Anurag Kashyap: An Auteur Demystified

Anurag article cover image

Anurag article cover image

Introduction

Auteur‘is a French word which translated in English means ‘author’,  the creator of the work. Having said that, cinema unlike the other arts like poetry, painting etc. is a collective art and includes contributions from other artists to make it a completed film and is not the work of a sole artist. However, the ‘Auteur Theory’ suggests that there is one prime force that leads to the creation of the film and that individual guides all the processes of filmmaking. It is the vision and worldview of this individual who makes the film special and thus a work of art. The ‘Auteur Theory’ was born out of the French New Wave movement in cinema pioneered by the critic and filmmaker Francoise Truffaut ( he wrote an important article ‘ a certain tendency in French Cinema’ for the Cahiers du Cinema magazine in 1954)which was a protest to liberate the medium of cinema from its old conventions, asking for freedom for the director to express himself beyond the reliance on literature and demanded respect for the director who is to be  treated as an independent artist in the medium of cinema enabling him to create a body of work, like any other artist, dwelling on themes and developing his distinctive style.

Why do I regard Anurag Kashyap as an auteur and chose to analyze his body of work because I feel there is a struggle –  there is a creative voice that wants to rebel and a heart full of  feelings. His films contain a personal vision and a distinctive style which as an artist interests me to observe and examine.

What is the place, in the history of cinema, of this young filmmaker? He is not revolutionary but belongs to the rebels, he is not radical but belongs to the non formula, he is not the first artist but belongs to the world of artists, and he is not extraordinary but does not belong to the ordinary either.

In India after 1950 there was a parallel cinema movement which was literally created as a force opposed to the popular mainstream film industry with higher ideals and broke the conventional rules set out by popular cinema like happy endings, songs etc.  Anurag Kashyap belongs to that alternate cinema movement in India today. It has evolved to not necessarily being opposed to mainstreamBlack Friday cinema but seems to be seeking if it can maintain its soul and yet remain mainstream.  It’s interesting to note that Anurag started his film career with his feature film Black Friday(2007)  financed by Midday Multimedia (with a mere budget of Rs 4.5 Crores)who were new to filmmaking and with his latest film Gangs of Wasseypur(2012) has the support and backing of a major Corporate  – Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, produced by Sunil Bohra (with an app budget of Rs 9.20 Crores for GOW Part One and a collection of Rs. 10 Crores in the opening weekend). History and common sense both suggest ‘Less money is more freedom’ for an independent filmmaker or a director in a studio system (rather corporate setup in today’s terms), so what interestingly remains to be seen is will all the bigger budget trappings compromise the ‘spirit’ of  films in the near future for an auteur like Anurag.

For an Auteur to enter the system and yet retain his personal freedom and smuggle the ‘soul’ into it (as Martin Scorsese puts it) is an interesting challenge. Also till now he has largely been opposed to

Gangs of Wasseypur 5

Gangs of Wasseypur 5

the star system and has not used big stars even for his recent film Gangs of Wasseypur  – will he venture, in the near future making bigger budget films and using stars, if he does what will be the price he pays is the big question. Best summed up in Anurag’s own words on the release of his first film Black Friday(2007).

“Every rebel becomes a conformist..my real insecurity begins now” ( Feb 13th 2007 http://anuragkashyap.tumbhi.com/uncategorized/black-friday-introspecting-156 )

The Auteur and his influence of his own life

Every Auteur consciously or otherwise is exploring certain pet themes and thus his body of work reflects his thought process and insights on the subject. The personal life of an auteur cannot be divorced from his films. This interplay is different every time, sometimes more subtle, sometimes more overbearing, which can include premise, locations, character or any or everything. If the filmmaker does not involve himself  its the work of a craftsman and not an artist.

I feel the starting point for a true artist is that he/she is sensitive to life unfolding and also aware of their inner self. There is a constant process of questioning and probing for the truth.

Anurag was a sensitive child – as a young boy in school he wrote a poetry on suicide but it was not seen as an expression of pain by a sensitive artist but rather misunderstood and perceived wrongly as a state of depression and was recommended treatment. His keen sense of observation, his originality and creativeness in his schoolwork were never understood or encouraged in his

No Smoking 7

                       No Smoking 

childhood instead his voice was drowned in the routine and security of a conformist existence. He felt like an outcast in a prestigious school where he did not know English and was teased by others. He always had a voice but nobody heard him. This continued even with his films as one film after another was banned (starting with Paanch, Black Friday,Gulaal) but, as he himself says, that was a very important part of his life, those failures really shaped him and in fact interestingly entered and become part of his artistic world of exploration.

No Smoking mirrors my struggle in the industry. That’s why it’s most dear to me and it’ll always remain so, more than Dev. D and more than Black Friday.” (Interview with Bikas Mishra – Dear Cinema Feb 8th 2009).

John Abraham

No Smoking 2

An important layer of the film is Kafka’s Trial and this takes us back to an early influence on Anurag in his initial struggling days in Mumbai. He had written a play and showed it to Govind Nihalani, who appreciated the work and asked him to read Isben and gave him Kafka’s Trial to read and adapt to film. At that point in time all this confounded Anurag’s confusion as he was going through a tough time in his life and as a result Anurag stopped taking Govind’s calls and meeting him. But its interesting to note how this finds itself later in a film that he makes.

