Cinema

‘We were huge fans of pre-Roja Mani Ratnam’

Poster of the movie.

Poster of the movie.

Vasan Bala was an avid contributor to the now defunct blog, passionforcinema.com. Thani was an FTII dropout. They didn’t know how to take their love for cinema forward until they were united by one man: Anurag Kashyap.

“Back in 2005, when Anurag was working on No Smoking , he used to talk about a magnum opus,” says Thani, who came into contact with Anurag during a screenplay workshop conducted at FTII in 2002. “He discussed the concept, set in the Bombay of the 1950s and 60s, with historian Gyan Prakash. He wanted to take it forward from there, but didn’t know how. That’s when I moved from Bangalore to Bombay to assist him with the writing and research of this idea which grew to be a trilogy, set in the 60s Bombay. Bombay Velvet is the first of three stories.”

Vasan, a bank employee in the early 2000s, had limited his love for cinema to just writing for passionforcinema.com. “Being from a typical TamBrahm family, when I told my parents I wanted to work in cinema, they said, ‘Go, join Mani Ratnam’,” says Vasan, who has written and directed Peddlers , an indie film that premiered at Cannes. “Thani too tried to work with him and that united us. Back then, if you spoke English, people would expect you to work with Mani Ratnam; if not, with Bharathiraja. But we were huge fans of pre- Roja Mani Ratnam.”

Vasan too got a call from Anurag after the release of No Smoking . He quit his job and began working full-time on Bombay Velvet . “Right from 2008, Bombay Velvet was rumoured to be Anurag’s next,” says Vasan, “but it took much longer. We had a solid base ready by 2009. At that point, there was no Ranbir — an actor who is both young and who could make the film viable. It’s only early in their career that stars don’t mind working on such a film and having Ranbir — on the verge of superstardom — helped achieve this magnum opus.”

The film is set in a highly stylised Bombay. To what extent did they have to depart from realism to capture the city? “Doing a classic noir was the reason the film even took off,” says Thani, adding, “So, one cannot overlook the blinds, the shadows, the Tommy guns…even if they are far from real. Anurag had already attempted neo noir, so with this, he wanted to make a film like Public Enemies in India, and Bombay was just perfect for that.”

Vasan says, “The 60s is the most exciting phase in Bombay. The lack of documentation made research very difficult, but it was a time when India was just 20 years old. A regional party was just coming up; it was a hub of bootlegging, prohibition and organised crime. It was the place for smuggling and, more than anything, it was where one genre of music (jazz) showed signs of resurgence even as it was fading out in the rest of the world. It was truly an exciting time and the setting alone tells many stories.”

Did the large setting mean compromises in writing? “Anurag made sure we could dream without restraint,” Vasan says. “He told us that we didn’t have to curtail anything for the sake of the budget. The script has taken nine long years to become a film. We’ve changed so much as people in this period.”


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Printable version | Sep 26, 2022 3:04:51 am | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/we-were-huge-fans-of-preroja-mani-ratnam/article7238869.ece