Monday, December 29, 2014

Anurag Kashyap

“It’s unfair to compare my movies with star-driven movies.”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the December 27, 2014 issue of Super Cinema)

Anurag Kashyap is as intriguing and honest as the films he makes. He makes no bones about expressing what he feels, be it in an interview or his work – even if it’s hard-hitting; because like he says, “Truth is always hard-hitting.” His latest film, ‘Ugly’ has just released, and amidst several other meetings and running around, he makes time out to chat at his office, just before he grabs some lunch. The film-maker discusses all about brand of cinema, why he is amused at the term ‘dark’ and lots more…

You must be happy with the good reviews ‘Ugly’ has got…
I’m very happy because the idea was to send a message that you can make movies like that and hook people emotionally. It is the need of the hour, because every film works on the excuse that we face so much misery in our life and cinema is our escape. But cinema is not necessarily an escape. If you want to escape, there are other things. That’s why films are losing their charm. For the health of any industry, you need to keep re-inventing yourself.

How did the thought of ‘Ugly’ come to you and how did the journey on the film commence?
I always make films on things that bother me, amuse me or inspire me. ‘Ugly’s’ journey actually started with my relationship with my daughter, after my divorce when I was not really getting to spend time with her. The film started from my own guilt. We might think kids are not mature, but when you see a 5-year old literally questioning your love for her, telling you that ‘why do you even try to spend time with me because you don’t have time, you are so busy; so be honest,’ that makes you think. Those questions from a 5-year old come from nothing else but the want to spend time with you. That’s when it struck that what are we doing in our lives, trying to just constantly out-do each other? It’s some sort of a game that we think we are in, while not nurturing and paying attention to what we should be.

Does the dark, hard-hitting essence in your films somewhere come from your own observations or experiences?
It comes from what I see around. It comes from what my research is, and what I know. Truth is always hard-hitting and that’s my intention in whatever I do. As far as ‘dark’ is concerned, I think dark is a very relative and subjective term. I don’t understand what people term as ‘dark’ in this country. When a film like ‘Gone Girl’ released, I didn’t hear anyone call it a dark film. Everyone calls it a suspense thriller, and ‘Ugly’ is not even half as dark as that. So, I feel this is some sort of hypocrisy. We’ve gotten so used to watching cinema which means nothing except a variety show in the end that people think my films are dark. But I don’t really think I’m coming from a dark space. If that’s the case, then, most film-makers that we celebrate today worldwide, like Cristopher Nolan or Martin Scorsese – can be called dark. They won’t survive in this country just because people call them so. I think, how we look at cinema is something we need to re-look at. Dark is easy for us to put in a bracket – ‘Yeh samajh mein nahi aaya toh yeh dark hai’. We need to expand our movie-watching experience. As far as I’m concerned, I try to make people think, and sometimes also entertain them. I like people to see more than what they normally see. If more film-makers start doing that, then I’ll start making lighter films (laughs). I’m a big cinema lover and I love watching mainstream movies, I just cannot make them.

So, the idea is to sort of keep things real in your films?
I think everything should be believable. Even mainstream films have to be believable. ‘PK’ is the best example of what I’ve been trying to say. A star’s job gets over from Friday to Sunday. Monday onwards, it’s the job of the content and director that starts. And no director has been doing that job for a long time. Everyone’s just depending on star power. ‘PK’ is doing that and should change the game. Everything that it has survived on is word of mouth. It didn’t open as big as an Aamir Khan or a Raju Hirani film should have. It’s only word of mouth that has done the magic. It has something to learn for everyone. Every star should know, that when you focus on content, you can make much more than 100-crores. They’re just obsessed, they cross a certain amount and they’re happy. This is where the game-changing comes – if actors begin to think that way.

Talking about actors, how do you manage to draw such performances and deep emotions from the actors in your films?
From trust! When actors trust you, they completely surrender and open themselves up to you. There are a lot of notions about me, and there are people who don’t even understand why I’m even allowed to exist or make films. But be it actors or studios, when they work with me, they know the truth and understand me. I actually draw a lot from the actors, but every actor has a very different way of looking at things so I work accordingly.

A still from 'Ugly'
So you have a different process of dealing with every actor?
Yes, but the common factor and the beginning is always trust. Sometimes you just talk a lot to them to get into a certain part of their life and find those emotions so they can relate to a character and the performance looks real. For some actors, like Ronit Roy, you just have to tell them what you want, and they find references from their life, by themselves. And some people, we just tell them what not to do. Like Vineet Kumar Singh is such a good actor but he gets into everything so intensely that you have to keep telling him, don’t do this, don’t do that. It differs from actor to actor, depending on their experience, personality and hunger. I like to prepare my actors by showing them movies, get them into that mode, not by making them rehearse lines.

