He’s Bollywood’s most famous romantic-depressive. He made a film called No Smoking, which he actually wanted to name Smoking is Injurious to Health, while chain-smoking through the production. Fortunately, unlike his dark films, Anurag Kashyap’s life has turned over (after a low phase lasting five years, comprising three anxiety attacks) with the success of Black Friday. Now, he’s on a roll and the next two years look like they’re going to be his with a steady spate of pent-up releases. Here’s a talk with the controversial and talented writer-director about this week’s much awaited release No Smoking.
How important is smoking in the film– is it used literally or are you using it as a metaphor?
Smoking is a metaphor for John’s character who’s arrogant, an asshole, self-obsessed, vain and a chain smoker. He is everything a woman doesn’t want in a man, except that he’s extremely successful and rich. The story is about how this man is stripped of his arrogance, while not knowing what’s happening to him. That’s what the whole film is about.
Sounds too simple to be an Anurag Kashyap film; is the treatment of the film very different?
Yes. No Smoking is, in a way, the most challenging film I’ve ever done because no on has attempted anything like this ever in this country. It’s a kind of script that no one has ever made here — right from the story to the treatment. It’s a thriller; it’s a comedy; it’s a state of mind.
So, does the film follow a disconnected script instead of the usual straight narrative style?
Correct, but it all comes together. It is disconnected in the process but it all comes together in the end. It seriously screws around with the audience’s mind (smiles). They’ll always be trying to connect the dots.
Something like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?
Absolutely. It belongs to that genre.
Is it true that when you narrated the script to Boney Kapoor, he asked you to go back to the planet you came from?
Ya, he said no one in India would make this film.
Did he mean you were being too idealistic?
He meant I was mad and just indulging in mental masturbation.
Yet you didn’t give up hope, what kept you going?
Things like this don’t require courage, but a certain conviction and doggedness, to keep at it till you get it.
Where has No Smoking been shot?
I've shot for it in Bhuj, Dharavi, the entire Mumbai city, in Siberia and on the sets. Siberia was tough because I've never seen that kind of a cold, where your legs would freeze. The terrain was not shooting friendly and you were working with people who didn't understand your language, with three interpreters around. In the last schedule, we didn't go to Siberia; we went to a place called Parken, but we're recreating Siberia in the film.
You seem to be very fond of John Abraham…
I am very fond of him! In fact all of us are, aren’t we? (Asks his assistant who’s joined us for the car ride, and who then enthusiastically nods several times.) John is a good guy, but more importantly he’s an intelligent man, a smart man. He understood the script of No Smoking immediately.
You’ve said he was one of the few actors who actually did?
Not one of the few, the only one! His reason for taking it up was that he would love to go and see a film that. And look at his other choices -- Happy Birthday, Rock Star, Kabul Express. He’s a guy who’ll go out and actually choose films. And he makes really intelligent choices.
You write and direct, both. What do you think you are better at?
I am good at nothing. I am best at being depressed! No seriously, I enjoy writing, but for myself, more than anyone else. I enjoy writing punch lines and making people laugh. I enjoy creating — even on the sets, I am constantly improvising and most of my crew is always confused. They are 100 per cent confused and I am 50 per cent confused.
How come the title changed from Smoking is Injurious to Health to No Smoking?
That was the only demand my producer made.
Does your film have any resemblance to the English film Thank You for Not Smoking?
No, but everyone’s convinced there’s a connection. I went to my DVD library and the guy there grinned and said - `Sir, your film is here. I know what you’re making.’ I guess it’s our mindset. I just smiled. Everyone’s assumed that No Smoking has to be made on something else, and I can’t prove otherwise till they see the film, so I’d rather keep quiet till then.