Moving beyond art

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By Director Anurag Kashyap loves making films that are out-of-the-box but there's a lot riding on his new interpretation of Devdas, says Sushmita Biswas
  • Published 25.01.09

Director Anurag Kashyap started young. When he was a youngster growing up in Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh back in the 1980s, he wanted to make a fictional film on Gumnami Baba — a monk who was rumoured to be Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose — whose death had created a stir in the newspapers.

“I was then a nine year-old and lived in the next lane where Gumnami Baba stayed and I had no idea who Netaji was. The first thing I did was to buy an Amar Chitra Katha to read about Netaji. I was really excited and wanted to make a film on the relationship between a small boy and Gumnami Baba,” he says, laughing.

More than two decades have passed since then, but the enthusiasm is still intact and so is the memory of Gumnani Baba. “Finding research material on it would be difficult. But the story has all the right ingredients to turn into a film,” says 33-year-old Kashyap, lighting up a cigarette in his production office in Versova, Mumbai. Like many producers’ offices, the office walls all around are decorated with film posters — in this case films like Kaalicharan and Kaala Patthar.

Kashyap loves making films which are out of the box. But there’s a lot riding on his latest movie, Dev.D, which is a modern take on the Devdas tale. The film, made for Rs 6 crore and produced by UTV Spotboy, is his attempt to break out of the “art-house image”. The film, which is scheduled to release on February 6, has Abhay Deol playing Devdas, Mahi Gill as Paro and Kalki Koechlin as Chandramukhi. It was shot last year in barely 45 days in locations that included Manali, Chandigarh, Delhi and London.

But this Devdas is different from the ones who have appeared before. Says Kashyap: “In this film I have placed Devdas in an era of communication where he’s still in touch with Paro through e-mails, SMSes and phone. He is the son of a rich industrialist instead of a zamindar,” he says.

The original idea of making a youth-centric film came from actor Abhay Deol almost three years ago. “I was hooked on to the story and from the very first day visualised Abhay as the modern Devdas. He has done a brilliant job as he understood the requirements of the character,” he says.

In the movie, Kashyap has given Abhay a constantly stressed-out look. “I didn’t allow him to sleep for days to bring out the stress in him. Every night, after shooting, I threw a party for him and made him so badly drunk that he looked like that onscreen,” says Kashyap.

That was not all. Kashyap adds: “When we were shooting the self-destruction phase of Devdas, I advised Abhay not to shampoo his hair so that his look stands out on screen.”

Kashyap always borrows from the newspaper headlines for his stories. So, in the movie, he makes Chandramukhi a victim of an MMS scandal who is disowned by her family.

One of the biggest challenges for Kashyap was to make the movie both a musical (with 15 songs composed by Amit Trivedi) and at the same time, a more gritty film noire. “The songs like Emotional Atyachar and Dhol are already creating a good buzz. I wanted to experiment with new kind of sounds, newer themes and lyrics to give it a more contemporary feel,” he says.

Kashyap has plenty on his plate currently. His next movie Gulal (produced by Zee Limelight), is scheduled to release on March 13. The inspiration comes from lyricist Sahir Ludhianwi’s famous song from PyaasaYeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai (How does it matter if I get this world?). Kashyap wrote the story in 2001 when he was a struggling filmmaker whose debut film Paanch had been banned. “It’s a story of love, greed, deceit, murder, power and lost identities,” he says. Gulal (made on a budget of Rs 4 crores) has actors Raj Singh Chaudhary, Kay Kay Menon and Ayesha Mohan.

Also on the way are two dream projects — Bombay Velvet produced by Studio 18 and Doga, a superhero from Raj comics, produced by Sony Pictures. Bombay Velvet (the script’s first draft is ready) is the story of Mumbai as a megalopolis and Doga is an out-an-out action thriller with special-effects and will star Kunal Kapoor. “The shooting of both films will start in 2009. They are currently at the scripting and casting stage,” he says.

