This story traces its roots to Obra, a sleepy hamlet tucked in the dusty cowbelt of Uttar Pradesh. A five year old boy used to regale his brothers and sisters with stories of films he had never seen. The only two films he had seen wide eyed in a ramshackle dingy theatre were ‘Aandhi’ and ‘Kora kagaz’. The boy who fed on stories from Hindi magazines such as ‘Sarita’ and ‘Manohar kahania’ was soon sent to Scindia School in Gawlior for studies.
There was no Surendra Mohan Pathak (a top selling novelist in Hindi heartland of north India) here; somebody called Shakespeare stared him down from the bookshelves of the school library. Well-heeled boys from the upper strata of society speaking Queen’s language intimidated him. The affluence and alien milieu of rich kids confronted his middle class upbringing. Every day was a struggle; his self esteem lasted as long as the labored shine on his lone pair of old black shoes. He suffered from inferiority complex and took to writing to express himself. In seventh standard he penned a story about a boy suffering from low self-esteem and how other guys troubled him. The teacher thought it was not original. He reprimanded him and asked him to do genuine work in life. Genuine-now, what was that? That night, poor guy searched the meaning of genuine in a dictionary and, troubled by the accusation he wrote a new poem about a boy wanting to commit suicide. The matter reached his father. Concerned, principal and school authorities started counseling him. The boy continued writing and won many prizes in the school.
However, his fascination for dark and macabre stories, or, identification with self- pity and destructive underdog who cocks a snook at the establishment continued. Much later, he coined a new word for it-Emotional Atyachaar. Yes, young cinegoers identified and related to the new definition of Devdas and lapped up his film Dev D (2009). Armed with pen, camera, and a cinematic vision, writer-director, Anurag Kashyap has learned to channelize his angst and has devised a new format of story-telling in Indian Cinema. Remember: Satya, Shool, Kaun, Gulal, No Smoking, Blak Friday.
After all these films under his kitty, Obra boy, Anurag Kashyap feels he is still a struggler in Bollywood. “The only thing that has changed in the last 15 years is now I am like a race horse which can be profitable to anyone who wants to make money from him,” says Anurag.
A little more prodding and Anurag talks about the full stops, commas and hyperlinks of his own non-linear script: his journey to bollywood, that is.
I was in Delhi, doing my graduation when I attended the International Film festival in 1993. It had a retrospective on Vittorio De Sica films. I saw ‘Bicycle Thief’ and got permanently hooked on to cinema. I used to do street theatre. But I was very confused about my career. Finally I decided I have to do something with Cinema. Quite obviously, my father was against the idea so I took Rs 5000 from home and ran away to Mumbai. Here, I started doing theatre. I did stage acting but confusion regarding career still persisted. One day, in sheer frustration, I wrote a play called ‘Main’. Govind Nihlani and Sayed Mirza liked it. Later, Govind gave me Kafka’s novel ‘The Trial’ to adopt it into a film. I wasn’t sure. I thought it could be a nice animation film and conveyed the same to Govind. He asked me to reconsider and think it from a new perspective. See, the problem was, I had a fixed mind-set and saw things with a pre-conceived notion in those early days. Moreover, I thought I won’t be able to justify his faith in me. I started avoiding his phone calls. Then one day I met Pankaj Tittoria, a theatre guy, who introduced me to Shivam Nair. That was one of the turning points in my life. Shivam Nair, Shriram Raghvan, Shiv Subramanium, and Sreedhar Raghvan were working on a video film called ‘Auto Shankar’. Location, dates, and shooting schedule were finalized. I use to sit in a corner and listen to them discussing the film threadbare. However, even two days before the shoot, they couldn’t finalise the script. They were planning to scrap the shoot when I requested them to give me a chance to work on the script. They looked at each other and smiled. I spent the whole night in office writing the script and dozed off in the morning. When I got up around post noon, I saw them reading the script. I could see the new found respect in their eyes. The film was made on my script and all of them supported me a great deal. Those days, Ram Gopal Verma (RGV) was working on an idea, a new film with Manoj Bajpayi in the lead. He asked Manoj to recommend a new writer and soon I started working on Satya. Later, I also wrote Shool and Kaun for RGV.
The process of becoming a director
While working on Satya, one day, RGV gave me the camera and asked me to shoot the portion where Satya, the central protagonist of the movie comes for the first time to Mumbai. I was so excited. I was bursting with so many ideas to shoot that particular portion. But once I reached the location, I saw actor instructing cameraman to shoot in a particular way. I couldn’t say much and was reduced to an onlooker watching the shoot. Later, when the shoot tape reached RGV he fired everybody. He was clearly not happy with the shoot. I bore the brunt. I shared with him my ideas. ‘Why didn’t I implement it?’ RGV was shouting at me. I told him I was new and they all were senior actors and crew members. RGV told me nobody here knows more or less. That gave me confidence. Thereafter I used to take cameraman Jerry Hooper and shoot the ideas I had in my mind. We even shot the real Ganpati festival, the procession on the streets and immersion. Slowly, I grew into confidence. I started writing Shool, which I was suppose to direct. But there were some changes done by the producer in the second half. I withdrew from the project as a director. For Mission Kashmir, I went to Kashmir, researched extensively on the subject and wrote the script. But again it was removed from the final draft. I was upset. I realized as a writer you have a limited say in the final product you see on the screen. I resolved to direct my own scripts. By then I was known as a writer of Satya, Shool and Kaun. Those days, my brother Abhinav was doing a telefilm called ‘Darr’ for Star channel. It was for Star Best Seller series, which was a popular show He facilitated a meeting with channel people. I narrated them a story and before I knew they had asked me to direct it. I soon started assembling a team. I called Nutty from Delhi who had done ‘Dhoom Pichak Dhoom’ and ‘Ab ki Sawan’ videos. The first day of the shoot I had few friends who had directed serials earlier. They started advising me how to can the first shot. I got confused. Later I did the scene as I had visualized. I shot the first scene in seven and a half hours. The shoot of ‘Last Train to Mahakali’ taught me many things. A) There is no particular method to direction. The most important thing is how you communicate the visual you have in your mind for a scene to the cameraman. How you express yourself and the relationship with cameraman is very important. B) You need to be a very good manager to become a director. Those days Channel V had the DV camera, which I needed for the shoot. I gave a bit role to one of the channel V producer who was my friend. In the night when channel V was closed, my friend used to get the DV camera and I shot the train sequences in the night. While shooting for ‘Last Train to Mahakali’ I also finished 40 pages of a film script. It was called Mirage, which was later renamed as Paanch. The telefilm earned rave reviews but I still had difficulty finding the producer for my debut film. I was writing a film for Sudhir Mishra. I approached him with the subject and he in turn introduced me to Tutu Sharma, a well known producer. He agreed to finance the film and finally Paanch was made on a budget of Rs 1,11,00,000.
Paanch never got to see the light of the day and Black Friday had to go through numerous court stay orders but that hasn’t deterred him to choose his subjects carefully. The critically acclaimed director is working on his next project ‘Udaan’ which is a story of a small town father and son and their different opinions. “I always like the topics which have some hard thinking behind it,” says Anurag.
Currently, Anurag is searching for a good story with 26/11 Mumbai attacks as a backdrop and plans to make a film on it very soon.
Interview courtsey Ajay Brahmataj . . .