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Showing posts with label anurag kashyap. Show all posts
Showing posts with label anurag kashyap. Show all posts

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tracking the coming of age of Bollywood’s enfant terrible -Namrata Joshi

चवन्‍नी के पाठकों के लिए अंग्रेजी आउटलुक में छपा नम्रता जोशी का लेख... 
 Swear By Him
It was in the August of 2001 that Outlook got a call from the writer of Satya, Shool and Kaun about a run-in with the censors over his directorial debut, Paanch. About five youngsters who are part of a rock group called Parasites, the film was rejected by the Central Board of Film Certification for glorifying drugs, sex and violence, besides the foul language and negative characters. Paanch never saw the light of day and jokingly came to be referred to as the most widely seen unreleased film in the history of Indian cinema. Its director Anurag Kashyap, however, became a regular presence in our Bollywood forays—mostly for controversial reasons. In a scathing column in 2004, he got after every big name in the industry, from Khalid Mohammed to Subhash Ghai. “We are running a donkey’s race, swimming in the shallow end of mediocrity, believing we are masters of the sea,” he wrote. Letters poured in, in provocation.
For many years thereafter, Anurag remained a filmmaker in search of a debut, acquiring in the process a new middle name: jinxed. Black Friday, a no-holds-barred recreation of the 1993 Bombay blasts, came to be stuck for a few years because of a court stay. No Smoking (2007) did get a release but got roundly thrashed for being a dense, pretentious and self-indulgent take on fascism. Eventually it took Dev.D (2009), a reinterpretation of Sharat Chandra’s Devdas, to rescue him from oblivion and set him on an upward trajectory.
It was still hard, though, to imagine a Kashyap film as the stuff of huge kitschy hoardings, releasing with more than 800 prints and running more than five shows a day in some suburban multiplex. Gangs of Wasseypur 1 and 2 has changed that. They have made him a brand, one with more than a dozen films riding on him (see box). Anurag Kashyap is now the toast of international film fests, attending Cannes with three films and a 40-strong contingent, and due at Toronto, four films in tow. “He has got acceptability, visibility in a certain constituency that frequents the multiplexes,” says Shohini Ghosh, professor at the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia. “In that sense, he is a mainstream filmmaker now, but an interesting mainstream filmmaker.”
Remarkable about Anurag’s success is that he has no qualms about working with new people, taking risks with untested talent or backing projects of debutants. If Gangs... brought us face-to-face with lesser-known names like Nawazuddin, Huma Qureshi and Richa Chaddha, Bombay Velvet will have a script written by historian Gyan Prakash. “I like their energy,” says Anurag, “and I have believed in a conscious attempt at not playing safe.” No other filmmaker in Bollywood, not even his favourites Vishal Bhardwaj and Dibakar Banerjee, is taking such risks. Says Umesh Kulkarni, director of Vihir and Deool, “Good cinema has to be a movement like the New Wave, Dogma. And he has the courage to back and produce all kinds of films, not just his own.” Filmmaker and friend Sudhir Mishra affirms that: “He’s putting his weight behind all sorts of films.”
Anurag also gives the young creative freedom like no one else. He handed Wasseypur’s script to composer Sneha Khanwalkar and lyricist Varun Grover and asked them to create music of their choice for various points in the narrative. “I delegate a lot,” he says. In return, he expects total commitment and hard work. But unlike even his own mentor RGV, he doesn’t hog the limelight. “It’s about the whole team,” he says.
His greatest strength, Anurag claims, is his lack of insecurity. He will let industry people read his film scripts. He has let journos see early cuts of his films. “It improves films, it’s a constantly evolving process,” he says. The only rule is not to do what people expect you to do but what you want to do. Says Mishra, “He is stubborn in what he wants. He has the courage to say no even when circumstances demand a yes.” There is one thing, though, that he has learned over the years. “You are taking money from someone and he needs it back,” he says. The Wasseypurs may have changed that.
With success, however, has come criticism. Many feel he has lost his innocence, begun playing to the gallery, is using and abusing media at his convenience; that his idealism is nothing but empty bluster. “I don’t wear idealism on my sleeve any more,” he admits. “I am going along the industry way but creating my own path.” Criticism keeps him going, it’s praise that makes him anxious. “I am trained to deal with the public not liking me. I am used to being criticised.”
And he has criticised others in return, recklessly at that. Bollywood’s enfant terrible has taken on many holy cows and powerful individuals, be it Bhansali or RGV’s films, YRF’s filmmaking or blasting Amitabh Bachchan for allegedly playing dirty with Bedabrata Pain’s Chittagong over Abhishek starrer Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey. “We’re used to nobody saying anything. I engaged and fought.”