No Smoking 3And Anurag says about the film at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi “The first book that I read in English was Kafka’s Trial (Anurag could not read English till the age of 17 years)  I never could understand it but it never left me.  If you work in any system its very Kafkaesque, you don’t know what is going on, you cannot figure it out. And you don’t know what is wrong with you. I could not understand why Black Friday was banned. I could not understand if a book could exist why the film could not come out. I could not understand why Paanch was banned. I could not understand why I could not make Gulaal….what is wrong with speaking up.”

“Just smoking becoming a metaphor it became a very personal movie. And the end portion where the things are not explained is also because I never could understand what was going on with my life so I felt let the audience also feel the same thing.”

The motif of smoking however as a metaphor for freedom is introduced in his first short film Last Train to Mahakali (1999) which the filmmaker later takes on to make it a major aspect in his film No Smoking(2007).

However the film No Smoking was marketed by an item number by Bipasa Basu, where I feel the target market seemed to be all wrong. An audience who would be lured to a theatre with an item number is not the deserving viewer for a film like No Smoking.

No Smoking 4

No Smoking 5

Another very personal film is That Girl in Yellow Boots(2010). Anurag seems to be confronting his painful past of sexual child abuse which he experienced for 11 years. “ I came to Mumbai brimming with angst, bitterness and a sense of violation and isolation. Thanks to the love of my life, Kalki Koechlin, I am completely cured of my acrimony.”(TOI Subhash K Jha, Nov 11, 2009, 10.51 am IST) These words of Anurag are revealing that as a young man when he came to Mumbai  to make films he had a lot of pain inside him and a voice that wanted to be heard. The film has as its theme child abuse and incest, which we realize only at the end of the film when the protagonist is confronted with a bitter truth that the father she was so desperately searching for was a pervert, a child abuser and had sexually violated her sister and caused her death. The film leaves the character and the audience in a state of shock and deep pain which are not expressed with tears, not taken to the level of sentimentality but to a much deeper level.

The film is not limited to the pain of a personal experience; it reveals the underbelly of society and provides a glimpse of the darker side of life at close quarters. Above all the film is interested in the journey of the inner self and reflects on how so many of us are living a delusion. The film prompts us to see the need to confront reality and find our true selves.

The film uses as the title track a doha by Kabir which speaks about this search for oneself.

Hear me, says Kabir, seek and you shall find

Hear me, says Kabir, seek and you shall findTGIYB

In this world tangled in delusion,

The self cannot be seen.

In this world tangled in delusion,

The self cannot be seen.

The self cannot be seen.

The self cannot be seen.

In fact the metaphor of the ‘mirror’ and the character looking at herself/himself in Last Train to Mahakali,  That Girl in Yellow Boots, and Gangs of Wasseypur,  and in a lot of his films seem to hint at the director’s examination of self delusion by the characters, a sort self examination, a self exploration, a contemplative introspection.

No Smoking 6Gulaal 7

GOW 6

The  Auteur and his themes

One way of looking at an auteur is that at a certain level ‘he is making the same movie again and again with slight modifications’. He has pet themes that he is exploring. If we look at Anurag’s body of work we find that this is probably true. Anurag goes from the micro to the macro, from the self to the nation and back again. And at a deeper level from the outside world into the inside world.

Revenge seems to be an important part of the dramatic hook of many of his films including Black Friday, Gulaal and his recent Gangs of Wasseypur. Revenge is a crucial element of popular genre storytelling and in fact was one of the main themes for the ‘western’ genre in Hollywood. So many Hindi formula films are based on revenge. But ‘revenge’ here may also be looked at with more depth besides being a popular formula to tell a story. Not to make a simplistic reading of personal life and its relationship to his films but Anurag has been the underdog and a lot of his films have the spirit of revolt as a rebel an involute revenge may be of sort. However, his films are not a glorification of revenge but mostly rise above to question its very existence.

BF 2The filmmaker is not self indulgent but concerned, raise pertinent questions about the world around him and as a true artist should, is searching for the truth. His first feature film Black Friday made in 2004 but released in 2007 three years later due to censorship trouble is a film based on Mumbai’s Black Friday – The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts, based on a book by S. Hussain Zaidi about the 1993 Bombay bombings.

Realism and social, political concerns take centre stage in this film and begins the career of this filmmaker but the concerns and issues raised in this film never really seems to leave him but only get reinvented on his journey.

The film begins and ends with a quote by Mahatma Gandhi  “ An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.

The film ends with the bomb blast recreation and then text title cards.

The Bombay Blasts became India’s largest criminal case

    The designated court took 13 years to deliver justice

    100 out of the final 122 found guilty

    29 still absconding including Tiger Menon

    And Bombay is now called Mumbai.

Anurag wanted to make an honest film and raise questions about the state of politics and the legal system and our society at large.

Black Friday 5

An important scene dealing with revenge, seems to be critical, in regards to what the filmmaker wants to convey to the audience as a message or an insight on same. The scene is – where we see the jail cell through a red filter and one of the bombers, Badshah who is now captured and is being interrogated by the cop. Badshah Khan very proudly takes credit for the bombings and says  Muslims have taken the revenge for the atrocities done to their Muslim brothers. That’s when Kay Kay Menon  who plays the cop says and speaks in the voice of the director “ …Allah was not on your side, on your side was Tiger Menon . He saw your rage and manipulated you. He was gone before the first bomb was even planted. ..he fucked you over. you know why ? Because you were begging for it. All in the name of religion. You are a fucking idiot. You are an idiot and so is every Hindu, who murders one of you. Everyone who has nothing better to do…but to fight in the name of religion is a fucking idiot.”

