By Aditya Savnal. Posted on May 12, 2015
Any film made by or even associated with Anurag Kashyap is always eagerly awaited. No other director in Bollywood arouses the kind of passion he does and his legion of fans swear by him. Bombay Velvet starring Ranbir Kapoor & Anushka Sharma is a period film that is set in 1960's Bombay with larger than life sets and is Kashyap's biggest film yet. No wonder the film has caught everyone's eye and generated a lot of curiosity already.
Thani & Vasan Bala co-wrote Bombay Velvet, laying out the possibilites on which the final script is based. In the 9 years since they started working on Bombay Velvet, much has changed for them. While Bombay Velvet is the first script they worked on, they've since gone on to write other films. Vasan Bala directed Peddlers in 2012, which despite winning acclaim at festivals like Cannes & TIFF, is still languishing in the vaults of its India distributors.
We met up with Vasan & Thani and over a few rounds of tea, spoke about their journeys, what went into the script, the research and challenges involved in writing it and their experience of working with Kashyap. We have put together the excerpts from this insightful interview.
Thani - I am a Bangalorean. I met Anurag Kashyap in 2002 at FTII. I was in my first year, he was conducting a screenwriting workshop for my senior batch. I had stayed in touch with him since then. But once I watched a bootleg copy of Black Friday I knew I had to go to Bombay and meet him, and work on any damn film he was making. Ever since that meeting Anurag has been super generous to me. This was in March 2006. Anurag was leaving for Turkey, for the shoot of Mani Ratnam’s Guru.
I went with a few of my writings to Anurag and after pretending to have gone through them, he said he will get back to me about No Smoking once he returned from Mani Ratnam’s shoot. A few meetings later he brought up Bombay Velvet and presented whatever copies of Blitz he had. He told me that there is this film, set in the 60’s and the tentative title was Bombay Velvet and it was set around jazz clubs in Mumbai. An idea for a film that Gyan Prakash & Anurag had agreed upon. I was very excited about it.
Vasan - Once we got on board for Bombay Velvet, Anurag started making Dev D. And he said people working on Bombay Velvet will not be working on Dev D. I somehow manipulated my way through and ended up working on Dev D. I think the whole active process of working on Bombay Velvet was from 2006 to 2009. After that it was more about waiting for the film to be made.
Vasan – Every Anurag film has multiple writers. Gulaal had five writers, while No Smoking and Bombay Velvet had four writers. Our primary job was to research, do the legwork, create ideas around plot points, who the primary characters could be and then provide backstories. The exhaustive process of deciding what to edit and what to retain in the script, took a lot of time.
Thani - We did a few drafts of the screenplay with Gyan Prakash. It was pretty cool to hang out with Gyan, not just as an Historian who was going to publish his tome on Bombay but also as the originator of the idea of Bombay Velvet, and as the co-screenwriter. But a lot of the journey for me was with Vasan. Vasan cracked some of the crucial elements in the screenplay that is closest to what is now the final film. Anurag Kashyap at that point had christened him ‘Vasan Ellroy Bala’. Vasan truly is Vasan Ellroy Bala. Once Anurag came in, it was a pleasure to watch the master at work, giving direction to his opus, and including us at every stage of the process.
Vasan On The Sets Of Bombay Velvet
Vasan – Ever since we got on board, we have been digging up things & researching & there was also some material that was sourced by Gyan. The book wasn’t there then, it came out in 2010. There was some material like the Blitz & other newspapers. Getting excited and digging more stuff was our starting point.
We were excited and also clueless because the story had immense possibilities. There is so much more to the era that we were tapping into. There was so much to the genre and the characters we were working with. Noir has so many possibilities. We also were working on a tight budget but we were very sure that this would be a standout film whenever it gets made.
From living in a 100 rupee accommodation in Colaba, to talking to sailors and other people from that era as a part of the research, Thani has gone through many things while writing the script of the film.
The biggest challenge was where to end the writing and what to present to Anurag. Our intention was to put ideas on the table & present it to him. He would then pick it up and mould it in his own way. There were so many possibilities with the film. It could be an investigative film, a love story or an expose.
Thani – We spoke to a lot of retired law enforcement officers from that era who had an intimate knowledge of the street.
In fact some of the other characters were bigger earlier; like the investigative cop played by KK or Raveena Tandon, who now has a cameo in the film and the cop’s assistant played by Vicky Kaushal. Vivaan’s character was to be initially played by John Abraham and was a much bigger character.
Thani With A Tommy Gun On The Sets Of Bombay Velvet
Vasan – The characters come from the very basis of film noir. Characters who are ambitious and having broken hearts and trying to survive in a broken city. The mix of these is a potent combination. Noir is about young and old good looking people and this is perfect noir.