Success, however, is also the great equaliser in Bollywood. The Big B has been recommending Wasseypur to his Twitter followers even as one wonders whether the white flag portends Abhishek landing up in a Kashyap film. In an answer to the query, Anurag shows me the long SMS he has sent Big B, an apology as well as a dig, from Bachchan’s “sabse bada, moonhphat aur bewakoof fan”. There is no reply in his inbox yet.
The entry into the big league has not gone to his head yet, he’s probably still coming to terms with it. Like when I ran into him at Delhi airport soon after the release of Dev.D and he threw me a big grin: “My film is making money.” I asked him to write another column. “I won’t be able to do it,” he replied. “There’s no angst left in me any more. I won’t be able to say anything provocative.” Anurag was in a happy place post Dev.D, and not only because of its success, Kalki Koechlin too had entered his life. “There is stability in life,” he tells me now. “Did I tell you this is my own house?”
He’s talking of the Versova duplex, where huge posters of In the Mood for Love and Jean Paul Belmondo, not any trappings of stardom, adorn the walls of the living room. The stairs leading up to the study are lined with family pictures, he with daughter Aaliya and Kalki. He blames it on Kalki. “I am not driven by nostalgia,” he says. For him, life is cinema, cinema is life. The evidence lies in the DVD-lined walls of his study. Has he catalogued the collection? “In my head,” he says, rolling a cigarette. He admits he wrote dialogues in crappy films like Shaka Laka Boom Boom to build a collection that most of us would turn thieves for. Now working in ads feeds this film-buying frenzy. He has no other indulgences in life, save books. And maybe good booze. “I travel economy. Kapde apne aap mil jaate hain,” he says.
What about family? Sister Anubhuti works on his projects while brother Abhinav is himself in the big league with Dabangg under his belt. His parents—an engineer father and a teacher mother, now retired in Varanasi—are not his core audience. They are hardcore Bollywood buffs. His own early memories of movies are of Bachchan and Dharmendra, of watching 3-4 films at a go on a rented VHS, of catching Heat and Dust, Junoon and Ankur on DD. He breaks into Jeeta tha jiske liye from a fave small-town movie, Dilwale. He tells you how Loha still gets played in Varanasi theatres. International films happened to him much later—when he was doing street theatre with Delhi’s Jan Natya Manch and Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves became the epiphany that made him pack his bags and move to Bombay. Today he has enviable linkages with Dardenne Brothers, Fatih Akin, Danny Boyle, Michael Winterbottom, Danis Tanovic et al. Martin Scorsese may call soon.
Like them, cinematic quality informs Anurag’s own craft. Shohini Ghosh finds him the most exciting Indian director cinematically. “It’s about the telling as much as the story. He shoots things in a manner that you are riveted by the narrative even when the story is not interesting. He draws you in,” she says. Umesh Kulkarni finds his use of music interesting. “It’s like an actor,” he says, at times, rising above and compensating for the film’s flaws, like in Gulaal. “He has a vision and stamp on life, and communicates with the audience. He doesn’t just mumble to himself,” says Mishra.
However, Ghosh finds the political ambivalence in his films puzzling. Perhaps because Kashyap himself is politically aware, but not a political creature. The crime, violence subculture and a male universe are other leitmotifs. Ghosh finds his films have “too many men doing manly things”. However, women do hold their own, though Ghosh thinks they need to go beyond just being sexually liberated, “he needs to get into emancipatory sexual politics.” In his defence, Anurag says, “My women can’t be girls next door, they can’t be pretty faces, there has to be more to them.”
This is a man who knows what he’s doing. What he needs to guard himself against is The Anurag Kashyap Myth, the trap of a glorious self-image. “He has been lionised by a small group of people in a very fulsome manner,” says Santosh Desai, MD & CEO, Futurebrands India Ltd. He has become a posterboy, a whole bunch of young filmmakers and film buffs (jokingly called Kashyaptards) having their own demands and expectations of him. It’s something Anurag realises: “I feel I am getting categorised.” They want to lock him into a formula but he wants to do something they may not expect from him post-Wasseypur. “I have fought with the industry all this while. It’s the fanboys I have to fight now.” With Kashyap, the battles change but never quite end.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Anurag Kashyap : An Auteur Demystified

चवन्‍नी के अनुरागियों के लिए यह लेख मैड अबाउट मूवीज से लिया गया है। धैर्य और श्रद्धा है तो आनंद उठाएं।
 -OORVAZI
Auteur‘is a French word which translated in English means ‘author’,  the creator of the work. Having said that, cinema unlike the other arts like poetry, painting etc. is a collective art and includes contributions from other artists to make it a completed film and is not the work of a sole artist. However, the ‘Auteur Theory’ suggests that there is one prime force that leads to the creation of the film and that individual guides all the processes of filmmaking. It is the vision and worldview of this individual who makes the film special and thus a work of art. The ‘Auteur Theory’ was born out of the French New Wave movement in cinema pioneered by the critic and filmmaker Francoise Truffaut ( he wrote an important article ‘ a certain tendency in French Cinema’ for the Cahiers du Cinema magazine in 1954)which was a protest to liberate the medium of cinema from its old conventions, asking for freedom for the director to express himself beyond the reliance on literature and demanded respect for the director who is to be  treated as an independent artist in the medium of cinema enabling him to create a body of work, like any other artist, dwelling on themes and developing his distinctive style.