The end credits appear with the Indian Ocean Song ‘Bandeh’ which ends the film on a poetic note of lament but never pessimistic rather urging the audience to wake up.  It’s a film where there is anger and he wants the audience to acknowledge that justice is not done and wants the audience to question the state of justice in our country.

GulaalWith his film Gulaal (2009) where the canvas is now the state of Rajasthan he continues his lament of the nation and urges us ‘to save India’ and at a larger level to save this world. Production on Gulaal began in 2001, when Anurag Kashyap was listening to songs from Pyaasa and his film Paanch was struggling with the censors. The film is inspired (and gives credit to) by the song ‘Yeh Mahlon, YehTakhton, Ye Tajon ki Duniya’ By Sahir Ludhanvi from the film Pyaasa

The film is set in present day Rajasthan, a state in western India. The plot is provided by student politics of the university and a fictitious secessionist movement consisting of former Rajput leaders who have become the present day elite.Gulaal 1

Also revisiting the title card at the beginning of the film sums up the intent and tone of the film which I would like to reproduce here below:

The first text card:

The film is a work of fiction, dedicated to all

Those poets of per-independent India

Who wrote songs of freedom and had a vision of

Free India, which we could not put together.

Gulaal 10

Gulaal 11

If Black Friday was more of an angry voice which was symbolized by Anurag then Gulaal is now more grief and lament which seems stronger, but there is still the use of the strong red color which is symbolic of power and danger. Also the characters of Gulaal 3Prithvi Bana and Ardhanareshwar take the film to mythical realms.

Returning to the Theme of Revenge with the film Gangs of Wasseypur (Part 1), the film speaks about revenge at various levels and in its very existence laments the current state of our country and contemporary society. What now hits you hard with this film is that ‘revenge’ a primordial emotion is so strongly still prevalent in our society today and the film seems to be questioning our evolution as a species. The filmmaker like in his earlier films here more than ever is drawing on newsreel and documentary footage and attempting to weave the story of India’s independence with the story of this personal epic saga spanning generations which succeed in revealing, the fact  that free India is not really free even today and shows us that prevalent level of lawlessness and bloodshed is so paradoxical in an GOW 9apparently democratic India. ‘Might is Right’ which is something of the cave man era is still so prevalent in our 21st century, Kashyap does not spare the viewer from confronting this brutal truth nor does he dilute harsh reality with candy floss.

Violence and revenge are intertwined and thus become a very important part of his cinematic vocabulary, violence being mostly external and visceral but also speaks about internal violence specially in one of his more personal films That Girl in Yellow Boots and No Smoking. Dev D also at one level is about revenge where Devdas is on a mission of self destruction.

The Auteur and Realism as a treatment

Anurag says that he makes films about things as he sees it. In fact the appeal of a lot of Anurag’s films are his realism which seems raw to a lot of viewers. Here raw for me refers to the unadulterated truth and not a work that does not treat the raw reality. As art and an artist does not present to you life as experienced in real life as raw and personal but by the process of his art and craft he makes your experience richer, makes you reflect and offers you a space to experience the apparently raw reality which he has DevDtreated with the processes of filmmaking. Also an interesting observation of a lot of viewers after seeing a Kashyap film is that they could not emotionally identify with the characters and that I would say is revealing as it seems that the filmmaker does not passively want you to get sucked into the emotional life of the story but remain detached enough to be an active viewer and participate in its unfolding. Also what makes Anurag’s films special is the Realism in them. But what I mean by realism is like what you would feel in a film by Satyajit Ray who has observed life and character’s closely and brings them alive in each scene nuances, uniqueness and an authentic truth which connects with the viewer (however I am not suggesting here that the experience Satyaof an Anurag film is close to the experience of a Ray film, far from that).

The Auteur and the writer

A very important aspect of an Auteur would be a director who is part of the conception and script of the film and in this regard Anurag is very closely involved in the creation of his work. In fact he started his career as a writer writing scripts in Mumbai (he wrote the script of Auto Shankar overnight which was loved by Sriram Raghavan and Shivam Nair) and got famous and recognized with his script Satya which he wrote for Ram Gopal Verma. Black Friday, his first feature film, was based on a book but the screenplay was by none other than Anurag. Now another dynamic sets into play, Anurag as an Auteur is not (or is not supposed)to be the sole originator of his work, it has in fact always been a practice that auteur directors including Truffaut have associated with other writers for the script and screenplay, sometimes to keep away from personal  indulgence and many times because the idea or story is initiated or bought to the director by someone else who then with that merit being the best person who knows the world of the story should be present to be a partner in scripting the project. The film Gulaal has Raj Singh Chaudhury as a co scriptwriter. It was Raj Singh Chaudhury who bought the story to Anurag based on his experiences of college ‘ragging’ and its Gulaal 12consequences. Raj says the story idea was his ( and he also suggested the film be set in Rajasthan) but the script and screenplay was by Anurag. No doubt Anurag connected with the story as he recalls in an interview to Tehelka in 2005 ” Scindia (school in Gwalior) was hell for me. The sexual abuse continued there for years. I hated myself. I couldn’t understand why it was happening to me. I was often picked out, beaten, then taken to the toilets. To save myself from the beatings, I’d give in to the abuse,” . Another fascinating aspect of Anurag’s script collaborators is that all of them are actors. Raj Chaudhury was also an actor and had in fact written the story keeping himself in mind. Anurag felt he would fit the character perfectly and in spite of other popular actors keen to play the role he cast Raj as one of the lead actors, Raj says he also helped in the scripting of No Smoking.

