Anurag Kashyap On The Indie Scene & What's Wrong With it!

By Yash Thakur. Posted on July 13, 2015

The release of Court, Killa and Labour of Love, the alternative scene has finally found a footing in the Indian film industry. And that's not it, Masaan, Umrika and Titli too are slated to release this year. This is an exciting to be an independent voice.

With great power comes great responsibility, they say. Anurag Kashyap's words carry a weight disproportionate to the box-office figures of his films. And that is because of who he is and what he stands for. Over the last decade, he has become the face of alternative Indian cinema and come to represent those who stand outside the pearly gates of family-driven business that mainstream bollywood has become. While his legion of fans swear by his words and works, Kashyap has never deterred from being the only thing that he knows to be: himself.

In probably one of the most extensive interviews in recent times, Anurag Kashyap spoke with Jamuura on what ails the indie scene in India today, where the indie filmmakers falter, his early days and his filmography and speaks about his decade-long passion project Bombay Velvet (the interview was taken just days before it's release). Read on to know more and make sure you take notes; this one's a gem.

We've got excerpts from the interview below for those who want to quickly browse through the highlight.

We know of your early days, but no one has a clear picture. How did your journey begin?

The first time I came to this city, I wanted to get into Prithvi Theatre. But I was not allowed. Back then, they had a lot of struggling artists hanging around there and so it was a rule that if you weren’t a part of a play or a production, you cannot enter in. So I became a waiter then; they couldn’t pay me, but they offered me food, which was a great deal; and thus I got to stay at Prithvi. So it’s not really a sad story. I made decisions in my life that were not supported by anybody. Like, I didn’t want to do the bigger movies; I didn’t want to do those TV shows.

I was far too educated to stay here and struggle. So my friends were literally embarrassed by me when I came to Bombay. It really didn’t affect me. I went on. When I first worked as a waiter, it was a conscious choice; not a struggle as described by people. People talk about it as a sad story, that I was miserable; I really wasn’t. I need to find time to sit on Wikipedia and correct it. (laughs) Wikipedia paints some picture and it becomes a mythology.

People only know of my work post Black Friday or Paanch; they don’t know the amount of work I had done for free; the number of scripts I had written. It was all driven by a certain kind of energy. I just wanted to do it right, meet the right kind of people, have the right discussions. This is how it has been throughout my life.

You have the most loyal and vociferous set of fans any Indian director has.

I have a big problem with fan following. I think it limits you. I completely insulate myself from it. I have my own life journey, like everyone else does. My journey was not dictated by what people wanted of me; it never began with what my father wanted me to do or what my friends wanted me to do.

You had a major role in shaping the alternative, or ‘indie’ cinema in the country as we know. What do you think of this indie movement today?

My biggest issue with today’s indie scene is that kids are making films which are more of a technical revolution than really an internal thing. And that's because there is access. There is a whole attitude of being served everything and not taking the harder road. I have talked to a lot of them. There are very few who’ll go all the way, really work on the scripts.

But do you think that is the predominant attitude out there?

Almost 80% of it is. Although I have met a few who are dedicated. You look at Chaitanya Tamhane, he is so inspiring, the way he goes about it; he has a point of view. You can talk to him about anything and regardless of his age, you know you will be a part of a serious conversation with him. There are people who will take the harder way and quietly make a film. I have seen a kind of unhealthy competition within the indie community, even more than there exists in mainstream Bollywood. The indie community is ready to pull down other (fellow) indie filmmakers faster than a mainstream filmmaker does with his/her peers. Very few indie filmmakers will go out and see another indie film. They will wait until it comes out for free. Everybody talks about it but nobody supports this kind of cinema. Change begins at home. When you start supporting it, when you start watching these films, only then can you expect other people to buy tickets for your films.

If you see, the whole generation of indie community is online. They are not going to get any money because their audience is also on the internet, waiting for the films torrent. They are not ready to go out and claim support, but instead are expecting something in return. That is what is happening and that is what will kill the movement. It will be limited to the internet. It won’t work until people get comfortable with the idea of that.

But is that such a bad thing?

Nothing is bad. It is a great thing. As long as they don’t wish for a theatrical release. The problem is that inside they resent it. Look at Srinivas Sunderrajan; he loves making his films, he loves putting them on the internet and he is very content with that. He is not resenting. Even Hola Venky director Sandeep Mohan; he knows he is not going to go through the normal route so he willingly chooses a different path and is content with it. Mainstream itself is becoming into an event cinema. We had a tough time finding screens and release dates for Ugly, inspite of having given 22 years of our lives in the industry. We still find it difficult to convince exhibitors, even though we have a system in place.

There was a time (when I came in), when there was this whole group of Saeed Mirza, Kundan Shah, Ketan Mehta; they would sit and discuss scripts and make films and celebrate each other’s films. When we started making films, we still carried that forward; a few of us. Back then, when we were just starting out, when Vishal's (Bharadwaj) Makdee and Maqbool was made, my own Paanch was made, Tigmanshu’s (Dhulia) Haasil was made; like in 5 years there were six films. There was a kind of a support system and those kind of films were celebrated by everybody else.  Now more films are being made but with less celebration.


Maybe the filmmaker's back then came from a similar social context?

Yes, there was a social context. People came from FTII (Film & Television Institute of India), NSD (National School of Drama), all sorts of places. But the thing is, there was a healthy support system. When NFDC stopped funding films, they were still there standing for each other, helping one another to get a film made. See that is what is missing today. On not even a single indie films credit list, do I see a fellow indie filmmakers name. Suppose I decided to support an indie; my name would go up there, but where are all the other indie filmmakers? This is not a collective. Everybody is so closed up and away from other people, the whole attitude of ‘my indie is better than yours’; we should be collectively competing against the bigger ones.