Do you limit yourself to working with only a certain kind of actors?
Like I said, I cannot work without trust, no matter who I’m working with. If a star trusts me, why would I not work with him? But, if a star goes and thinks that I make dark movies and I shouldn’t do a certain kind of movie then the conversation is over right there.

Does it help more when you’ve also written the script of the film you’re directing?
Always! Every time a director is involved with the writing process, it always helps making the film better, because you know the characters very well. I think a director should always, somehow, involve himself with the writing process.

What do you enjoy more and is there a conflict between the two roles?
I enjoy directing more, and I also very rarely like somebody’s script. When I like it, I’m very happy but most of the times when I like a script, there’s also a director attached to it. So, I end up writing my own films. When I’m directing my own script, I tell the writer in me, to shut up. While making a film, you realise in the moment that some parts look fake or false. Because you feel that instinctively, you eventually drop the script and start improvising. For instance, there’s this police station scene which we shot in ‘Ugly’. The first day of the shoot, everybody had rehearsed their lines and when they were doing the lines, I thought, the whole scene was looking so manipulative. I asked them to throw the script in the dustbin and we improvised. From a two-page scene, it became a fourteen minute scene and then we cut it down to nine minutes. But, I enjoy directing more than writing and then I enjoy editing also. Editing is another process where I usually re-write the script. I spend a lot of time writing. I spend less time directing and a lot of time in the post-production. Every film, I take at least six months to a year for post production. That’s when you re-evolve the film and I’m also very particular about the sound-design, mixing and everything.

There’s a certain section of the audience which loves your brand of films and always expect them to be of a certain standard. What is it that goes on, in your mind?
I want to have an audience, whose expectation should be that ‘let’s see what he’s done now’. I don’t want the audience to limit me by expecting a gangster movie after a ‘…Wasseypur’ or another film like ‘Dev D’ after that. I want the audience to expect me to surprise them each time.

And doesn’t it really bother you when there’s also a section which believes that your films don’t really ring the bell at the box-office?
I think my films make enough money, or else I wouldn’t be making films. I make films without stars and my budgets are very low. It’s unfair to compare my movies with star-driven movies. The budget of my film is one-fourth of the salary of directors in many films. I make films without stars, and my films make money which many non-star films don’t. I don’t even take star sons in my films. If people compare ‘Bombay Velvet’ with other star-films, then that would be a fair judgment because it has a big star cast and it’s a big budget film. When you compare ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ and ‘Ugly’ with all those big-star vehicles, I’ll say, pull off a five and a half hour movie, without any big star cast and then we’ll talk. I made ‘Gangs Of Wasseypur’ in Rs. 18crores. Let people make the film scene by scene, in less than what I made and then talk. There’s a lot of skill that comes in there. In India, people will not understand that. They will try to put that film in the same scale as a big-budget star-studded film. They say things like, ‘Ugly’ is competing with ‘PK’, but it cannot compete. We have just two-three shows and not more than 350 prints. Internationally, people see what I’m doing. They understand and see where it’s coming from. That’s why we have a value, internationally. My burden is the budget of my film. I’m not trying to make a box-office record. I’m also not being unfair on my producers by charging that kind of fees. When they do a fair comparison, I will sit and talk to them, but as long as they want to do an unfair comparison, I’m not really bothered.

Which means, you work well-in-advance and do your homework well before you go on floors, in order to make the film in a particular budget?
I work backwards. I ask people, how much do they think, a particular film can earn. They say a particular amount and then I make my budget accordingly. I do a lot of homework to figure out how to make a film in that budget. That takes at least, a year or two. We took six years to figure out how we will make ‘Bombay Velvet’ in a particular budget. It’s a film that should have crossed Rs. 300 crores, in terms of its cost. But we got it down. When we first budgeted it, the budget was Rs. 160 crores. That’s unreasonable amount of money. A market that has not made a box-office share of that much cannot give you that kind of money to make a film. We had to cut it down to a minimal possible and then we came to a particular figure and spent so many years figuring out how to make it in that budget.

Evidently, ‘Bombay Velvet’ is your biggest film…
It is my biggest project but it’s also my tightest project. We’ve only shot for 75 days and our budget didn’t even allow us to shoot for that many days.

Because usually your films deal with hard-hitting subjects, they even drain the audience, emotionally and mentally! Isn’t it draining for you?
The way I see it is that, if you’re not emotionally and mentally drained at the end of a film, then you’ve not really made a film. It’s very important for me to drain myself.

And then how do you bounce back before you move to another film?
I go diving after I finish a film. I take lots of holidays. During the post-production, fifteen days I’m on the film and fifteen days I go away. I need to go away from the film to get objectivity.

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