Gulaal 5

Dev. D is a collaborative effort too. The film was developed from a concept that Abhay Deol( who plays Dev, the main protagonist in the film) narrated to Anurag. “Core idea came from Abay, Abhay told me this idea of a boy lost in a strip bar  in LA and this triggered off a lot of ideas I had in mind and showed the possibility of adapting Devdas.” “ …. The idea was to try and explore that adjective(Devdas) that it has become and through which I wanted to talk about the youth , I wanted to talk about how they look at love, life, relationships, in today’s day and age, the age of fast cars, fast cash, fast food, instant gratification. Does it really happen that people are longing for one woman for the rest of their lives because  I don’t see that happening today. It has changed . So it was trying to explore all that by using Devdas as a medium.”  Vikramaditya Motwane(assistant director of Sanjay Leela Bhansali and latter Anurag produced and co-wrote his debut film Udaan)  was asked to write the first draft of the script and Anurag said he would take his draft and add his bits to it (From Eros extra features). Also what would be an important DevD 6touch to the film would be that Anurag understands very well and has experienced being depressed and lost like the character Dev, of course for other reasons, a young boy who enters science and takes up zoology at the University of Delhi, dissatisfied with his choice, confused and depressed he takes to drugs and alcohol.

How do you measure popular mainstream cinema – its by the stereotypes and clichés that it adopts in its telling.

Dev D is backed by a major corporate house, who is encouraging alternate cinema catering mainly to the multiplex audience but not limited to them. Dev D is a modern reinterpretation to the classic Devdas (which has 12 film versions made of the Bengali novel written by Sarat Chandra  Chattopadhyay). So the first rule that Anurag breaks from the popular cinema standard is ‘romanticizing’ the hero Devdas and he makes him into a very real practical contemporary youth of today. He also breaks the backbone of the character who epitomizes self pity to giving up drinking, discovering that love is not romantic ideas and does not die for Paro but chooses Chandramukhi instead and starts  a new life. This is in fact one of Anurag’s rare films which has a positive, if we can call it, a happy ending, but never the less, seems real and not romanticized.

The sexual frankness given to the characters including the female characters is unlike popular formula films and the women are strong and determined not passive and docile. And the self-sacrificing Chandramukhi (played by Kalki Koechlin) that became the epitome of the character mold of the prostitute with a golden heart in Hindi cinema over the years was also broken, in fact her past life is also contemporary in its origin and is taken from a real incident and inspired from newspaper headlines.TGIYB 4

Another important collaborator with Anurag has been Kalki Koechlin, she had been invited by Anurag to co-write the script of That Girl In Yellow Boots primarily because he knew that she would be able to give insights about the world that the film portrayed and also she is the key protagonist of the film. Where like other instances we have the actor-scriptwriter collaboration merging into itself.

Also this being a sensitive subject and theme close to Anurag’s heart and Kalki being his life partner who he credits to have rid him of his past pain adds another dimension to the film itself.

GOW 2His recent film Gangs of Wasseypur (Part One) seems to  have a long list of writers Zeishan Quadri, Akhilesh, SachinLadia, AnuragKashyap. But it was Quadri who bought the story to Anurag. Quadri’s deal was simple. He’ll write the script and play the character Definite, a key character in the second part of the two-part film.

“Though I was born in small town in northern India, I migrated to the city to make films, the city got to me and I went deeper in exploring it’s effect on me through my films until I met Zeishan. Zeishan was from Wasseypur and a few things that he told me about this place dragged me back to my roots, my backyard, my growing up and my tryst with Bollywood and the politics of my region.The few anecdotes that Zeishan shared with me of this place then went on to be retelling and an analysis of the history of the place explaining it’s evolution as a burning inferno and it’s fight for coal to the way battles were fought. From digging coal to killing someone over an innocuous brawl to vengeance being inherited. Part One of the film gets to the roots of the people and explains why they are the way they are.”(Anurag’s own words –  GOW official website)

GOW 10

The Auteur and his style (visual)

Style or treatment of the film by a director is not necessarily consistent or easy to catch but some directors do have a distinctive style that can be recognized as a signature style of the artist in his body of work. Anurag Kashyap according to me has a characteristic way of using colour in his films and that becomes an integral part of his signature style which began from his first short film and continues till this day. In his visual palette we see the use of the three primary colours Red, Green, Blue and their combinations at various points. Besides being three primary colours we have the added dimension of the colours mostly appearing either desaturated or as part of the noir vocabulary of neon lights reminding us of the underbelly of society that we are exposed to in the films.

Below is a brief observation and analysis of Anurag’s colour palette in his films.

Anurag’s first short film Last Train to Mahakali  (1999) ( a short film 45 minutes made for the television series ‘Star Best Sellers’) starts the film with a green desaturated tint while we are introduced to the main protagonist of the film a prisoner who is on death LTTMrow. His present world in the prison seems to represent this colour. In fact green is repeated in No Smoking(2007)  – In the film an important set or world of existence is the rehabiliatiton centre and the world of Baba Bengali who runs the rehabilitation centre (which is symbolic of the establishment) is presented in a desaturated green tint.

