Leading The Pack

As Anurag Kashyap’s mafia movie Gangs of Wasseypur is finally released in the UK, Momtaz Begum-Hossain catches up with the man who’s more than just a filmmaker.

Posted: 22.02.13

Think Anurag Kashyap and it conjures up an image of a serious Indian filmmaker. One who makes progressive cinema, touches on themes others would never (That Girl In Yellow Boots) and who takes a genuine creative approach to production values (No Smoking). Interviewing a man of this ilk is not something to be taken lightly and I admit I did feel a little fear ahead of my 15 minute slot with him.

In London for two nights to promote his current film Gangs of Wasseypur, I met up with him in the Mayfair apartment he was residing in. I was worried I’d come across like an amateur reporter; there was this celebrated filmmaker visiting the UK and here I was – not the biggest of film buffs – trying to ask him some questions about filmmaking.

Thankfully, as soon as I stepped in the room and was greeted by his warm smile and positive energy these perceptions diminished. In short I’ve never met such an enthusiastic film director in my life. This man genuinely loves his own movies and he shared his pride for his products in every sentence he spoke. Even when I described the five hour Gangs (screened in two parts) as a ‘vanity project.’ He agreed: ‘It is absolutely a vanity project and I got away with it. We always edit stories but for once I wanted to tell the whole story and I had fun shooting it and putting it together.'

The epic revenge drama was shot as one long feature film but it has been edited into two parts; one that’s released in the UK this month (Feb 22nd) and the second part out a couple of weeks later (March 8th.) The story spans six decades 1941- 2009 and examines gang warfare in small villages. Containing abusive language, sex and violence, Anurag knew he’d never get backing unless he convinced the cast and funders to be part of it without hearing the script first. He admitted: ‘I didn’t tell anyone the script. They only saw it when they were on set ahead of scenes. When we screened the first cut, everyone loved it but they agreed they wouldn’t have participated if they had known the story beforehand.’

Although Anurag is clearly a big fan of his film, I didn’t find it the ‘easiest’ of viewings but this doesn’t bother him. He said: ‘Why should anything be easy? We have a tendency to make everything in life easy even automatic cars, and it’s making us very complacent. It’s good for cinema to provoke people and get them to argue and debate. The Indian audiences want everything easy. We’re a country where servants bring our food to our table, we don’t want to participate and this needs to change.’

Anurag is an observer of people. One of the phenomenon’s he touches in the movie the way the Indian masses are obsessed with Bollywood stars. He confessed: ‘I borrow and steal ideas from what I see. I was fascinated by a particular story of a gangster that everyone wanted to shoot. He was a massive film fan and no matter what was going on he has to go to the cinema to see his favourite actor on the day of a new release. So everyone waited for that day and then they shot him.’ He continued: ‘Indians are mad about cinema, their lives are dictated by it. We can all accept that, it’s not good or bad, but if I want a change then all I can do is ensure my daughter has her own individual mind. But then again being impressionable isn’t always bad.’ 

Anurag’s ability to be ‘impressionable’ is what has shaped his life and the approach he takes to filmmaking. He admitted: ‘When I was younger I was a communist one day and a capitalist the next. When I got into film there was no internet to download; the only alternative I got to Hollywood and Bollywood was attending film festivals and these films spoke out to me. At college when everyone was reading Mills and Boon and Jeffery Archer, I had a room mate who looked down upon those things. So I followed his lead and read Kafka and other stuff. I was young and naïve and these things hit me really hard.’

The tagline to Gangs is ‘crime is inherited’. I asked Anurag if he believes this? He replied: ‘In India you are your father’s son. Today when people get married all people want to know is who are the children’s parents. The boy and the girl aren’t important. It’s the same in the film industry, children of actors are fast-tracked because every one wants to see if they are as good.’

So can one man really be the change? Anurag has been described as the Indian Tarantino but when I put that to him, he claims he’s not as brave. His films are a new breed of Indian cinema but whether this era will survive is really dependent on the bigger names and Anurag is confident it is possible. He concludes: ‘ Karan Johar was recently shooting his first short film in India – he’s used to being abroad.
One day while trying to get his shot, a funeral party was trying to get through. He tried to continue shooting but got in an argument with the people. In the end he had to let them through and then carry on. These are the kind of every day problems that happen on the streets of Bombay, I am sure it has changed him and he’s now a different person, I need to go back and meet him to find out!’

Gangs of Wasseypur part 1 is released in the UK on February 22nd.
Gangs of Wasseypur 2 is released March 8th.

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