Maybe also because there isn’t a venue, where people can sit and share ideas?

I have seen clubs and hubs spring up across the world. You have garage cinemas, very popular across the world. Maybe your film is not going to bring the masses, but you can surely bring a certain audience to watch it. You can create a small screening space with 20 seats and create a cinema. The way they are now creating theatrical spaces for performances. When people stopped going to theaters, they started making performance spaces everywhere. There are a whole lot of venues coming up. Places like Matterdan have come up.

In Pune for example, we have these 4-5 spaces, where there is a specific community that goes to watch these films. We had Srinivas coming there, talking to the audience. Sandeep has been there and interacted with people. Mumbai has Matterdan, Hive and FilmBay now. But is Mumbai the place for this kind of indie cinema?

Mumbai is a place for cinema. All kinds of cinema. Screenings happen everywhere, even on rooftops. But people can do it much better, if they want to.

I genuinely believe that Indian cinema has the potential to outclass every other cinema. In fact, the west sees that in us more than we see it in ourselves.  Out of the French movies In Selection at Cannes this year, three are based on India. They have an Indian context. Either we are not telling those stories, or we are not going about it the right way.

The problem with most young filmmakers is that when they get a story and make a script, they think, ‘I should make a film.’ They think they are ready. They don’t go through the process of creating awareness, of getting funds. They are just in a hurry to get the film out and don’t take it through the right channels. For every one film that comes out, 100 just die. There is a lack of patience in this generation.

But again, indie filmmakers might complain that it is easy to get funding in the west than back home.

That’s not true. It is the easiest to make a film in India. India has such an obsession with cinema, it doesn’t matter how much loss we’re running in; because new investors keep coming in, giving you money to make another film. We are actually the healthiest film industry in terms of inflow of money and amount of content that we can put out there.

The idea of raising money is that somebody has invested in your film. We made That Girl In Yellow Boots with our money and then took it to festivals everywhere, allowing people to pick it up for screens. We sold the film for free. That opened up the channels. Today, in Scandinavian countries, if I want a release, they still recall me as the director of Yellow Boots.

Anurag Kalki

For a collective to form, it usually happens when ideas and intentions are similar.

It does happen with the right intention. Nothing happens by just talking. You've got to be physically active too. The worst thing about the social network is that everyone is just wasting time and they are really not putting that in their movies. It has actually slowed down the process; it’s an easy release. Earlier people used to hold their pent up thoughts and ideas inside and then it would come out in a burst. That is what is not happening. I look back at all these filmmakers at PFC (Passion Of Cinema), I was the least articulate of all of them but I was more physically active, get things done. Some of them who were really articulate, they are still there, talking.

Most of our filmmakers are so impressionable, that they have forgotten themselves. They only remember the memories of the discussions, their film schools. And in their head, they are only catering to that smaller audience. But then there are filmmaker's like Gurvinder Singh. He’s a very quiet filmmaker, but he carries his Punjab with him.

Let’s talk about your movies. Personally, I am a big fan of Gulal; very few people in Hindi cinema write the kind of scripts that you do and your characters some of the most interesting ever.

Supporting cast makes the film. A lot of the story and the ‘moments’ in the films come from the actors themselves. That’s why I spend a lot of time on casting. The actors are not a passive part of the story; some of the best lines of my movies came from the actors. Like, “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of bhosdika!” came from Kay Kay because the actor in him felt free. While the audience howled in the theater, I too laughed behind the camera. The iconic line from Wasseypur, ‘Beta, tumse na ho paayega’ was never in the script. It came from Tigmanshu himself. The actors have to be an active participant in the film. Actors are very intelligent people; one cannot undermine their contribution.

A lot of people want to know about Anurag Kashyap’s writing process.

See, each person has their own writing process and they have to discover it. There is no a fixed writing process. I absolutely hate the 3-act structure that they teach. The three act structure is good to analyze your film, after you’ve written it. You cannot apply it before writing it. I don’t know where my writing process comes from; I discovered it by chance. I have written every film in two days. Anybody who’s seen me writing knows that. The streak comes only once or twice in a year though.

How would you assess your own growth?

I don’t look back. I don’t watch a film after it is made. I learn my art of filmmaking from first time filmmakers. Because that is where you’ll see new elements. Of course, once the system sucks them, they stop being original. Some do keep reinventing. Like, I love Gaspar Noe. He is always pushing boundaries; he doesn’t give a fuck about the film being a blockbuster or a flop. Other filmmakers are fearless, like Paul Thomas Anderson. He’s absolutely fearless. Some films of his might work, some might not work, but he’ll still go out and do them, which nobody wants him to do.

A lot of time and effort goes into making a film; you have worked for a long time now, how do you decide, ‘okay this is finished, this shall be the next project’?

I don’t know what I am going to do next. I have been working on Doga for a very long time. I have script 1 & 2 ready. I see Doga as a franchise. I want to shoot two parts together; since it is a post-heavy film. But we do require a lot of money for it. And besides, it’s very hard to find an actor who will be willing to be hidden behind a mask for the longest part of the film. There are other projects in waiting too. Simultaneously there are other scripts that I have been working on, music I have been working on.

We were lucky to get a peek into the mind of one of our favourite director. This is the first in a series of such extensive interviews that we intend to do with filmmakers from across India.

Also check this out:

Join The Jamuura Brigade & Make Your Film

Online Workshop On 'Secrets Of Screenwriting' With Kamlesh Pandey, At 6 PM, On 8th August


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