India has mostly been known for two things: Bollywood and food. In the past decade, the image has been changing. Now, Indian independent filmmakers are creating a new identity, making films that are not only different in texture, narrative and style than their Bollywood counterparts which mainly rely on elaborate (and mostly senseless) dance sequences, and silly entertainment (resulting in weak storytelling), but also getting recognition for it across the world. In the past years, films like Lagaan (2001), Salam Bombay (1988), Mother India (1957) and more have received international acclaim. In recent years though, there has been films such as The Lunchbox (2013), Gangs of Wasseypur part 1 and 2 (2012), as well as Masaan (2015) which have been making rounds in international festival circuit.
The last three mentions have one name in common: they have all been directed, written or produced by Anurag Kashyap. At 20th Busan International Film Festival in Korea, Kashyap served as one of the jury for New Currents competition.
During the festival, as I sit across the master of the film craft, we discuss Indian independent cinema, influences on Kashyap’s work, collaborations, his production company Phantom Films and upcoming projects.
Kashyap, who was clearly excited being surrounded by the energy and film related activities at Korea’s biggest film festival, said, “I love this festival. Seeing that it is a film center, I’m fascinated by it. This is something we have wished, and envisioned we could have in India.”
Kashyap talks about how the film medium has evolved. Nowadays, as people watch films on their laptops, Ipads, and phones, “cinema is replacing literature in a strong way.” But Kashyap believes it is still an issue with Indian audience because “film-watching is still a family activity in India, which prevents a personal, individual interaction between cinema and the viewer. Of course, the family can watch it together.” But according to Kashyap, the world over, it is, in a way, “taking responsibilities of literature, creating this individual interaction between the film and the audience.”
Kashyap says, “I’m a huge fan of Korean cinema,” especially Park Chan-wook and Kim Ki-duk. He also loves Chinese cinema, especially Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, but his biggest influence from Asia has been Japanese filmmaker Kinji Fukasaku.
About Korean cinema, he says, “They pushed boundaries in a way that we did not know of, that we could push boundaries in that direction.” He says, filmmakers like Kim Ki-duk and Park Chan-wook pushed moral boundaries more than anything. He said, “Korean cinema is fascinating because of Korea’s rich history, including the invasions and occupations, and the struggles that Koreans went through.”
Comparing it to India, he believes Indian filmmakers have not been allowed to do that: push boundaries. He says, “Indian government treats cinema like prostitution. They doesn’t know how much of a big revenue generating industry it can become. If they did, they would support it, just like Korean government helped built a structure for cinema in Korea. The world wants to bring the business to India because of the large population. Although even the most profitable films in India haven’t been watched by majority, the price of a film per head is more, thus generating large revenue. But Indian cinema could become a much larger revenue generating industry with government support.”
This lack of access to more people results in piracy. The issue is “people want to watch the film when it comes out. If they can’t, within a few days after its release, they find other ways to watch it. So that’s encouraging piracy.”
“So the reason for piracy is not really economy, it has to do with access,” says Kashyap.
As for the independent cinema, Kashyap is happy because new Indian independent films are getting screened across the world and receiving positive responses. With Killa, Court, Dhanak, Margarita with a Straw, Thithi, Island City and then Zubaan (which opened this year’s Busan International Film Festival), Kashyap says, “There are some amazing new voices coming on.”
Kashyap talks about filmmakers needing to find their own voice. He says he learnt from mistakes of other filmmakers that as a producer, one shouldn’t try to make their films through other filmmakers. You need to “let filmmakers find their own voice.”
This eventually led up to the foundation of Phantom Films, a film production company co-founded by Kashyap, in 2011. Kashyap joined director Vikramaditya Motwane, producer Madhu Mantena and Vikas Bahl in founding Phantom Films. Kashyap says, “The idea was to let them make the films that they want to make… Everybody wanted to make films, but the studios did not understand these filmmakers. And because I understood them, they came to me and asked me to produce.”
Taking a sip from his orange juice bottle, Kashyap says, “They built the company around me. But it is not that I had a vision. I just knew that you are a filmmaker and you should be making a film,” and that he didn’t want to stop a movement that happened on its own, primarily a group of filmmakers coming up and making the kind of films they wanted.
Admirers of Anurag Kashyap’s films may apparently find a pattern, a certain recognizable style but Kashyap says he has no style. “I have been trying to find my style for years.” That is why he keeps experimenting, which was obvious in his latest film, Bombay Velvet, set in 1960s Bombay, India. Kashyap says, the film failed because of the audience’s different expectations. “This is the Bombay the younger people didn’t know. Only the older people who lived through the era recognized that we recreated the same Bombay.”
But he says, “The failure of Bombay Velvet set me free. So now I am not under pressure and I can write freely.”
Regarding his upcoming ‘experiment’, Kashyap says he has been working on five scripts and plans to complete all of them in the next two years. His next directorial project is Raman Raghav 2.0, a dark, thriller based on the life of Raman Raghav, an Indian serial killer in 1960s, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vicky Kaushal.
Asked about collaboration between Pakistani and Indian filmmakers, Kashyap says it is going to happen, and that he is trying to get ‘Moor’ (Mother by Jami Mahmood, which also screened in Busan) to release in India. He says, there is continuous talk between Pakistani and Indian filmmaker and he also personally is in touch with many Pakistani filmmakers so there is hope.
He says that he wanted to adapt Muhammad Hanif’s book Our Lady of Alice Bhatti for a film. He also says, “I was trying to produce Moth smoke for some time.”
He says, “There are a lot of filmmakers coming out of the music video scene in Pakistan.”
Concerning India’s image worldwide, Kashyap believes “people are starting to take Indian cinema seriously. And that’s mainly due to Film Bazaar”, a film trade market in India committed to discover and support talent from South Asia.
As Indian independent cinema looks to dominate world market, Kashyap looks to bring his A-game as well as help other new ‘voices’ take hold and lead the future, which, by the glimpse of it, looks as bright as ever.
Note: This article was previously published on The AsiaN in November 2015. It’s only published on Film N’ Chips (by the same author) for archival purposes.