The tricky thing about the script was the education. For the young audience, you don’t have to explain plot points like the cocaine deal. But here we were talking about things like land deal, reclamation scam. How do you tell it to the audience? Do you want to go the Nolan way by having Alfred tell things to the audiences? When you get someone to explain the details, it becomes much easier and we didn’t want to do that.
Moreover In Anurag’s films, you only write the characters for the men. The women you leave it to him. He writes them exclusively. All the women characters in his films, be it Shivlee, Kiran, Chanda or Richa’s character in Gangs Of Wasseypur, were written by him. Once the women come into the script, the dynamics of the film change. This film has Anushka as the only female Protagonist and is the story of the men around her.
Our thing was to build the foundation & give it to Anurag Kashyap. After that you have to witness how it shapes up. After a point you have to be an observer.
Thani – When we had started working on the film in 2006, Anurag hadn’t yet had a release as a director. Black Friday released in February 2007. Looking back now, it seems like a plan was in place in Anurag's mind. In hindsight, it feels like this was the right time to do Bombay Velvet after the success of several other projects.We worked on the film for 9 years. But we would happily go through another 9 years, if the result is a film like Bombay Velvet. Probably only 3 people could have made this film in Bollywood. Dibakar Banerjee, Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bharadwaj or maybe Mani Ratnam.
Thani – I was working alone for a while. Vasan joined us soon. And in a year’s time the initial few photocopies and research material was multiplied hundred folds. We got a lot of information clandestinely from the archives of various publications, and libraries. All of it needn't have been, and shouldn't be, clandestine. It should’ve been openly available. It is simply because of a poor documentation culture that we’re treated with suspicion when we show any interest in whatever little exists.
We’re required to write mails seeking permission for ‘perusal’. I detest the expression – we shouldn't be perusing, or wonder how to go about perusal, or how even to spell it. It should be about accessing. We talked to a lot of people of the earlier generation while researching the film.There are two other screenplays that have emerged out of what was initially work for one film and we would love to see these films made by Anurag Kashyap, whenever he chooses to make them.
Vasan - My family's been in Bombay since the 30's. So i had some idea of the old Bombay from conversations with my elders. There were different imageries of people living in Mumbai back then. There was a huge colonial hangover. If you were a graduate you dressed in a certain manner.
The people back then didn't speak like the characters of the films made in that era. They spoke like us and didn't speak in the refined Hindi of the films back then.
Vasan & Thani Play Cameos In The Film
Vasan – The prohibition era, the start of mill agitation and birth of Nariman Point were the three major factors. The film is true to the times it is set in.
Thani – The making of the city was a part of the story we wanted to tell. Also the prohibition era and other factors influenced the story we wanted to tell, echoing classic noir films of the 30s & 40s from America.
Vasan – Anurag doesn’t discriminate. If there is a spark in you, he will put you in the arena. After that you have to scramble your way through. He is not too articulate with his thoughts and ideas in the beginning because he is also discovering his own thoughts. But once the shooting starts and he figures out the tone of the film, he's set. After that everyone around has to keep pace with him.
I respect him a lot more today than i did earlier. Back then we were supporting someone who was on the fringes of the system. But even then he was fighting battles which we didn't know of. And he's still here, fighting much bigger battles without compromising on his vision. He's stuck to his guns.
Thani – It helped to have known him earlier. When i started working on the project, there was an excitement because Anurag had offered us this project and given us complete freedom. But we were clueless about what to do and how to go ahead with this project, because there was way too much that could be done with it. It was all very exciting and very intimidating at the same time. Lonely, too. The freedom which Anurag gives is terrific for any newcomer.
Vasan – There's Sidehero and then there are few other concepts that I am working on. It would be great if someone gives me the money and backing & finds the project viable. The buzzword these days is 'viable'.
I am also discovering the other facet of Bollywood. However hard it may be, I have accepted that I am part of the system. I am trying to wriggle through it and learn ways of getting around it.
Thani – Vasna, a small-town murder film that am preparing to direct soon. I had written Basra with Navdeep Singh. We went into pre-production twice but it didn’t take off. Am sure Navdeep wants to revive the film at some point. I have also written a screenplay for Mr. Ram Gopal Varma – one of his dream projects which is yet to take off. There’s Zubaan releasing this year, a film I co-wrote with debutant director Mozez Singh & Sumit Roy. It’s an exciting film with Vicky Kaushal & Sarah-Jane Dias in the lead, and a great Soundtrack by Ashutosh Pathak.Pics Courtesy : Oamkar Chavan