As he awaits the rendezvous of “Gangs of Wasseypur” with connoisseurs at Cannes, director Anurag Kashyap talks of the minefield he is treading this June.
This is proving to be the year when Hindi cinema ventured beyond the beaten track of big cities, glitzy metros and foreign shores to tell stories that matter to you and me. The envelope is going to be pushed further this summer with Dibakar Banerjee's much awaited “Shanghai” and Anurag Kashyap's first big ticket venture “Gangs of Wasseypur” all set to bridge the Bharat-India divide. Based on a true story, he says everything has been camouflaged but those aware of regional politics will make out who is who. “The big need in Indian cinema is to look within. Dibakar Banerjee and Vishal Bhardwaj stuck to the roots. I was the one who strayed. It is Tamil cinema which inspired me to return to my roots,” says Anurag, all set to display his gangs in Cannes. He clarifies it is not the mainstream masala fair from the South, which is inspiring Bollywood these days, that hooked him. “I got hooked to films like ‘Subramaniapuram', ‘Adukulam', ‘Paruthiveeran'…works of directors like Bala, Ameer Sultan and Vetrimaran. Watching these films, I realised I come from North India where many such stories exist in small towns and villages and I am stuck in cities.”
Narrating his journey to the coal mines, Anurag says, “Writer Zeeshan Quadri comes from Wasseypur, which was once in Bengal, then in Bihar and is now part of Dhanbad in Jharkhand.It sounded unbelievable and I like verifying stories so I started researching because the way Zeeshan told the story, it sounded very similar to Mumbai's gangster films. Having been part of ‘Satya' and having made ‘Black Friday', I didn't want to tell the same story with a slight change in the atmosphere. I wanted to explore what mafia do besides killing each other or playing power games. What fascinated me was this is one story where I could trace the origin of the mafia in India. So I decided to go back to 1941 to explore how and in what circumstances the mafia came out. Coal was the first natural resource to be exploited in the country and the coal mafia was the first mafia. The resource belonged to everyone but after the British left, the coal mines were allotted only to the Tatas, Birlas and Thapars. They were not given to people who lived there and whose survival depended on them. The big corporates needed coal for their industries but they didn't know how to run the coal mines so they hired the same people who used to run mines during the British period. There used to be a pehalwan who used to make people work. After Independence suddenly people realised that it is a natural resource and belongs to everybody and there is a lot of money to be made. This led to rampant pilferage. Situations kept changing. The Constitution came, Babu Jagjeevan Ram became the Labour Minister. He supported formation of unions but then the mafia started operating through unions. When the mines were nationalised, the mafia found its way through that as well. Like the Naxal story, at the end of the day, it is the story of survival.”
As for the conscience, he says those who indulged in pilferage explained to themselves that when everybody is taking it why not they. “It was like bandarbat, everybody wanted his share. The film captures the changing nature of the business, the vengeance and the politics of it all through three generations of one family.”
Talking about the layers in the tale, Anurag says the film is holding a mirror to one area, which is similar to a lot of others areas. “What is happening in Wasseypur is also happening in places like Chandauli, places where mining is happening.
The research led to interesting findings like Bollywood's influence on the mafia, and Anurag tries to put it in context. “With Amitabh Bachchan Bollywood entered their lives. When they saw ‘Deewar' something inside them got underlined. Because deep inside they feel they are doing it for good. At heart everybody is a Robin Hood there. The irony of it all was to be captured with a very spicy humour that the space inherently has. The innocence still lingers somewhere in the eyes of the misguided vengeful souls who know no other way to live but kill.”
He is also accused of making profanities part of cinematic language. “My point is profanity should not be there for the sake of it. I come from a region where it is part of everyday language and the way they use it is how we are using it in the film.”
It is a five-and-a-half-hour long saga is divided into two parts. “The script is of 240 pages and I wanted to use all of it. Ram Gopal Varma's experiment didn't work but I believe if your story holds and each part looks complete in itself, people will come to watch even 10 parts. I have seen films like ‘Carlos', ‘Che' which looked good in many parts.”
Anurag says three years back when the film was conceived it was considered a suicidal budget. “It is my biggest film but to sell an 18-20 crore idea of a five-and-a-half hour film with Manoj Bajpayee and Nawazuddin in the lead is still a big deal in India. In that sense we have changed. Viacom 18 was ready to take that kind of pressure. ‘Shanghai' has also got money. We are no longer being forced to limit our dreams to 2-4 crores.”
However, he clarifies that once a studio gets a big ‘commercial' hit it starts playing the boss and that's why he keeps moving. “I made ‘Black Friday' with Mid Day, then made two films with UTV Spotboy and eventually moved to Viacom 18, which is still interested in taking risks.”
So he hasn't given up on the independent filmmaker in him. “That's my oxygen. In between ‘Wasseypur' and ‘Bombay Velvet', I am making a small film ugly, a thriller woven around people who could not achieve their big dream.” Also, he elaborates that even in his so-called big films he negotiates a lot. “Shooting style remains the same. We work well within the budgets, cast local actors, use guerrilla techniques. ‘Wasseypur' could have easily been a 40-50 crore film. But that doesn't mean compromise. Technique-wise we are strong. For the last three years our films (‘Dev.D', ‘Udaan', ‘Shaitan'), are winning the best awards in cinematography and sound.”
However he no longer wants to be the go-to director for every youngster with a story to tell. “For years I craved to make movies, now I have got the chance. I don't want to be distracted. But there is a system in place,” he signs off. Office mein chawal dal aur ek sabzi banti hai aur sab wahi khate hain.
On comparisons with Dibakar Banerjee
“To me he is Hindi cinema biggest filmmaker. I don't take the kind of responsibilities that Dibakar takes. I get very personal, at times indulgent. Mera cinema is pyaar zyada hai. I am a big cinephile. I remain limited to cinema. He is boundless. I am a researched filmmaker, he is an organic filmmaker. His observation of little-little things is marvellous. I don't know what to do and how to do. I know what not to do. I negate things to make my way. Dibakar knows where he has to go. His music sense is very strong. I don't know music. I have to scrape a lot. He is natural. Yes my destiny is perhaps better than Dibakar. He should be given the space that he deserves at the international level,” But then Anurag is taking a film with 25 songs to Cannes!