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'Calling Me Tarantino Of India Is Like Calling Tiger Shroff Bruce Lee Of India'

16/06/2016 12:05 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Mark Manuel

Anurag Kashyap is our Quentin Tarantino. A mercurial filmmaker with an irreverent, devil-may-care attitude. He's notorious for choosing subjects that are unlikely to appeal to authority. Like his crime thriller Udta Punjab on drug abuse that releases this Friday. Others in the trade see Kashyap as the poster boy of "new wave cinema" in Bollywood. Whatever that means. His films are always dark, but they are also engaging. Most of them are brutal without any sugar coating. His characters are angry and arrogant. And struggling to deal with drug abuse, alcoholism, smoking and relationship issues. But his films carry a message. And when he isn't busy making them, Kashyap is engaged in fighting authorities who declare him persona non grata for making such cinema. Once a battle is over, as in the case of Udta Punjab, he cheerfully moves on to another film. Next is Raman Raghav 2.0, based on the serial killer who terrorized Bombay in the 1960s, which Kashyap will release next week with an 'A' certificate because he refused to accept any cuts.

My angst is against these archaic laws and bureaucrats who have no love or respect for films; they do nothing for Indian cinema, yet they travel to the film festivals...

Kashyap has always locked horns with the powers that be. That's because he believes in his films. And he's got the courage of his convictions to see them through all post-production hurdles until they hit the screens the way he intends to show them. For his psychological thriller Ugly in 2014, he spiritedly took on the Health Ministry and I&B Ministry to remove the non-smoking disclaimer from scenes in the film by challenging the rules under the Cigarettes and Tobacco Products Act in court. It delayed the release of Ugly by a year. Kashyap lost. But refused to give up his stand. I remember him saying that the anti-smoking warnings don't make a difference. "A more effective way of controlling smoking would be by not giving the smoker any space. Abroad, people follow the law. There is no urge to smoke. It's not possible because there's no space. People publicly shame you if they catch you smoking. Yahan toh easy hain. My angst is against these archaic laws and bureaucrats who have no love or respect for films; they do nothing for Indian cinema, yet they travel to the film festivals with their families," Kashyap said to me bitterly.

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Almost as if to cock a snook at authority, he was rolling out a cigarette when I met him at his Lokhandwala office in Mumbai. Kashyap clearly doesn't believe that smoking is injurious to health. A packet of tobacco lay on the table. There was the robust aroma of smoke about the place. "People think I'm rolling a joint," the tall and rugged filmmaker said wryly as he sealed the cigarette paper with his tongue and reached for a lighter. He was nattily dressed in a black tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows. Scarcely the indoor attire for Mumbai. "I have a fetish for jackets," he said defensively, noticing my look. He is like a character from his films. Good-looking in an unkempt, don't care-ish way. Somewhat emotional, dark and extreme. But with a dazzling smile. And he smiled even when narrating the battle he had just lost over Ugly. "But I'm not giving up the fight," Kashyap valiantly said. "I'm hopeful of sitting across the table with the Health Minister and discussing this."

What is influential? Am I corrupting young minds? [D]ark is a relative term, these are realistic scenarios, our films are otherwise light and frothy, they are candy floss.

He is one of the country's most influential and important film directors, according to Wikipedia. "If I was that influential or important I wouldn't have to fight these battles," Kashyap said disparagingly. "What is influential? Am I corrupting young minds? No. I need young audiences. My films are credited with being dark, based on drug and alcohol abuse, teenage angst, clinical depression, emotional disturbance, extreme rage and frustration, self-destruction... but dark is a relative term, these are realistic scenarios, our films are otherwise light and frothy, they are candy floss. Anything that makes us feel bad we don't like because we don't like pain. We wouldn't call Martin Scorsese a dark filmmaker, would we? As for being the Tarantino of India... how do you sell an Indian filmmaker to the west? By calling him the Quentin Tarantino of India. It's like saying Tiger Shroff is the Bruce Lee of India because he does martial arts in films!"

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Danny Boyle, who liked Kashyap's Black Friday and Satya, praised him in Hollywood. "Filmmakers abroad are generous," Kashyap told me. "They aren't like us. If they like something, they tell the world. Look at that (he pointed to a framed letter amongst Filmfare and Stardust Awards trophies) -- Martin Scorsese sent me a note of appreciation. When I got it, I frowned. I couldn't think of one filmmaker I had done the same thing for. That's the difference between them and us."

All images have been provided by Mark Manuel

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