Whether the sengol or the IPL final, Tamil Nadu was in the national headlines last week.
Unwittingly, Anurag Kashyap also made his little contribution from as far away as Cannes. He who usually revels in being dishevelled, suited, booted and spruced himself up to walk the red carpet, a familiar strut for the much-feted celebrity on the international festival circuit, when his new film Kennedy had a midnight premiere in Cannes. But, true to form, his unfailingly interesting off-screen quotes got far more attention than his film did. The truth is, however brilliantly wired and technically stylised he may be as a filmmaker, neither his niche noir nor his Manmarziyaan brand of mainstream cinema has resonated with a wide audience.
It was a trademark Kashyap moment when he drew attention by revealing in his Cannes interviews that Kennedy would have starred Tamil film star Chiyaan Vikram but the Chennai-based actor had not responded to his offer. He gleefully added that the very title was because Vikram’s real name was Kennedy.
It was enough to go into a repeat loop all over digital media. But, as always, Anurag’s statements went more viral than his midnight cinema did. Even the media in Cannes that had buoyantly interviewed him came away disappointed with his product.
Rolling Stone, the magazine, found Kennedy “tedious” and observed, “…talking to Kashyap about the film and what went into making it is fun, and way more interesting than the film itself.” Also, if Anurag hadn’t explained the Vikram connection in his media interactions, the audience would’ve been left wondering why the cop in the film called himself Kennedy.
As standalone entities, his films would perhaps not fetch the global attention they do but for his natural marketing skills.
Vikram is a big name in Tamil cinema, well recognised in Kerala and in undivided Andhra Pradesh. Many even in non-Tamil Mumbai have seen him as a Chola prince in Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyan Selvan opposite Aishwarya Rai. He and Aishwarya were cast together in Mani’s earlier Raavan too. Both films were blockbuster hits in Tamil.
Expectedly, Anurag’s remarks in Cannes got the desired reaction fromChennai when Vikram addressed@anuragkashyap72 on Twitter. “...When I heard from another actor that you had tried to reach me for this film & that you felt I hadn’t responded to you, I called you myself immediately and explained that I hadn’t gotten any mail or msg from you as the mail id that you had contacted me on was no longer active and my number had changed almost 2 years before that… I’m very excited for your film Kennedy and even more so because it has my name… Lots of love Chiyaan Vikram aka Kennedy. (sic)”
With his overwhelming fan base, Vikram’s tweet got 1.8m views, 1,619 retweets, 269 quotes and 14.4k likes.
But Vikram’s response didn’t matter as much as what Anurag got — attention. Something that his present Kennedy hero Rahul Bhatt would have never got on his own. Anurag was equally clever in signing head-turner Sunny Leone for the role of glamorous Charlie, a win-win for both. Sunny’s name may conjure up salacious visuals but in the last 11 years, she’s carried herself with dignity, has never done anything remotely sleazy, and has worked at living down an image. A film with Anurag was just what she needed to be taken seriously. Or so she must’ve hoped. Charlie and Kennedy created no flutter but AK with Sunny did have the flashbulbs popping.
Like the Vikram incident, which made good copy but had little to do with great cinema, in 2020 AK had revealed how “painfully difficult” it had been to direct Abhay Deol in Dev.D (2009). A Deol who won’t take anything lying down, Abhay had snapped back that he was “a liar and a toxic person”. But Anurag wasn’t done. In 2023, he took the rap for hurting Abhay and blithely disclosed that he had reached out to him after Sushant Singh Rajput died, “only to check on him”, but had found the Deol “non-res-ponsive”. It will be a good day for cinema when Anurag’s work connects with a mass audience more than his statements do.
Bharathi S. Pradhan is a senior journalist and author