Deconstructing Directors: Anurag Kashyap's Exploration Of Urban Lives & Its' Decadence!

By Sayantan Mondal. Posted on June 03, 2016

Bombay Velvet was Anurag Kashyap's dream project and by his own admission a film he'd been wanting to make for a long, long time.

Among the other allegations faced by Kashyap while making the film, his decision to work with big stars in the film & his perceived closeness with Karan Johar received a lot of flak and was viewed by many as an attempt by the filmmaker to make inroads into mainstream Bollywood. It also seemed that a lot of people were waiting to pull the filmmaker down. And the failure of the film gave such naysayers an opportunity to rip apart the film which pushed the filmmaker into a corner. Or so we thought.

But as they say 'when the going gets tough, the tough get going'. Kashyap is a filmmaker who seems to believe in this adage. Just when the chips were down, Kashyap went back to the drawing board & is back with Raman Raghav 2.0

Bombay Velvet might have failed, but if the trailer of Raman Raghav 2.0 is anything to go by, he is back in the game, once again exploring the dark, tumultuous, underbelly of a city under siege.

Bombay Velvet was a colossal effort and a game-changer in several ways (of course, this is debatable). But what cannot be debated is the meticulous planning and handling done by Kashyap to seamlessly explore a Bombay lost in the pages of history.

Adapted from historian Gyan Prakash’s Mumbai Fables, the film was a take on Bombay of the 60's where crime and mayhem, corruption and sexual escapades reigned supreme. And with Raman Raghav 2.0, the filmmaker is exploring a new side, a new facet of the Maximum City that is far removed from the Bombay one saw in Bombay Velvet, or Ugly for that matter.

There are several things that make Kashyap a unique filmmaker. In this feature, we try to explore one such unique aspect of his filmmaking that dwells on how he gets inspired by urban history and treats most of his movies as a sort of urban exploration, delving deeper into the dark corners of our overcrowded cities, be it Delhi or Mumbai.

Kashyap's Portrayal Of The Young and Wild In A Lost Landscape

When we see Anurag Kashyap’s debut film Paanch and his breakthrough film Dev. D, we notice that odd, niggling similarity between the two. Paanch was about a group of five people whose debauched wayward, waylaid lifestyle takes them on a criminal spree as they unleash a terror of murder and mayhem in a quaint city. The movie was inspired by the Joshi-Abhyankar murders that rocked the city of Pune in the 70's.

While Dev. D apart from giving a funky twist to Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s immortal literary character also had a real life criminal incident as inspiration, the Sanjeev Nanda hit and run case of 1999. The protagonist's failed love life made him a nihilist of sorts, a rebel who actually has no idea that he is opposing every form of conformism that’s attached to a very prudish society he was part of. Some might say that Dev D. was a mirror image of Kashyap’s own personal journey as he took the Hindi film industry by storm. And while Dev. D rips apart a patriarchal society, Paanch is more anarchic.

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There might be more films that may crop up while talking about the youth and their disaffection with their surroundings. But Tsai Ming Liang’s Rebels Of The Neon God and Fruit Chan’s Made In Hong Kong are two good examples that are more or less thematically similar to Paanch and Dev. D as these movies too explore the youth in a city, namely Hong Kong and Taipei here.

Tsai’s work is slow, as it captures the young Hsiao Kang who breaks several rules in the process of getting ready for his pre-university exams. His relationship with his father is quite similar to that of Dev’s relationship with his father. In Fruit Chan’s Made in Hong Kong, if we look at the protagonist Autumn Moon who is trying to become a hitman, the sardonic, wry approach makes the entire movie a tough-nut to crack. But if compare the protagonists of the film with that of Paanch, one can observe many similarities.

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The protagonists in Paanch are more or less aimless and they murder people more because of boredom than anything else. It is their way of making a statement to a society that's not bothered about their existence. This same kind of situation can be found in Made in Hong Kong, where the temptation to become a hitman is too much for Autumn Moon, because it means he will now be in a higher rank, a higher position. And this is where everything backfires, just like it does for the protagonists of Paanch.

All these four movies, explore a city’s connection to its youth, their rebellion and their dreams getting crushed as they are sucked into a never ending labyrinth of failure and hopelessness. The only person who finally moves toward a path of redemption is Dev, goaded by Chanda, which some thought was anti-climatic, but in the opinion of others was a befitting end.

