By Ananya Ghosh
Bollywood’s enfant terrible, Anurag Kashyap is back. Last month, he released what could be regarded as his least political film. But this might just be the lull before a storm, for the film-maker seems to be seething inside
The universe of an Anurag Kashyap film is almost always hostile and noir. Even when he creates a romantic drama like Manmarziyaan, he imbues it with enough turbulence. His cinema — gritty, realistic, and raw — is mostly a reaction to and reflection of the ruthless and unforgiving contemporary modern world. The maker of Gangs of Wasseypur (his seminal work that is part of the Guardian’s 100 Best Films of the 21st Century list) and the co-director and co-producer of the 2019 International Emmy Award-nominated Netflix series Sacred Games, Kashyap is often credited for paving the way for modern new-wave Hindi cinema. His recent release, Dobaaraa, touted as the official remake of the 2018 Spanish film Mirage, is unlike anything the prolific indie auteur has ever attempted. Yes, it is still a dark and dank world with the brooding stillness being broken by a brutal act of violence. But this is a sci-fi saga that unfolds in multiple timelines. We caught up with the filmmaker to talk about his alternate realities. Excerpts:
You are a movie buff and have extensive knowledge of world cinema. Yet, you have never done a remake so far. Why did you make an exception for this one?
It is not essentially a remake of Mirage but is based on its script, which I absolutely loved. Sunir Khetarpal, who is the producer of the film and Taapsee Pannu had worked together in Badla. I don’t know what deal they have with Oriol Paulo, but surprisingly they got this script before the film was even made (laughs). Since we worked with the script and were not remaking the movie, both the movies are very different from each other. It was two film-makers interpreting the same script in their own way.
What were your pointers to yourself when you decided to do this film? Was there ever a concern that it would be compared to the original?
Comparison with Paulo’s film was not really a concern. You just need to know why you are doing what you are doing. I do what excites me. For me, this film was something new, and that is what got me excited. If I would think so much about the reactions then I would not be making half the films I make.
You are working with both Taapsee Pannu (Manmarziyaan) and Rahul Bhat (Ugly) for the second time in Dobaaraa. What makes you go back to the same actors?
Familiarity and confidence. Actors should have confidence in what I am doing, and I should be able to trust them. It just makes life easier. You can totally term this as nepotism (laughs). I prefer to work with people I know. I am very nepotistic. Nepotism is not just about working with your family members. It is also working with people you trust. I can’t work with people who don’t trust me.
Today, we complain about the lack of artistic freedom in the country. You had made Black Friday, and it wasn’t easy even then. How the situation has changed now? Isn’t making a political film always difficult?
On the contrary, it is getting more and more difficult, especially if it is even remotely political. Also, today, I won’t be able to make a Black Friday, a Gulaal, or a Gangs of Wasseypur because people are too easily offended these days. We are a country of the offended. In fact, it is difficult to make even a Dev D today because we equate a woman’s honour with her vagina. How can a woman take a gadda on a bicycle because she wants to have sex with her lover? A woman can’t have the desire to have sex. Only a man can. Otherwise, patriarchy would be challenged, and we definitely can’t let it happen. Today, any film that challenges this patriarchy won’t get made.
Do you think we are having different yardsticks for Bollywood and South cinema? Are we being selective? Wasn’t RRR problematic?
Most of South cinema is insanely patriarchal. A film like The Great Indian Kitchen works only on OTT. The mass audience doesn’t watch such movies. RRR was made for the Right-leaning audience and the abroad audience who have no context of the politics in it. Leni Riefenstahl made Nazi propaganda films that were problematic but people outside Germany, who don’t have the context, still consider her a great film-maker nonetheless.
Why is Bollywood losing out to South cinema?
I don’t know. If I had the formula, then all my films would have been superhits. South commercial cinema is deeply rooted in patriarchy. But at least it has roots. Bollywood is rootless. It is not rooted in anything.
You had previously said that the problem with Bollywood is that most filmmakers don’t speak Hindi, the language they make movies in.
In this industry, most people write Hindi scripts in Romans. People don’t talk in Hindi. If I write my script in Hindi, people can’t read it. If you don’t know the language you are making your films in, how can those be rooted in the culture?
But if we look at the history of Hindi cinema, some of the greats such as Guru Dutt, Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Shyam Benegal, and even Ram Gopal Verma for that matter, are non-Hindi speaking film-makers.
But they were speaking in some Indian language and communicating in that Indian language. They told stories that were rooted. Look at the stories Bollywood is telling today. In most commercial Hindi movies, you don’t know which country the hero lives in. They ride their fancy bikes to colleges in some fantasy land. I want to know in which world are these stories based. We are suffering from total rootlessness. Having said that, cinema, in general, is not working. The audiences are not coming to the theatres. People don’t have money to spend on movie tickets. Today, people don’t invest in a movie ticket unless they know for sure that it will be worth the money. A total of six films have worked so far this year. Two in Telugu, two in Hindi, one in Tamil, and one in Kannada. There is no blockbuster in Malayalam cinema this year so far. What was the last South film that worked? RRR and KGF 2. Every Friday, there are five to six South films that come out and flop. We don’t talk about those flops but just count their hit movies. But we count the Bollywood movies that are failing.
But how do you think OTTs have changed the game for Indian cinema?
South cinema has become accessible across the country, thanks to OTT platforms. The Bollywood brigade that was making nonsensical stuff has got exposed, thanks to OTT. The audience can now see what kind of cinema is being made in other industries. People have a choice, and they are picking the better of the lot.
Do you think even without a censor board, OTTs will also become restrictive with their content?
Nobody wants to get into legal trouble. We are a country of the offended so the OTTs don’t want to take a chance. Now they have legal teams in place to look into the content before a show is made. In fact, every studio today has a legal team that goes through the script first.
Then how do you plan to carry on?
I have always done the movies I wanted to do, and I will find a way and continue to do so. One finds a way to circumvent the system. Iran, Russia, and China are far more restrictive than India. But cinema is not dead in those countries.
Okay, so what do you think of this situation?
I think nothing. When the situation comes, I deal with it. Be real. Be factual. Everything is about survival.
Reproduced with permission from Mansworldindia.com