Anurag Kashyap interview | On ‘Maharaja’, ‘Bad Cop’ and the state of artistic freedom in India

Anurag Kashyap interview | On ‘Maharaja’, ‘Bad Cop’ and the state of artistic freedom in India

The acclaimed filmmaker and inveterate actor discusses his spree of ‘baddie’ roles in Hindi and southern films, the timidity of streaming services, and the need for state support for independent voices

Updated - June 15, 2024 02:55 pm IST

Published - June 12, 2024 05:31 pm IST

It was only a matter of time before someone cast Anurag Kashyap and Gulshan Devaiah in a kitschy crime thriller together. Kashyap, acclaimed director of films like Gangs of Wasseypur and Ugly, has built a lucrative second career playing snarly heavies and agents of corruption. And Devaiah, who started his career under Kashyap’s wing, has flourished wonderfully on streaming, as the twin successes of Duranga and Dahaad — plus an outlandish cameo in Guns & Gulaabs — showed.

In Bad Cop, premiering on Disney+ Hotstar on June 21 and adapted from the German television series by RTL, Devaiah and Kashyap square off in a tale of cops, criminals, mad twists and some slo-mo-assisted Gun Fu. The series is directed by Aditya Datt (Commando 3) and marks the first fiction offering by Freemantle India.

Anurag Kashyap in a still from ‘Bad Cop’

Anurag Kashyap in a still from ‘Bad Cop’ | Photo Credit: @hotstarOfficial/YouTube

We ask Kashyap, who also essays the antagonist opposite Vijay Sethupathi in the Tamil film Maharaja, what attracts him to these roles. It is a stereotype he appears to exult in, unlike, say, someone like Rick Dalton, the fading movie star played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood.

Director Anurag Kashyap interacts with the media during the 29th Kolkata International Film Festival, in Kolkata, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023.

Director Anurag Kashyap interacts with the media during the 29th Kolkata International Film Festival, in Kolkata, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023. | Photo Credit: -

“I love dying,” Kashyap says with a grin. “I tell my directors to give me incredible death scenes.(laughs).” His favourite death scene, he adds, is when Quentin Tarantino explodes near the end of his own Django Unchained (2012). “My biggest fantasy is that, at the end of my life, I’ll get Amit Trivedi or AR Rahman to compose a song and put together all my death scenes.”

“But why are you talking about death scenes?” Devaiah, dressed in a light pink suit, breaks in. “What’s that got to do with Bad Cop?”

“Nah, I mean, I don’t have a problem playing evil,” Kashyap explains.

”In the hope that you will get to die in that story...” Gulshan summarises teasingly.

Gulshan Devaiah and Anurag Kashyap in a still from ‘Bad Cop’

Gulshan Devaiah and Anurag Kashyap in a still from ‘Bad Cop’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It is a treat to witness their bonhomie since Kashyap had written (along with Kalki Koechlin) one of the funniest characters in Gulshan’s filmography. In That Girl in Yellow Boots (2010), the actor turns up as a Kannada-accented gangster who ends up weeping at a massage parlour while getting, well, some handy assistance. “It was written in the script that I will break down,” Gulshan recalls. “But the exact intensity or timing of it was left to me to improvise. Anurag gives that freedom to his actors. In hindsight, I feel that scene was a bit indulgent.”

What is Anurag Kashyap like as an actor?
Director Aditya Datt: I have seen all of Anurag’s cinema. So yes, I did feel a little intimidated when he came onto set. But he was surprisingly accommodating of my vision. A couple of times, I did ask him, “Do you think this is going right?” But he said, “tu decide kar (you decide).” As a filmmaker, he never made me second-guess myself. He just surrendered.
Producer Aradhana Bhola: In addition to being well-behaved, which is really amazing, there is a childlike curiosity in Anurag that he brings. He has maintained it to this day. Even in normal conversations you are having with him, he is always curious and forthcoming. He will say whatever he has to say about the world. He’s protected that about himself, and that is his biggest strength.