LTTM 1The film The Last Train to Mahakali does fleetingly play with blue and red but it is the end of the film which is red mixing with yellow, like a kind of an orange (which in fact is the common space occupied by the journalist and the prisoner) there seems to be a surreal (artificial) sunshine that fills the room on the chilling note that the film leaves you with.

In the film Black Friday (2004)the colour red seems to dominate which symbolizes anger to me besides the bloodshed and pain that it contains within itself as a colour not to forget the element of danger that the colour stands for and that at one level the filmmaker is alerting us about. Red is an important part of its title and credits and a red filter is used in significant scenes of the jail torture which enclose BFan important message of the film by the director. Anurag is said to have referred to those scenes saying that he wanted a green filter but since that was not available he went for the red filter instead. The filter was to reduce the realistic goriness of the scene but  I feel it does more than that and fortunately since the green filter was not possible the red palette by default  comes into play.The film has a special use of blue, rather in its de-saturated form, for the flashback sections BF 1specially where Dawood is shown and also to portray the treatment of the recreation of the pain and loss of the actual bomb blast which ends the film.

So if Black Friday begins with red and is about protest then so is the case with Gulaal(2009) where the chief color seems to be red. This film primarily uses red as an integral colour in the film right from the gulaal which is red in colour to certain sections of the inner haveli which are bathed in red light or a filter where there is a clash between characters who revolt. In this film red is also part of the costume palette  which infact is part of many of his films but here they become symbolic, Prithvi Bana played by Piyush Mishra isGulaal 6 dressed in red and his mythic Ardhanareshwar  who follows him around is in blue (his body is painted in blue). The film has scenes where green and blue light are visible but red stands out as a primary symbolic colour of this film.

The film That Girl In Yellow Boots has yellow as one significant colour in its colour palette which is related to the boots which the protagonist wears on this journey in the film (it also appears in the title and credits titles). Yellow could represent hope for a brighter future, a joy the protagonist is searching for. But the film also has blue which is the other important colour and the note on which the film ends . To quickly glance though the world of the film – the massage parlour is predominantly green, Ruth the protagonist of the film has an apron which is green in colour.TGIYB Still 7 The last scene the client who we realize is her father has a blue towel ( however the towel is always blue for all clients)also we saw earlier the room where she discovered her father’s pictures (when she visited his home)  also predominantly had  blue walls. TGIYB Still 6The film reaches its climax when Ruth confronts her client who she discovers is her father and his reaction to her truth shatters her into a state of shock and grief. It’s the end of the film which this sequence leads to which has an important use of the colour blue as symbolic yet part of the realistic setting of the film. After the confrontation with her father she walks into the corridor with a green light, TGIYB Still 4then enters the streets which are yellow and when she sits in the taxi, her face is bathed with blue light (which is the light in the taxi as planned I assume) and the world outside which she leaves behind has a tinge of yellow and green. The last scene is the taxi ride, a minute long in duration where the camera remains with Ruth as a mid shot followed by a kind of jump cut mid close, and the audience remains focused on Ruth’s  face bathed in blue light, she then shuts her eyes and the film fades to black.

 

TGIYB Still 2

TGIYB Still 3

The film Dev D is sprinkled with many colours starting primarily with green and yellow and then moving on to red, blue and most importantly pink that enters into this film with the character of Chandramukhi played by Kalki( Red + Green = Pink). Dev D Still 1 Pink represents a very feminine colour at the same time is very punk . The film travels into the drug world of clubs and underbelly of Delhi and gives the makers to exploit the neon filled streets and existence of the colour that seems real, at times gaudy but symbolic. Dev D Still 2The concluding scenes have  Dev and Chandramukhi bathed in a tint of a combination of red and yellow with a hint of pink( being the colour of the bathtub in which Dev is seated and the loffah with which Chandramukhi is gently scrubbing him). But the last scene however is natural colours with the sun shining through on the couple riding a bike.Dev D Still 3

This film The Gangs of Wasseypur – Part One (2012) is subtle in its colour palette and merges with the real world but on keen observation it is prevalent. He chooses a palette for its production design to be predominantly green and blue. With a brief small scene in red and continuing the desaturated blue at many points. But at the end of the film which is the death of Sultan brilliantly played by Manoj Bajpai is the use of the colour yellow or rather the yellow of the sun going into white which with the death of the protagonist is symbolic of the fiery GOW Still 1revenge which finally turns to nothingness. White is the combination of the three primary colours (Red +Blue +Green = White) and thus in his colour palette he is now critically poised already combined and merged all his colours. I do not suggest that this is necessarily consciously done but for me it plays out brilliantly. What next …

The Auteur and his collaborators  

Since Anurag’s films have a distinct colour palette and the visual impact of the film being strong requires a special mention of Wasiq Khan as a Production Designer(responsible for the visual look of the film) and his two key cinematographers till date being Natrajan Subramanium (Last Train to Mahakali – Paanch – Black Friday)and Rajeev Ravi (No Smoking – Gulaal – Dev D – That Girl in Yellow Boots- Gangs of Wasseypur) who have contributed significantly to bring his vision to life.

