After becoming a familiar face on the festival circuit with films such as That Girl In Yellow Boots and Dev D, Mumbai-based director Anurag Kashyap is attempting something much more ambitious with his current project, Gangs Of Wasseypur.
Synopsis: A two-part gangster epic following a family living in the heartland of India’s coal mine mafia over six decades.
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Writer: Anurag Kashyap, Syed Zeeshan Qadri, Akhilesh Jaiswal, Sachin Ladia
Producers: Anurag Kashyap, Sunil Bohra, Guneet Monga, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chaddha, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Piyush Mishra, Reema, Syed Zeeshan Qadri, Huma Qureshi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
Music: Sneha Khanwalkar
Budget: Approx $5m
Financing: Viacom 18 Motion Pictures
Countries of Production: India
Release date: Second half 2011
Currently in post-production, the film is a two-part gangster epic set in the heartland of India’s coal industry – the city of Dhanbad in the state of Jharkand – a lawless place where the local coal mine mafia hold sway. The story follows a family locked in a blood feud with a local union leader-turned-mafia boss from the 1940s to the present day.
Kashyap says he decided to make the film when he was approached by a writer, Syed Zeeshan Qadri, who had written a 120-page story about the region based on real events. Although the story was obviously heavily influenced by cult Brazilian film City Of God, Kashyap saw the potential to turn it into an original, exciting project. He dispatched a team of researchers to the region to check up on facts, and started work with Qadri and two fresh young writers – Sachin Ladia and Akhilesh Jaiswal – on the screenplay.
“Wasseypur is a real place – it used to be a small slum and is now part of Dhanbad,” explains Kashyap. “I wanted to get into the socio-political scenario of the region from the time of the British, the war for control of the coal mines when the British left, and where the mafia came from. It was such a mineral-rich place, which is how the mafia evolved. In the early days there was still a code of conduct, but too many people came in, and it became a wild place where every kid was carrying a gun.”
With so much material, Kashyap felt the project had to be a two-part film, and he took another unconventional turn when he decided he didn’t want to use any major stars.
“Shooting in India is unlike shooting anywhere in the world – this is a highly-populated country with crowded streets, and the moment there are stars, the crowd goes crazy and you can’t shoot on the real streets,” Kashyap explains. “I wanted to shoot the place itself, rather than build a lot of sets, and shoot people as they really are. So to capture the real atmosphere we had to cast faces that are not well known so the crowd doesn’t pay extra attention.”
This bold decision in such a star-driven industry deterred Kashyap’s usual producing partner UTV Motion Pictures from financing the project, although they helped with some of the initial development costs. Although Kashyap’s production house, Anurag Kashyap Productions, produces many independent films and keeps a tight handle on costs, the project was too ambitious to be considered low-budget, and therefore low-risk, by Indian standards.
Finally, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, the film arm of the joint venture between Viacom and Indian broadcaster Network18, was convinced by Kashyap’s vision and stepped up to fully finance the film.
The ensemble cast includes strong character actors such as Manoj Bajpayee (Rajneeti), Piyush Mishra (Gulaal) and Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Patang). Tigmanshu Dhulia, who is better known in India as the director of Charas and Paan Singh Tomar, plays the mafia boss, and Qadri also plays a part – a condition of giving Kashyap the original story.
The film, which shot from December last year to March this year, is ground-breaking in other respects. Kashyap decided he wanted the shooting techniques to mirror the cinema of the period they were portraying. So early portions of the film, set in the 1950s and 1960s, have been shot in a classic style on film, while later sections are digital, handheld and colour corrected.
There will also be a strong authentic flavour to the film as it was shot on real locations, with real people speaking the local dialect and singing local songs. As Jharkand is a problematic place to shoot, the crew filmed nearby in the area around Varanasi, in the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where Kashyap grew up.
“We had incredible support from the local people – they gave us their homes and we had crew staying in their villages,” Kashyap says. “We only built the stuff that we had to blow up, and afterwards repainted their houses and replaced the broken windows and doors.”
Viacom 18 is handling international distribution of the film and has high hopes for its performance outside India. The film has been made first and foremost for an Indian audience – it has songs and a strong local flavour – but the action, realism and gangster themes could make it interesting to non-Indian audiences overseas.
Kashyap is also well known on the festival circuit – That Girl In Yellow Boots screened out of competition at Venice last year, while Udaan, one of several films that Kashyap is producing with up-and-coming directors, screened at Cannes in Un Certain Regard.
“I want to see how people respond to a film like this, because at heart it’s a gangster movie but it’s many things apart from that,” Kashyap says. “It’s a story about families – three generations of a dynasty – a coming-of-age story, and also the story of a son who resents his father because he has other women in his life. There are many different elements.”
Next up: Kashyap is planning to direct period crime thriller Bombay Velvet for Viacom 18, athough he may do a smaller film before that which is based on the true story of a 12-year-old boy who was lynched because he wrote a love letter to a young girl.