deliberate choice for the audience to feel no sympathy for the dead wife, instead relief that a new baby was born. Is that true? Why not capitalize on that emotional fertile area?
It would have become too melodramatic because I am not invested in the wife at all till then. I am invested in the man. And if I deliberately try to do that, which Hindi films do, it becomes melodrama of unnecessary proportions, which I want to stay away from. Which is why, even when Shahid Khan dies, I immediately move away. If you are creating sympathy, that sympathy has to be followed through. I am looking at the larger picture of the film, what people are going to get when they come out of it.
Whether subconsciously or consciously many filmmakers have said that they make the same movie throughout their entire career.
I consciously try not do that and still people find similarities. My wife still finds some moments which are similar from all my films. I try to avoid that but definitely in characters you may find a similar kind of an internal struggle. But that is also because we don’t see a lot of an internal struggle in our films. When you put it in the context of what everybody is doing outside, you will suddenly find that there is not enough that we are doing.
Any thoughts on what kind of films you will be making in the next five years? Would you find yourself doing something completely outside of what you have done?
I have a lot of scripts. I want to do Doga, I want to do a lot of personal movies, I like my small movies. I would really want to make a love story, make a genuine love story where you see two people in love.
Lastly, any words for filmmakers who have a lot of respect for you but are struggling to cultivate their own voice?
They need to struggle. I am completely for struggle because that’s what shapes them and that is how they will find their voice. Because their voice is not just what they were born with, it is something that is shaped with time and experience.
– As told to Manav Wadhwa