Cannes 2012: Anurag Kashyap on 'Gangs of Wasseypur' (Q&A)

Anurag Kashyap H 2012
Nyay Bhushan

India’s iconoclastic helmer discusses his epic Cannes entry, challenging the status quo and his upcoming collaboration with Danny Boyle.

While he has been rising steadily in India with his own brand of unconventional cinema — starting out as a writer with the 1998 hit SatyaAnurag Kashyap, 39, is finally having a breakout year with two of his films in the official Cannes lineup.

As a director, his two-part drama Gangs of Wasseypur features in the Directors’ Fortnight, while Peddlers, which he co-produced via his AKFPL banner, unspools in the Critics’ Week sidebar. Not bad for someone whose directorial debut, 2003’s edgy youth drama Paanch (Five), has still not been released because of censorship concerns. The director recently talked with The Hollywood Reporter about fighting the establishment.

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The Hollywood Reporter: What is Gangs of Wasseypur about?

Anurag Kashyap: It is a film spanning six decades, from 1941 to 2009, and set on the lower rungs of the mafia (in India’s eastern hinterlands). Through the (characters) we learn the history of that place. They are not very educated and are totally obsessed with Bollywood stars who inspire their lives. It is about history, social issues, but it is also a revenge drama. It was difficult to find funding since nobody could understand what I wanted to do and why I wanted to make such a long film. The challenge was to make it in two parts that are independent of each other, yet still create a complete story.

THR: How do you see your entries at Cannes validating what you’ve been striving to do in India?\

Kashyap: If you get validation from outside, then suddenly everything you do at home is justified. We are brought up in a way where we do what our fathers do. You are not expected to rock the boat, you don’t change the status quo, especially in films, which have been traditionally controlled by a handful of people, actually film families. Outsiders are not supposed to change anything. I can’t complain about that, but now there is change happening. The young filmmakers really don’t give a damn about the establishment. They want to do their own thing, they are not star-struck, especially if you see the other Indian films at Cannes [director Ashim Ahluwalia’s Un Certain Regard entry Miss Lovely and Vasan Bala’s Peddlers]. I still have one foot in Bollywood (the mainstream Hindi industry), but these guys are totally independent of that. They worked hard for years to get their films made independently. My film is still funded by a studio [Viacom18 Motion Pictures]. My responsibility is now only to my kind of cinema, but these new directors will do more to change Indian cinema since their films are very fearless.

THR: So you don’t think Gangs of Wasseypur is fearless?

Kashyap: It is fearless only in its cost and casting [as it has mostly non-marquee but great actors, like Manoj Bajpai]. In terms of storytelling, it is entertaining and mainstream, but not that fearless. It is not a Bollywood film, but about a place that is impacted by Bollywood, so it makes it commercial. The West sometimes doesn’t understand Bollywood, but they can definitely understand how Bollywood influences people.

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THR: What is your agenda at Cannes?

Kashyap: We want to reach out to as many people as possible and try and sell our films as widely as possible. We want to expand our audience — that’s my main agenda. [Paris-based international sales agent] Elle Driver has taken on Gangs of Wasseypur and Peddlers, and we are working closely with them [via Kashyap’s banner AKFPL] to expand the market for these films.

THR: One of your upcoming projects is Bombay Velvet starring top Bollywood star Ranbir Kapoor. How are you exploring uncharted waters with that?

Kashyap: It is not an offbeat film, but for me Bombay Velvet is one that redefines the mainstream. It’s a love story set in 1960s Mumbai, showing the changing face of the city, the subculture and the jazz age. It’s a fictional take on actual events. It’s a film noir in the jazz underworld.

THR: Wasn’t Danny Boyle involved with Bombay Velvet? Your connection with him goes back to Slumdog Millionaire, for which he extensively referred to your 2004 film Black Friday.

Kashyap: In spirit, Danny Boyle is with Bombay Velvet, but details as to what kind of participation he will have are still to be finalized later with the studio [Viacom18 Motion Pictures]. Danny is always backing me. I keep bouncing Bombay Velvet stuff off of him.

THR: How do you see an unconventional director like you working with a mainstream star like Ranbir. Is there a conflict in sensibilities?

Kashyap: I don’t think so. Today there is a new crop of mainstream actors like Ranbir Kapoor, Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor, who are of a different sensibility. I think the Internet has changed the world. Even in Hollywood, directors such as the Coen brothers, Chris Nolan and David Fincher were all considered experimental. And now they are the ones totally redefining the mainstream. I mean The Dark Knight is a really good movie that reached both critics and mainstream audiences. In Indian cinema that is missing, but now it is changing.