The bigger picture

It is all fun and games at the Bad Cop junket, though other issues loom large. Kashyap, in a recent interview, fulminated against India’s tendency to ‘take credit’ for the achievements of independent filmmakers. The swell of national pride that erupted at the Cannes Film Festival last month with Payal Kapadia and Anasuya Sengupta winning top honours was undercut by the fact — earlier raised by Resul Pookutty — that their movies were international co-productions, and fell way off the mainstream.

“Any artistic endeavour that is risky and challenging will need support,” Kashyap says. “There was a time when some of the strongest cinema in this country emerged out of the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC). Even in recent decades, films like The Lunchbox (2012) and my own That Girl in Yellow Boots (2010) wouldn’t have been made without their help. But I don’t know how much they do now.”

He says he has not attended the Film Bazaar, the official film market organised by NFDC alongside the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa, in years. “I know a lot of subsidies and rebates have been announced. One of my films went to a festival. There was a fund announced (Film Promotion Fund, in 2016) to provide financial aid to films that get selected for festivals. But I did not get any support and neither did any of our films. Announcements bahut hote hai, hota kuch nahi (announcements happen, nothing comes of them).“

There is also the threat, as many have indicated, of preferential treatment based on a filmmakers’ political views and affiliations. Films ideologically aligned with the ruling dispensation have been granted tax-free status in multiple states in the recent past. Kashyap, too, has had his fair share of run-ins with the establishment. In 2018-2019, two of his films, Mukkabaaz and Sandh Ki Aankh, were denied shooting incentives under the Uttar Pradesh Government’s film scheme. “My producer suffered losses because of me...because I talk a lot,” he says.

Anurag Kashyap in a still from ‘Maharaja’

Anurag Kashyap in a still from ‘Maharaja’ | Photo Credit: @jungleemusictamil/Youtube

The streaming space appears no more liberating, or liberated. Kashyap concedes that a hard-edged, sociopolitically-engaged series like Sacred Games — which he co-directed with Vikramaditya Motwane and Neeraj Ghaywan — cannot be made in the current climate. “The reason Sacred Games happened is because it was greenlit from the US and not India. I had my show Maximum City cancelled at Netflix. Dibakar Banerjee’s film (Tees) is stuck. Anyone who is currently in a position of decision-making, their choices are dictated by a lot of external factors. It’s not like they have a personal problem.”

Did the recent Lok Sabha election results raise his hopes for a freer artistic climate? “I don’t think like that,” Kashyap rejoins. “I will continue to make films in whatever atmosphere I find myself in. Where are the best films in the world coming from? Iran, China, Russia? The repression in those countries is on another level, yet that’s what makes you creative. The best literature, the best art always emerges from a lack of absolute freedom. Yes, one does feel restricted as an artiste. At the same time, it is also my responsibility to find my ways to tell my story.”

Villains Inc.

Returning to his acting work, Anurag says that his character in Bad Cop, gangster Kazbe, is worlds apart from the one he essays in Maharaja, his third Tamil film after Imaikkaa Nodigal and a cameo in Leo.

Anurag Kashyap in a still from ‘Maharaja’

Anurag Kashyap in a still from ‘Maharaja’ | Photo Credit: @jungleemusictamil/Youtube

“Kazbe is a more demonstrative criminal while my role in Maharaja is quite realistic. Director Nithilan Swaminathan has made an outstanding film. It’s like a gritty South Korean revenge movie made in India.” Kashyap has a long-standing equation with Vijay Sethupathi and holds the actor in high esteem. “We worked together in Imaikkaa Nodigal. I was the first one who went to cast him for Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (2018), but that didn’t eventually work out.”

Kashyap is also making his Malayalam acting debut in Aashiq Abu’s upcoming Rifle Club. The film also features Dileesh Pothan and Soubin Shahir. Another Tamil film, One 2 One, is on the cards with Sundar C.

“I have so much fun working in the southern cinemas,” Kashyap says. “There are no vanity vans on a Malayalam film set, for instance, no unnecessary expenses or showbaazi (pretence). Everyone is passionate about making great cinema. Unlike in Bollywood, where we make ‘projects’ and not films.”

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