Dev D Still 4

Dev D Still 5

‘Song and dance’ form a very integral grammar of popular Indian cinema and starting with Dev D Kashyap with the music director Amit Trivedi has reinvented the music soundtrack specially with the song ‘Emotional Atyachar’ (one of the important sources of reference for the song was Om Dar Ba Dar – an avant garde Indian film in the year 1988). Over the years a very distinct quality of an Anurag Kashyap film is his soundtrack that he has developed and this film is an important juncture for it to take off which reaches a new high in his latest film Gangs of Wasseypur(Part One)  with the title track  ‘kehke Longa’ and ‘Womaniya’ besides others . In this film Sneha Khanwalkar who has designed the music and song for the film ( besides the background score which is by G V Prakash Kumar) has added a special touch by including folk singers and tunes mixed with modern sophistication to give a vibrant dose of chatpatta music that brings alive the landscape of the story and characters. Song and dance is a powerful tool to enhance the emotional experience of the viewer which has its roots in ancient Indian arts and aesthetics and most of Indian popular cinema uses this to transform the viewer into a realm which is not imitating reality but experiencing emotional  truth( what an item number does , can be another essay in itself ). However  most of the songs in Anurag’s  films are not limited to the emotional realm of realism but many times the songs are a commentary on the film’s theme, its plot, or its characters. The songs are rooted in Indian culture but yet are funky and reinterpreted in a postmodern vein. In this regard Piyush Mishra is also an important close collaborator in his films who wrote the lyrics for Black Friday and Gulaal, also being the music director for Gulaal. He also wrote some lyrics for Gangs of Wasseypur along with Varun Grover. (Piyush has also acted in many of Anurag’s films besides being a reputed actor himself, he played some memorable characters like Prithvi Bana in Gulaal and an important character role in GOW Part One). Each film having a unique identity and original soundtrack  Black Friday had the special quality of the music of band Indian Ocean and with the film No Smoking Vishal Bharadwaj interpreted the surreal world on the soundtrack as an artist.

Another important collaborator is the editor -editor Aarti Bajaj edited many of Kashyap’s films including Last Train to Mahakali ,Paanch (unreleased), Black Friday, Dev D, Gulaal, No Smoking and shaped the films to a powerful experience. But from the film That Girl in Yellow Boots and his recent film Gangs of Wasseypur,  Anurag has worked with Shweta Venkat Matthew (as I assume his personal life came in the way of the professional world and this collaboration broke up).  Each of the two editors try to keep up with Anurag’s pace and rhythm for his films and the result is a highly charged film.

But I would say that like a true auteur he maintained his style in all departments of filmmaking irrespective of changes that took place and found the right individuals to fit his vision. Also at any given time there are many young aspiring filmmakers in his office wanting to learn and be part of the exciting world of filmmaking that Anurag represents to the Indian  youth.

The Auteur and his influences from cinema 

What has been the influences on Anuarg as an auteur besides his personal experiences, and here cinema itself plays a very important role. In his recent film Gangs of Wasseypur he mentions the influence of Tamil cinema, infact dedicates the film to ‘the 3 musketeers Ameer, Bala and Sasikumar, the sons of Madurai’ as he calls them. He says “I realized that these filmmakers are making their films in a milieu that’s so much familiar to them. This made me feel that even I have lots of stories to tell which belong to the place I belong to.” (Interview by Sethumadhavan.N featuring on the website www.madaboutmoviez.com).

bicycle-thievesBut it was in 1993 in a film festival (which he was urged to attend by his friends) when he witnessed ‘A Retrospect of Vitterio De Sica Films’ (Bicycle Thieves is the film that influences him the most among the 55 films of De Sica), it was “an epiphany” he says which changed his life and he runs away from home with Rs 5,000 in his pocket and decides he wants to make films. The Screening of the film Taxi Driver by Martin Scorsese (on a tv screen in the office of Shivam Nair, Shriram Raghavan during his struggling years in Mumbai) was the beginning of another interesting phase. Pic Posters of Bicycle Thieves and Taxi Driver

Seeing films like Fun ,De Sica’s Films, Taxi Driver he says gave him confidence to make cinema as his voice was similar and other hindi films he saw he could not relate to, they were films not about him but some other people.taxi-driver Also the attraction to noir is that its about him too. Anurag says “Noir might mean different things to different people, but for me its an environment and a story of the underdog. We don’t pay attention to the people on the streets and just pass them by.” He thought cinema could be about that too. “I wanted to tell those kind of stories and these films gave me confidence.”

However Anurag ‘s work includes the influence of Bollywood, and in a post modern sense. Gulaal has for its inspiration a song from the Hindi classic film Pyaasa but the film builds on the original and adds a new dimension to it. In Gangs of Wasseypur Bollywood referencing is integral to its plot and characters – the film explores this revenge saga through the socio-political dynamic in erstwhile Bihar (North India), in the coal and scrap trade mafia of Wasseypur, through the imprudence of a place obsessed with mainstream ‘Bollywood’ cinema. This has a direct link to his childhood, when as a young boy in UP he was attracted to Hindi cinema from a very young age and repeatedly saw films (often visited  the open air theatre or the Government theatre next to his house)like Kora Kagaazand Aandh iand latter Do Badaan in his college days.