Why do I regard Anurag Kashyap as an auteur and chose to analyze his body of work because I feel there is a struggle -  there is a creative voice that wants to rebel and a heart full of  feelings. His films contain a personal vision and a distinctive style which as an artist interests me to observe and examine.
What is the place, in the history of cinema, of this young filmmaker? He is not revolutionary but belongs to the rebels, he is not radical but belongs to the non formula, he is not the first artist but belongs to the world of artists, and he is not extraordinary but does not belong to the ordinary either.
In India after 1950 there was a parallel cinema movement which was literally created as a force opposed to the popular mainstream film industry with higher ideals and broke the conventional rules set out by popular cinema like happy endings, songs etc.  Anurag Kashyap belongs to that alternate cinema movement in India today. It has evolved to not necessarily being opposed to mainstream cinema but seems to be seeking if it can maintain its soul and yet remain mainstream.  It’s interesting to note that Anurag started his film career with his feature film Black Friday(2007)  financed by Midday Multimedia (with a mere budget of Rs 4.5 Crores)who were new to filmmaking and with his latest film Gangs of Wasseypur(2012) has the support and backing of a major Corporate  – Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, produced by Sunil Bohra (with an app budget of Rs 9.20 Crores for GOW Part One and a collection of Rs. 10 Crores in the opening weekend). History and common sense both suggest ‘Less money is more freedom’ for an independent filmmaker or a director in a studio system (rather corporate setup in today’s terms), so what interestingly remains to be seen is will all the bigger budget trappings compromise the ‘spirit’ of  films in the near future for an auteur like Anurag.
For an Auteur to enter the system and yet retain his personal freedom and smuggle the ‘soul’ into it (as Martin Scorsese puts it) is an interesting challenge. Also till now he has largely been opposed to the star system and has not used big stars even for his recent film Gangs of Wasseypur  – will he venture, in the near future making bigger budget films and using stars, if he does what will be the price he pays is the big question. Best summed up in Anurag’s own words on the release of his first film Black Friday(2007).
“Every rebel becomes a conformist..my real insecurity begins now” ( Feb 13th 2007 http://anuragkashyap.tumbhi.com/uncategorized/black-friday-introspecting-156 )
The Auteur and his influence of his own life
Every Auteur consciously or otherwise is exploring certain pet themes and thus his body of work reflects his thought process and insights on the subject. The personal life of an auteur cannot be divorced from his films. This interplay is different every time, sometimes more subtle, sometimes more overbearing, which can include premise, locations, character or any or everything. If the filmmaker does not involve himself  its the work of a craftsman and not an artist.
I feel the starting point for a true artist is that he/she is sensitive to life unfolding and also aware of their inner self. There is a constant process of questioning and probing for the truth.
Anurag was a sensitive child – as a young boy in school he wrote a poetry on suicide but it was not seen as an expression of pain by a sensitive artist but rather misunderstood and perceived wrongly as a state of depression and was recommended treatment. His keen sense of observation, his originality and creativeness in his schoolwork were never understood or encouraged in his childhood instead his voice was drowned in the routine and security of a conformist existence. He felt like an outcast in a prestigious school where he did not know English and was teased by others. He always had a voice but nobody heard him. This continued even with his films as one film after another was banned (starting with Paanch, Black Friday,Gulaal) but, as he himself says, that was a very important part of his life, those failures really shaped him and in fact interestingly entered and become part of his artistic world of exploration.
No Smoking mirrors my struggle in the industry. That’s why it’s most dear to me and it’ll always remain so, more than Dev. D and more than Black Friday.” (Interview with Bikas Mishra – Dear Cinema Feb 8th 2009).

An important layer of the film is Kafka’s Trial and this takes us back to an early influence on Anurag in his initial struggling days in Mumbai. He had written a play and showed it to Govind Nihalani, who appreciated the work and asked him to read Isben and gave him Kafka’s Trial to read and adapt to film. At that point in time all this confounded Anurag’s confusion as he was going through a tough time in his life and as a result Anurag stopped taking Govind’s calls and meeting him. But its interesting to note how this finds itself later in a film that he makes.
And Anurag says about the film at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi “The first book that I read in English was Kafka’s Trial (Anurag could not read English till the age of 17 years)  I never could understand it but it never left me.  If you work in any system its very Kafkaesque, you don’t know what is going on, you cannot figure it out. And you don’t know what is wrong with you. I could not understand why Black Friday was banned. I could not understand if a book could exist why the film could not come out. I could not understand why Paanch was banned. I could not understand why I could not make Gulaal….what is wrong with speaking up.”
