Indian writer-director Anurag Kashyap prefers the dark and dysfunctional to the frothy effervescence of Bollywood. “I try to show an India not seen before in a Bollywood film, its underbelly. The story should be rooted in India because that’s where I’m from,” he says.
As a result, the non-conformist film-maker has attracted his share of controversy. His first feature, Paanch in 2003, was caught up in censorship battles and never released, and his next feature, Black Friday, about investigations into the serial bomb blasts that shook Mumbai in 2003, was banned for 20 months despite screening in competition at the Locarno International Film Festival in 2004 and winning the grand jury prize at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles in 2005. It was eventually released theatrically in India, the US and South Africa in 2007 to critical acclaim.
This year, however, things are on track for Kashyap, who also directed the 2007 Hindi-language films No Smoking, which screened out of competition at the Rome Film Festival in 2007, and the animation Hanuman Returns. His latest project, Dev.D is gearing up for a February release in India. Produced by UTV Spot Boy, the film is a modern-day adaptation of the 1917 novel Devdas by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (it was also the subject of a 2002 Bollywood hit). Dev.D stars Abhay Deol as a self-destructive man. In post-production is Gula, a love story and thriller set in the Indian state of Rajhastan, produced by Zee Productions.
It could have been very different. Kashyap was training as a scientist until a visit to the International Film Festival of India (Iffi) in Delhi in 2003 prompted a career change. “I saw five films a day for 10 days and then gave up my studies, moved to Bombay and decided to get into the film industry,” Kashyap recalls.
With no real plan of action, he lived on the streets for eight months until film-maker Ram Gopal Varma saw one of his short films and hired him to write 1998’s Satya, which won the critics’ award for best film at the Filmfare awards in Mumbai in 1999.
Kashyap struggles to define his film-making: “I’m still trying to figure out how I categorise my work. It’s neither Bollywood nor Hollywood, and it isn’t even arthouse. I want to find my own audience without changing what I do and without having to appease anyone.”
Kashyap is keen to find the right international partner to help with the distribution and reach of his films. “I’m looking at getting finance from abroad because they would know what to do with my films. Black Friday is now being talked about in the West because (Slumdog Millionaire director) Danny Boyle has been recommending it.”
The prolific writer already has two projects he hopes will attract co-production interest: a trilogy entitled Bombay Velvet, based on true crime stories in 1960s Mumbai, to be produced by Indian outfit Studio 18, and thriller Happy Ending, in pre-production, which stirred up interest at the recent Film Bazaar at Iffi in Goa.