Anurag Kashyap tells us he’s a child at heart no matter what his films – or eyes – may suggest. He also holds forth on his love for Tamil films and his ability to bounce back after a failure – “Even if my script gets stolen or I don’t get money or credit, I move on. I have 50,000 ideas, not just one.”
He’s written some of the most gritty tales seen on every entertainment medium, and directed quite a few of them. Crime thrillers, gangster sagas, love stories with a dark, delicious twist… but, at heart, Anurag Kashyap, who has completed nearly quarter a century in films, insists he’s like a child. “Somehow, every time I’ve acted, it’s been in a negative role. People tend to think my movies are me. The perception is that I’m very dark, because I make those kind of movies. But, the funniest people have the saddest lives. I have zero darkness in me; I put it all into films,” says the director who makes his debut in Tamil films with Ajay Gnanamuthu’s Imaikkaa Nodigal.
His eyes, Anurag laughs, don’t help either. “They’ve seen my big eyes. They tend to think I do drugs or alcohol, which I don’t. So, big eyes and I’m the evil psychopath.”
That said, the director, known to be a fine actor too – remember his presence as the philandering husband in the short film Chhuri or AR Murugadoss’ Akira, a remake of the Tamil hit Mouna Guru? – is not particularly fond of it.
Imaikkaa happened after Murugadoss told him that one of his former assistants Ajay (Gnanamuthu) was insistent on meeting him and that he had a role for him. It came at a phase when Anurag had no time to act, but he listened anyway. “But, I have a long history with Tamil cinema,” says Anurag. Everyone knows of his hat-tip to the ‘Madurai Triumvirate’ (directors Bala, Ameer and Sasikumar) in his seminal Gangs of Wasseypur. “This film happened by chance. I have been trying very hard to work with Vetri (Vetrimaaran) on the production side. “What Ajay narrated was very interesting, and he needed just 35 days, so I agreed. But, it kept getting pushed. Jayalalithaa passed away, the Jallikattu agitation took place…every time we finalised a shooting schedule, something or the other came in the way. Finally, it took two years. In between this, I finished Sacred Games and Manmarziyan. It so happened that all the actors’ dates in Imaikkaa Nodigal were combined, and I’d already committed to the film and shot one big sequence… Ajay is such a good guy, such a good guy,” he says.
Does praising a young filmmaker come easily? “It’s not generosity of thought,” Anurag insists. “I think I’m still a fanboy who consumes movies the same way I did years ago. When I go to film fests, I’m introduced as a cinephile and then as a filmmaker. Cinema is everything for me, I learn from it, I am constantly taking in from it. A lot of people tell me I’m still like a child when it comes to cinema.”
While Anurag the filmmaker is much feted, Anurag the actor is the more under-utilised avatar. But, that has been a conscious choice. “I used to do a lot of theatre when I was younger. Theatre is an actor’s medium, like cinema is a director’s. In a selfish way, I like things to be my medium. It’s very hard to let go of the director in me while acting. In a film set, I try to not stay there when not required. You might have the tendency to make suggestions. I don’t like actors to watch monitors. I never watched my monitor. I totally leave it to the director. I can follow directions, because I want my actors to follow directions. I am a very obedient actor.”
Anurag’s love story with Tamil cinema began because of the sheer accessibility. “Tamil films have been so rooted; Hindi films have started getting there. Earlier, it was all NRI romances. At that time, Tamil cinema was very accessible; now Malayalam has joined that. I’ve watched very few Telugu films. Did you know Satya (which he wrote for Ram Gopal Varma) has a Madras connect? It was mixed at Media Artists in Madras. Whenever Mani Ratnam, Rajiv Menon or Shankar did a film in Hindi, I wrote it. I developed two-three films with Rajiv, my film Paanch was mixed in Madras. I saw Selva’s (Selvaraghavan) first film (Thulluvadho Ilamai) and thought ‘Who’s this boy and what’s this film!’ Vetri has been a very good friend. I keep talking to them,” he elaborates. Then, there’s GV Prakash Kumar, who did the background score for the sweeping canvas that was Gangs of Wasseypur. Over the years, Anurag has stayed in touch with all of them, followed their work… “Last, year, I really loved Vikram Vedha. It was a good, commercial film. I liked elements of Aruvi, Aramm. I’ve been waiting to watch Mahanati, but I have not had the time to do so.”
Anurag has been responsible for honing the talents of many young actors, who’ve gone on to make a name for themselves. That way, does he realise what a natural he is on screen? “Let me put it this way. I know I understand acting. When I started out, in 1993, I would take on any role. I did four-five films, and was terrible on screen. I was good on stage and bad in film. I gave up the latter. But, because I did not transition well from stage to screen, I understood how to direct actors. Over time, I understood the medium of how to be an actor. But, it does not consume me the way direction does. This wait in between shots… there’s so much I can do with my time. I understand why some actors have flings and affairs… they don’t know what to do with their time. During Imaikkaa Nodigal, I caught up on my reading, writing and watching films. Spending time on yourself is never possible when you are directing. But, I’ll take up acting if it’s worth it.”
Ajay has been speaking of what a joy it was to work with Anurag. “Well, my actors will tell you that too. I understand the limitations of making a movie, and I am very secure in my place. Even when my script gets stolen or I don’t get money or credit, I move on. I have 50,000 ideas, not just one. I don’t like to dwell on the past or look far ahead into the future. I like to be in the present, in the now.”
That could also be one of the reasons why the filmmaker has been among the first to explore a new medium. “I was always ready for that. Every new thing that started has my name on it,” he says matter-of-factly. And, that’s true – “be it short films, stand-up comedy, AIB Roast, Netflix. I’m always open to new ideas. I’m not afraid of failure or greedy for success. I enjoy the process; that is most important for me. I usually don’t see my film after release. I don’t even stay in the country to know the result. I go on a holiday. Manmarziyan releases on the 14th (September). The same day, I’m on the jury of The Strasbourg European Fantastic Film Festival (SEFFF). It’s 10 days of films that I don’t usually get to watch…”
Is this innate need to stay in the present the reason he hasn’t allowed the trappings of filmdom to bog him down? “I don’t even realise that sometimes. I’ve got much more than what I’ve wanted in life. I never thought I’d get this far making films. Everyone speaks of a master plan. I don’t have one. I don’t fear failure, because I’m very good at starting again. After Bombay Velvet, I went ahead and wrote another script (Raman Raghav). I did not sit down and get depressed. I keep working on things, from big budget and small budget to medium budget…money has never been the criteria for me. I have my fetishes, yes, I love my shoes and spend money on them, but otherwise, I live very simply.
What are his thoughts on Imaikkaa Nodigal, where he is pitted against Nayanthara and Atharvaa Murali? “I’ve not seen the rushes, I’ve been hearing so much about it. I would like to see the finished film. I have to be a part of the process of finishing a film; if not, I stay away. I want to see what Ajay has made; once he sends across the subtitled version, I will screen it for everyone here.”
There’s a tenderness in Anurag’s voice when he speaks of Ajay. “He’s a brave director. I’m a filmmaker and when I don’t get something, I adapt. But, he knows what he wants, and he will find a way to get it, whatever the cost. I’ve seen some good filmmakers work that way. I don’t work that way, because I come from a place where I never had enough budget to make my films, and always adapted. Ajay has a much larger vision and I think he will become a very successful mainstream filmmaker. I liked what he did with Demonte Colony. He mixes up genres, plays around. He’s a very visual person and I’m looking forward to see what he has done with Imaikkaa Nodigal.”
Imaikka Nodigal releases on August 30.
The Anurag Kashyap interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.