It's a surreal dinner table conversation. Anurag Kashyap is telling director Sashikumar how his Tamil film “Subramaniapuram” has inspired him to go back to his roots. Listening in are Samudhirakanni (well-known in Tamil cinema), Malayalam filmmaker Renjith and Kannada director Yograj Bhat among others when an assistant of Yograj says something tongue-in-cheek about his own mentor.
And Anurag tells Yograj: “I like this guy. He talks straight.”
“I have guys like that around me who always take my trip… helps me stay grounded,” he admits.
Anurag likes people who are like him. Candid, in their opinions, passionate about cinema and absolutely headstrong in their convictions. Which is why he has an issue working with stars — especially if they are fond of thinking. Which is also why Indian cinema has found an original voice, a new champion and crusader for independent filmmaking.
His first film “Paanch” is yet to see the light of day. Yet, all through his two decades of struggle, he's had the audacity to look big, bad, Bollywood straight in the eye and show it the finger. Repeatedly.
Excerpts from the interview.
List your films in the order of your favourites?
‘No Smoking', ‘Black Friday', ‘Gulaal', ‘Dev D' and ‘Paanch' .
What excites you about a project?
The newness of it excites me. I should say: I've not done this before. I don't even like to repeat my locations. I prefer to shoot in real and virgin locations.
Even if it means forfeiting your director's fees?
Yes, because you only get paid for the star. You don't get paid for the film you want to make. So except for ‘No Smoking' which had John Abraham, I had to forfeit my fees to make sure the film gets made. I want to have my credibility. The Wasseypur project (still untitled) is a mass-y film with non-stars. Stars just escalate cost of production. It has to be my story, the bitter pill I want to give people. I made ‘That Girl in Yellow Boots' just because people told me it was career suicide. So I said, ‘Let's do it.'
And now Danny Boyle wishes you would let him direct at least one film from your Bombay Velvet trilogy, though he's a producer on the project?
It feels strange that he wanted to direct. I found out only after reading his interview. I told him, let me just direct the first one sir, you can direct any of the other two (laughs). It also gives me the confidence that whatever we are doing, somewhere, something is right.
You started off as a screenwriter. What were the biggest challenges you faced becoming a filmmaker? Do you believe in leaving your fingerprints on your film?
Even when I was writing, I was a filmmaker in my mind. I was just writing for survival. When I shoot, I consciously try to shoot it differently. I don't ever do patchwork. For the Wasseypur project, I don't want to use any crane or dolly or trolley… just Steadicam and camera, though it is my biggest and most expensive film with 120 characters having speaking parts. It is a gang-based revenge film that spans three generations in six decades. After that I want to shoot a small film that is 100 per cent improvised. We have a basic synopsis and it's up to the performances for it to come together. The only thing that you will find common in my films is my love for music, camerawork and art direction. I enjoy making films more than writing, I try to leave writing to the last minute, till the day of shoot.
You also seem to be mentoring a lot of filmmakers, backing their projects and “Udaan” has resulted in the year's best discovery — Vikramaditya Motwane as a director. Are you enjoying your role as the crusader of independent filmmaking in the country?
The role was thrust on me because it was vacated by Ram Gopal Varma who started it. I don't know what happened to him. But I don't enjoy it because it comes with a lot of responsibility and I would rather not have expectations to live up to. I also wish I had a rich father for a producer. Thankfully, now I have a rich brother (Abhinav Kashyap made ‘Dabanng') for a producer (laughs).
So what are the films you are involved with?
As a producer, we just finished ‘Michael' which is a thriller with Naseeruddin Shah, directed by Ribhudas Gupta and ‘Shaitan' directed by Bijoy Nambiar is in production. Both these films are co-produced by Studio 18. I am also producing Hansal Mehta's untitled docu-drama about a true incident and Sachin Kundalkar's ‘Aiyaa,' a romantic musical based on one of the short stories of a larger film called ‘Gandha' and then, Vikram Motwani's next — whatever he does, whenever he does. As a director, I am off to start shooting the Wasseypur project in Benares and the quick small all-improvised film I was talking about. I will start shooting Bombay Velvet for Danny Boyle next December. After which, I will start the superhero film, ‘Doga'. I am also distributing independent films. I am bringing Fatih Akin's new film ‘Soul Kitchen' to India. Then there's the untitled Karthik Krishnan project directed by Srinivas Sunderrajan that was made with Rs. 40,000. When you see the film, it doesn't look or sound like it was made at that cost. I intend getting that film out and am looking at newer mediums to promote such films.
So, what about South Indian directors inspiring has inspired you to make the Wasseypur project?
I have watched ‘Subramaniapuram' at least three times, I saw ‘Naan Kadavul' that blew my mind and ‘Pasanga' today… I have seen all of Bala sir's and Ameer's films, I have been following Selvaraghavan since his first film ‘Thulluvatho Illamai', Dhanush's debut. I think the films are more rooted and the music and dance style and stories are from where they come from as filmmakers. So I am now going back to my roots and shooting in places where I spent my childhood.