Anurag Kashyap is in a great mood, as he hosts a party at the India Pavilion on the Riviera, to celebrate the screening of his two-part film, Gangs of Wasseypur, at Cannes 2012. He cheerfully stubs out cigarettes as TV crews from all over the world descend on him. Between drinks, he shoots off rapidfire answers to journalists, and laughs so often it becomes hard to reconcile this man with the dark filmmaking style he follows. Nandini Krishnan cornered him for an exclusive chat ahead of the premiere of his film.
Gangs of Wasseypur will be the first commercial film from India to be screened at the Cannes Festival’s Director’s Fortnight section. How did this happen? Did you approach them, or did they approach you?
Well, I was carrying my film with me while I was showing Peddlers and all the other films I’d produced, at the Berlin Film Festival in February. So, they happened to see it, and everybody loved it and wanted it here, so we said, “Wow! Let’s do it!”
This festival must be pretty special for you, since one film you’ve produced, and one that you’ve directed are both being shown. Has it also been crazily hectic? How’re you juggling the roles?
I have to, no! I just came from the Peddlers screening. I introduced the film and came back here, because Vasan Bala, the director, is taking over the rest. See, a film is more director-driven. The producer’s role comes in not in the festivals, but mostly in selling and marketing and pitching and getting it made and putting it out there, which we’re doing.
Are you able to compartmentalise when you’re producing films, without telling the director what to do, or leading him?
Yeah, yeah, I do. I stay away from the films I’m producing. Once I’ve green-lit a film, I stay away from it.
Gangs of Wasseypur is over five hours long, and you’re showing both one after the other here. In what format will it release in India?
In India, it will release in two parts. One part will release on June 22, and the second part sometime later.
How do you expect the audience to react to the length of the film?
I don’t know, but everybody who’s seen the film loves it. And the strange thing with this film is, everyone who’s been watching the whole five hours together, they really enjoy it, and want to watch it in a single sitting. So I’m not worried about the length of the film.
Do you think it should be seen together, instead of releasing as two parts in India?
I think rightfully it should be seen together, but no exhibitor or distributor will put it in the theatre if it’s that long, because they don’t get to sell popcorn four times in one screening! (Laughs)
Is it based on any incident or inspired by any other film?
No, no, it’s just a story. It was the story that inspired it.
With each film you’ve made, you’ve pushed the boundaries at some level, either with the length or format, and each of those has been met with some level of criticism, like the long chase sequence in Black Friday. Indian cinema’s full of people who want to cut scenes short. How do you deal with that?
Yeah. Ignore. I just have to ignore!
All your films are borderline noir, dealing with gangs and the underworld, and crime. Were you fascinated by films of this genre growing up?
No, my fascination is always with the slightly seamier, darker side of things. I don’t like things straight, and normal; it gets boring, too boring.
What did you watch growing up?
Only Amitabh Bachchan. But after going to college, I stopped watching Bollywood so much, because I discovered these filmmakers from all over the world – Vittorio De Sica and Bresson and Scorsese and Fincher later on.
The Indian hero has changed so much over the years. There was Dev Anand the rake, then Amitabh the angry young man, and now...
Now, he’s become real.
Do you think he’s real, or larger than life?
Well, he’s becoming real, but there’s also the larger than life. They both coexist, which is good.
All your films are so macho. There are hardly any women, and there’s so much action.
Yeah, but I’ve always been given credit for writing very interesting and strong women characters, whether it’s Dev D or Gulaal. Women critics have always told me that. Yeah, but it’s true that there are very few women. But you always find the stronger – and more interesting – women in the macho underworld.
So does Gangs of Wasseypur also have these strong women characters?
Oh yes, lots of them. And you’ll notice them straight off because of how they are.
Has your wife Kalki, being a writer and actor herself, changed the way you perceive women characters?
Absolutely! Absolutely. There’s more understanding of a woman character thanks to her.
You produced her play a few years ago. Do you intend to get more involved in the theatre scene in India?
I don’t know. Whenever somebody comes to me, and I find it interesting, I do it. I have no interest in being a producer of this and that. It was a role that was thrust upon me, because there were very interesting voices, who were wanting of funds and wanting of backup, and no one was doing it, so I started doing it.
Do you think films like yours, which have intense characters and are dependent on dialogue as atmosphere, could allow for dramatisation?
I think it’s a damn good drama, this one. I think Gangs of Wasseypur is going to break all the perceptions about me, because I think this is my most mainstream, most commercial film, with songs, romance, drama, revenge, everything. (Laughs) There’s a whole lot of drama here; this is nothing but drama, and drama, and drama!
In India, we’re used to seeing a separation between arthouse cinema and mainstream cinema, first in the Seventies or so, and later with the Khan phenomenon. But people like you and Farhan Akhtar and Abhay Deol are changing that perception, blending the two.
Yeah, that has changed a lot in the last 2-3 years. You see, this year alone there’s been Vicky Donor and Kahaani and Paan Singh Tomar that have done so well at the box office. So this shows you the change India is going through.
Tell us about one film you’d never make, a genre that you wouldn’t touch.
I can’t do slapstick.
And one film you’ve dreamt of making, but haven’t been able to for financial or technological or other practical reasons.
No, no, I’m making my dream film now, and it’s coming out next year. That’s Bombay Velvet. I’ve been wanting to make it for seven years now, and I’ve finally got the monies together, and finally, it’s becoming a reality.
Most directors who’ve made a name for themselves, and who make a certain kind of cinema, tend to work with a troupe of actors whom they’re comfortable with. Whereas in your case, you bring in new actors every time.
I like working with new people, because they’re more hungry, and they’re more adaptable, and they’re always willing to go the extra mile. So I like working with new people, both in the cast and crew.
So far, whom would you consider your biggest find?
I don’t know, Amit Trivedi, I guess?
Is there anything you’d like to tell audiences in India ahead of the release of Gangs of Wasseypur?
Nothing. Just go in and watch the film, and experience it. Because it’s an experience. You’ll know why when you’ve seen it. (Laughs)