The Auteur and acting

GOW-PosterAnother influence as a director is that Kashyap was an actor before being a director and a distinct quality of his film is strong and powerful performances which bring the film to life and seem real and truthful. Acting was something that he did while he was struggling to find his voice, he joins a theatre group Jana Natya Manch and performs street plays. This also helped him to meet people and its not therefore a coincidence that a lot of his collaborators specially his scriptwriters are actors who are attracted to work with him. He says “Instead of the actor performing for the camera, I let the camera capture the people….” A little known fact is that Manoj Bajpai was responsible for suggesting Anurag’s name to Ram Gopal Verma as a young scriptwriter for the film Satya (which got him a lot of fame) and Anurag does not forget to return the favour by casting Manoj in his recent big budget film Gangs of Wasseypur (which has helped Manoj bring back his acting career to the top after a low phase). Anurag like the rest of his team has been quite loyal to many of his characters like Kay KayMenon and Kalki but without compromising the film at any cost.

Conclusion

GOW 2Where does Anurag Kashyap go from here – the real world and the world of cinema meet in his films, will one dominate the other – and how  – and to what effect ? What form will his colour palette take on now, are the three primary colours going to be repetitive and boring or are they going to help telling a story and increasing its complexity of  visual vocabulary ? Will the distinctive style of the songs in his films take on newer dimensions and reinvent themselves or will its novelty die out? Will the plot of revenge be a continuing fascination and lead to deeper insights ? Will the commentary of Indian politics and society be allowed to freely express itself, will it continue to cause a stir in the conscience of the youth ? What will Anurag Kashyap discover about himself and the world around him is what we the audience will have to wait and watch to see!

Anurag’s films are like a silent scream – real yet not raw, disturbing yet not deafening, shocking yet not depressing, violent yet not ugly, a hope hidden in a lamenting.

© Copyright Oorvazi Irani

You can follow Oorvazi on her personal website here and her short film The K-File here.

www.oorvazichekhovindia.com

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35 thoughts on “Anurag Kashyap: An Auteur Demystified

  1. Though I admit I didn’t like most of the movies he made, one has to agree that he is indeed a brilliant artist. Very good post, this one, Keep writing Oorvazi 🙂

    • Thanks Salil Shankar for your feedback. Art is subjective indeed and thanks for appreciating the post and my point of view. 

  2. Anurag Kashyap would be proud of himself after reading the post.. I am sure even if he wrote a post himself, he wouldn’t have done as much justice to his work as you did 🙂

  3. Tumne sab authors ki yahan keh ke le li….It was a pleasure reading it and it will be doubly nice if Anurag himself comments on the same…

    Don’t wait…Ek baar karlo phir se waar…

  4. I’ve said it before & I’m saying it again, this is a fascinating post alright. The passion clearly shows with the way you’ve gone into such details…..good one Oorvazi,keep writing with the same passion….

  5. Such researched and detailed work on Indian cinema is so rare! This post was absolutely wow! Mazaa aa gaya! Thank you so much for writing this. It was very enriching. 

    •  Rasik,
      lovely to hear from you 🙂 and feels nice ki mazaa aya and bore nahi kiya 🙂 . Thanks for your feedback dear

  6. The idea that some one call Anurag Kashyap an auteur makes me ROFL.I remember how Vasan had wrote in PFC how one particular movie was just blah,blah and more blah, This post reminds of that movie.

    • Cinemausher, you are free to have your opinion. But why do i get the impression that you do not respect the opinion of others. 

      •  Well assuming things without facts and framing views about people is wrong thing i say,

  7. While I hated TGIYB,GOW & Devd I will have greatest regard for him as he had made Black Friday.

    Awesome post. If AK decides to write an autobiography all he will have to do is copy paste from this post:) Thank you Oorvazi for this thorough post. This showcases that you have done an extensive research.I was about to post about Kiarostomi but my post pales in comparison to this epic post.

    Thanks for making my weekend.

    • Kushal, 
      Great to hear from you and feels terrific to know I made your weekend with this ‘epic post’ 🙂
      Thank you for your kind words about my research and its value, appreciate it

  8. A very detailed and informative article, with rich in-depth analysis. Though I have not seen many films of AK, and whatever I have seen was in nits and pieces, I liked his signature treatments. This article should be very encouraging for Anurag Kashyap himself 🙂 Hope he reads it

    • Riddhiman,
      THANKYOU
      The essay is an important contribution for me if it in some way encourages individuals like you who are passionate about cinema to see AK’s body of work as an Auteur and engage in cinema and art, as a theory in practice in contemporary times. Do see his films and will be waiting for your thoughts soon. It would be rather interesting to hear Anurag’s thoughts on the essay. However  like any other artist there is still so much to explore to observe, to reflect…but i guess a good start. 

  9.  Your analysis of the color palette was outstanding. As I understand, you yourself as a filmmaker is attracted to such experimentation with colors and have implemented them in your films as well 🙂 Hence, who could do better justice to such analysis, than you could 🙂

    • Riddhiman, 
      yes the visual quality of the film as an artist and audience, specially its colour palette (which includes B&W as a palette) does interest me and I feel it works at very interesting levels on the viewer sometimes subconsciously but is an effective tool. Also it is a strong part of the cinema experience of bringing to life a reality(real or imagined) on screen.