In addition, Kashyap will produce a film that’ll be directed by his associate director Rajkumar Gupta. Says Gupta, who directed Aamir (2008) in which Kashyap was the creative producer: “He’s a child at heart and feels extremely excited before starting a project. He’s always brimming with ideas and can think of two films at the same time.”

Kashyap’s also willing to try his hand at slightly different ventures. In between scripting Gulal and Dev.D, he made a Hindi animation film for kids in 2007 called Return of Hanuman. “I dedicated the film to my daughter Aaliya who wanted me to make a children’s film so that she could watch it with her friends. On her sixth birthday, I screened the film for 800 students at her school. The next day, she came back saying that everybody wanted to be her friend,” he laughs.

He plans to repeat the experiment and make another children’s film soon. Kashyap’s a doting father and says that the best way to de-stress is to “spend substantial time with Aalia”.

Of course, Kashyap is also famous as a scriptwriter for Satya (1998). Close on its heels came films like Kaun, Shool, Jung, Nayak The Real Hero, Yuva, Water, Honeymoon Travels Private Limited and Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal. But he has switched track and wants to now do more of directing and less of writing. He does, however, have a few writing assignments like Jihaad (directed by Rensil D’Silva for Karan Johar).

“I have stopped all my writing because it is very stressful and too many things are happening at the same time. I want to bring in new writers who have fresh ideas,” he says.

Kashyap usually starts his day slowly with hot tea and newspapers, followed by a couple of hours on the Internet. Afternoons are spent in his office. All his writing is done at night. Kashyap is a regular blogger and says: “I am a Net freak and love to blog where I can voice my honest opinions.”

He also has a library of 10,000 DVDs and these include movies from around the world. “I watch these films quite often. I buy these DVDs from the countries in which they are released,” he adds. He’s also a bookworm and has recently finished reading a short fiction by author Reed Farrel Coleman.

Director Sudhir Mishra feels that Kashyap’s a director who refuses to be categorised. And he’s always willing to try his hand at something new. He has also done theatre with Makrand Deshpande and will also be seen as an actor in Zoya Akhtar’s Luck by Chance in which he plays a writer and in Mishra’s Tera Kya Hoga Johny in which he plays a gangster. Mishra says: “His adventurous spirit and determination to do things differently make him stand out.”

Kashyap was born in Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh and his childhood was spent watching films that were brought to the town by small clubs. “I was mesmerised by the medium even though I never knew what I was watching,” he says.

Later, he studied in Dehradun and then at Scindia School in Gwalior. But the turning point happened at the IFFI (International Film Festival of India) in Delhi in 1993 when he watched Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves. He had just graduated in zoology and was preparing to be a scientist at that time. Finally, he chucked it all and went to Mumbai to become a filmmaker.

He has faced many hurdles along the way. His debut film Paanch took 10 years to make. Also, the producers found the ending too bleak and he had to rewrite the script several times. He jokes: “Bicycle Thieves inspired Satyajit Ray to make Pather Panchali, I ended up making Paanch, which never saw the light of the day.”

He moved on to making Black Friday, a hard-hitting film based on the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts. “It took three years to research the film and we interviewed police officers and met the accused to understand criminal behaviour,” he says.

Black Friday was held up for three years because of legal issues. “I got frustrated and tried to cope with my depression by spending time with my daughter,” he says. The film was finally released in 2007 to widespread critical acclaim.

However, Kashyap’s last film No Smoking (John Abraham and Ayesha Takia) — a dark, gritty story loosely based on Stephen King’s short story Quitters Inc — failed at the box office. “The film was my guerilla war in which the protagonist loses to the system in the end. I loved every bit of it and have no regrets making it,” he asserts.

So how does he want to be remembered as? He says firmly: “If critics find me a bit arrogant because of the trend-setting films I make, I don’t have a problem. I will go on making the kind of cinema that I believe in.”