A City of Hopelessness And Madness : Black Friday and Gulaal

Anurag Kashyap’s Gulaal took up a subject that was previously explored by J.P. Dutta in Batwara, which was about the act of secession planned by several princely states of Rajasthan who wanted to break away from India. Batwara was a mainstream Bollywood film, amongst the better made movies of the 80s. While Kashyap manages to create a tale that focuses on love, hope, loss and Rajputana nationalism around a fictional city that imbibes the Rajasthani culture and a chunk of history dedicated to the attempt of secession and the sacrifices one has to make for it.

Most Bollywood films have focused on Kashmir separatism, with Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider being the latest example of the same. But Kashyap took on a uncharted, unexplored piece of Indian history. Gulaal is definitely a study of internal terrorism, for as we see that the erstwhile princes are busy building an army, but power struggles mar their preparations with everyone striving for a bigger piece of the pie.

Kashyap’s Black Friday too focuses on terrorism, but here this act is supported by external forces. A hard-hitting movie on the subject of Mumbai bomb blasts of 1993, Kashyap meticulously re-creates the entire story, once again taking his inspiration from a book written by Hussain Zaidi. The movie had to face severe censorship problems as it was sensitive and was not allowed to release for around two years but once you watch it, you will realize that Kashyap left no stones unturned to capture that period.

Again, the important protagonist was the city of Mumbai itself, as Kashyap’s camera takes us through places we've never before seen on the big screen. Gulaal was bereft of all such things. Rather it chose to expose the double-crossings and hypocrisy attached to the price of freedom.

Of Sickles, Desi Kattas And Bombs: The Inspirations Behind Gangs of Wasseypur

For his magnum opus, Anurag Kashyap (as the opening credits of Gangs of Wasseypur mention) he is grateful to the Madurai triumvirate of Bala, Ameer and Sasikumar whose movies inspired him to create his Madurai-esque Wasseypur where violence is the way of life. Wasseypur is thematically similar to Madurai, as Anurag tries his best to present violence, with sickles replacing desi kattas followed by AK-47 and other weapons.

The tone of Gangs of Wasseypur and those of the films set in Madurai are hardly different as they try their best to lay bare the violence these cities have and most importantly all are inspired by real-life events. Gangs of Wasseypur is the story of the coal mafia and how they expanded themselves post-independence from the sleepy town of Wasseypur with age-old rivalries tinged in religious tones. The film is historical in nature, but is soaked in blood.

Kashyap’s gritty, terse narrative is influenced from the Tamil directors mentioned in the credits, such as  Sasikumar whose Subramanipuram serves as a major inspiration for Gangs of Wasseypur.

Subramaniapuram which is set in Madurai of the 80's is about five friends, their dreams and aspirations, political affiliations, how they plan revenge after being used for political gains and finally an unbelievable climax that makes the audience grasp with disbelief and dismay. This same narrative style is adapted for Gangs of Wasseypur, as backstabbing, killings and revenge form an instrumental part of it.

Mumbai Twilight: Bombay Velvet and The Girl in the Yellow Boots

Kashyap has a special relationship with Mumbai and especially its underbelly. Some might say he is Mumbai’s Orpheus who constantly makes a journey to those hellholes and back so that he could tell us their stories. Be it UglyThe Girl in the Yellow BootsBombay Velvet and now Raman Raghav 2.0, the city has always been Kashyap's muse. And it is not surprising. For it was under the tutelage of his mentor Ram Gopal Varma, Kashyap wrote that famous Bombay gangster movie of all time, Satya.

That Girl in Yellow Boots was a take on immigrants and how they managed to survive in a city that was out to exploit them. The story is told from the point-of-view of Ruth who is in the city searching for her father while keeping gangsters, abusive boyfriends and corrupt immigration officials at bay.

With Bombay Velvet, Kashyap finally managed to complete his dream project, a dream he had lived with for over a decade. The scale of Bombay Velvet was grand and one could easily connect it to that of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, which also was the story of how New York was formed.

Apart from that obvious connection to Gangs of New York, the film had a bit of a thematic semblance with Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen’s Calcutta Trilogies. All these movies are a form of urban exploration. From the more recent decades, we can also cite the example of Ram Gopal Varma, whose Gangster trilogy was also a study of the urban crime phenomenon.

Kashyap’s movies are a continuation of a tradition where the director makes a city his muse, much like Woody Allen uses New York, to explore the urban decadence and deconstruction, the creation of the city itself, the growth of the city into the globalized world as a new dawn beckons it.


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