  10. Hi Oorvazi, Thank you for sharing this with me.
    A brilliant writeup… providing a hardcore insight into the life and
    passions of an amazing individual who is one of the most grounded auteur
    and an expressionistic individual who broke through the “Bollywood” biscuit cutter patterns.
    His influences, collaborations and most importantly his inspirations
    are an influence on aspiring filmmakers like myself. Honestly, this has
    been an invigorating article for me. BTW, in reference to the last paragraph… i guess we should wait and watch his metamorphic process. Thanks again 🙂 Cheers Vikram

  11. first of all very well-written,loved the way u described everything in details . it took me more than 30 mins to complete reading the article. anurag is a fine director,i like him. he has his vision and he also has originality. however i am yet to put him in the leagues of greats like benegal,nihalani. so far,i feel ak did two great films gangs of wasseypur,blackfriday. in rest all of his films,he loses the grip in the 2nd half after a brilliant 1st half. no smoking was going great in 1st half but in 2nd half,it lost it’s way. surrrealist films also have structure and it should also contain analysis. in case of no-smoking,i didn’t find it well-enough. i kind of liked gulal too even though i found 2nd half too much dragged .currently he  is the best director in bollywood but to be great,he needs to do more great works.

    • Debarshi, Thanks for your response and sharing your thoughts. Nice to know that you found my article a good read. And now i have a time slot that I know to tell others, the time it takes to read my article which infact I guessed right ! 🙂

  12. Oorvazi this is a brilliant analysis of Anurag Kashyap who has been the only writer/director I can relate to in current times but has always been an enigma. This was like sitting in your classroom and soaking in your lecture. I am so glad that I finally sat down to read this. I am glad your name is among the authors here. This is probably the first time such a detailed, learned essay on AK or any other figure has appeared. thank you madaboutmoviez.

    • Indu, Such a pleasure to hear from you as
      always ! It has been my humble endeavor to continue my class life
      long and that’s what I say, learning can never be a one time fixed 4 day, 6 day
      workshop but it is lifelong and technology is helping me to reach out. It feels
      very nice to know that you enjoyed the article and it took you back to the old
      times spent together which was enriching for me too to enjoy your company
      in class . Yes I feel AK has sincerity and I am sure he will challenge the
      system and give deserving audiences a reason to cherish every moment.
      Madaboutmoviez invited me to write and I accepted because I loved their passion
      for cinema and their respect towards contributors. This is a beautiful space to
      explore cinema and I was so glad to bump into dear Rasik here (my film student)
      who is very sincere and I am proud of the way he encourages new wave cinema,
      specially Marathi New Wave is something he introduced me to :).   

  13. This is simply the best write up on anurag ever. What brilliant observations …never thought that the mirror scenes actually have so much depth in it and that Anurag is actually using it as a metaphor to self – reflection. His color palette had always intrigued me, and i am glad that you discussed it at length in this article. Once again i am just amazed and awed by your ability to touch up on the smaller details which others often overlook. Only a true artist and connoisseur can touch upon sooooo many nooks and corners. Loved it…and truly appreciate your effort to constantly and passionately enlighten us with the nuances of cinema!

    • Shweta, I dont know why, but after reading your comment i felt like giving you a ‘hug’ :)… i guess i felt a lot of warmth in your words. Its a joy to have lovely people like you who encourage me to reflect on cinema and share my humble views. Like Truffaut and the French New Wave critics I am privileged to be in a position where I can reflect about cinema and also be part of creating cinema.Its nice to have your feedback being a film journalist yourself ! And I still feel there is so much more to observe and reflect on AK but that would then be a book 🙂 ha ha 

  14. That was so brilliant of you Oorvazi :-). Thanks to Riddhiman for sharing the link on Facebook. I’ve been reading your write up for more than a couple of hours now – deliberately indulging in every thought thread it is triggering in me. And now that I’m done – I can surely declare that it made my week :-). The visual-emotional experiences of both Dev D and That Girl in Yellow Boots got me stunned. While I’ve have offered many a standing ovations to Kashyap – the individual and the artist – all in my mind, I’ve never managed the time/energy/spontaneity-of-analysis to dig out each element that contributes to the momentous intensity of his works. It delights me to see that someone has done so – and with so much passion. I hope your article reaches Anurag :-).

    • Antara Kundu, lovely to hear from you and nice to know my article is worthy of so much time and can trigger deep thought and be relished. Yes Anurag has read the article and I am in touch with him, thanks.

  15. Kushal has rightly said that if Anurag Kashyap has to do an autobiography all he needs to do is CTRL C+CTRL V from this post. Brilliantly analysed and written.
    For me Black Friday remains his best film followed by Gulaal.I still feel that he is indulgent at places which is reflected in all his films except Black Friday. No smoking according to me was an epitome of indulgence. Indeed a large part of the audience didn’t understand what was going on including me.
     Nevertheless his films are a cut above the rest with a very good sense of music. He should be credited for introducing a wonderful talent like Amit trivedi.
    The technique of shooting the scene in red was earlier used in a film called Lootere directed by Dharmesh Darshan and starring Sunny deol though just for a brief scene.
    Brilliant post and keep ’em coming more.

    • Aditya, thanks so much for your encouraging response and support for my article, feels nice.

      I prefer an indulgence with some purpose than a cut paste with no heart and soul which sometimes a lot of cinema is, and which is by lazy people who try and live by a formula and pushing stereotypes, they have nothing to say. Yes AK’s work is inspiring. Finally cinema like all art is subjective and there will always be films that we agree and disagree about.There is no film till date that has been liked by everyone and there have always been preferences. The red filter/light is not new it has been used in many films world over( but thanks for pointing this one out, interesting) but to use it repeatedly is a pattern and part of a vocabulary.Also i feel rather than judging a film which a lot of critics do, lets see what we can take fro it. Thanks again for your feedback, nice to know your work is appreciated.   

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