“Just smoking becoming a metaphor it became a very personal movie. And the end portion where the things are not explained is also because I never could understand what was going on with my life so I felt let the audience also feel the same thing.”
The motif of smoking however as a metaphor for freedom is introduced in his first short film Last Train to Mahakali (1999) which the filmmaker later takes on to make it a major aspect in his film No Smoking(2007).
However the film No Smoking was marketed by an item number by Bipasa Basu, where I feel the target market seemed to be all wrong. An audience who would be lured to a theatre with an item number is not the deserving viewer for a film like No Smoking.

Another very personal film is That Girl in Yellow Boots(2010). Anurag seems to be confronting his painful past of sexual child abuse which he experienced for 11 years. “ I came to Mumbai brimming with angst, bitterness and a sense of violation and isolation. Thanks to the love of my life, Kalki Koechlin, I am completely cured of my acrimony.”(TOI Subhash K Jha, Nov 11, 2009, 10.51 am IST) These words of Anurag are revealing that as a young man when he came to Mumbai  to make films he had a lot of pain inside him and a voice that wanted to be heard. The film has as its theme child abuse and incest, which we realize only at the end of the film when the protagonist is confronted with a bitter truth that the father she was so desperately searching for was a pervert, a child abuser and had sexually violated her sister and caused her death. The film leaves the character and the audience in a state of shock and deep pain which are not expressed with tears, not taken to the level of sentimentality but to a much deeper level.
The film is not limited to the pain of a personal experience; it reveals the underbelly of society and provides a glimpse of the darker side of life at close quarters. Above all the film is interested in the journey of the inner self and reflects on how so many of us are living a delusion. The film prompts us to see the need to confront reality and find our true selves.
The film uses as the title track a doha by Kabir which speaks about this search for oneself.
Hear me, says Kabir, seek and you shall find
Hear me, says Kabir, seek and you shall find
In this world tangled in delusion,
The self cannot be seen.
In this world tangled in delusion,
The self cannot be seen.
The self cannot be seen.
The self cannot be seen.
In fact the metaphor of the ‘mirror’ and the character looking at herself/himself in Last Train to Mahakali,  That Girl in Yellow Boots, and Gangs of Wasseypur,  and in a lot of his films seem to hint at the director’s examination of self delusion by the characters, a sort self examination, a self exploration, a contemplative introspection.

The  Auteur and his themes
One way of looking at an auteur is that at a certain level ‘he is making the same movie again and again with slight modifications’. He has pet themes that he is exploring. If we look at Anurag’s body of work we find that this is probably true. Anurag goes from the micro to the macro, from the self to the nation and back again. And at a deeper level from the outside world into the inside world.
Revenge seems to be an important part of the dramatic hook of many of his films including Black Friday, Gulaal and his recent Gangs of Wasseypur. Revenge is a crucial element of popular genre storytelling and in fact was one of the main themes for the ‘western’ genre in Hollywood. So many Hindi formula films are based on revenge. But ‘revenge’ here may also be looked at with more depth besides being a popular formula to tell a story. Not to make a simplistic reading of personal life and its relationship to his films but Anurag has been the underdog and a lot of his films have the spirit of revolt as a rebel an involute revenge may be of sort. However, his films are not a glorification of revenge but mostly rise above to question its very existence.
The filmmaker is not self indulgent but concerned, raise pertinent questions about the world around him and as a true artist should, is searching for the truth. His first feature film Black Friday made in 2004 but released in 2007 three years later due to censorship trouble is a film based on Mumbai’s Black Friday – The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts, based on a book by S. Hussain Zaidi about the 1993 Bombay bombings.
Realism and social, political concerns take centre stage in this film and begins the career of this filmmaker but the concerns and issues raised in this film never really seems to leave him but only get reinvented on his journey.
The film begins and ends with a quote by Mahatma Gandhi  “ An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.
The film ends with the bomb blast recreation and then text title cards.
The Bombay Blasts became India’s largest criminal case
    The designated court took 13 years to deliver justice
    100 out of the final 122 found guilty
    29 still absconding including Tiger Menon
    And Bombay is now called Mumbai.
Anurag wanted to make an honest film and raise questions about the state of politics and the legal system and our society at large.
An important scene dealing with revenge, seems to be critical, in regards to what the filmmaker wants to convey to the audience as a message or an insight on same. The scene is – where we see the jail cell through a red filter and one of the bombers, Badshah who is now captured and is being interrogated by the cop. Badshah Khan very proudly takes credit for the bombings and says  Muslims have taken the revenge for the atrocities done to their Muslim brothers. That’s when Kay Kay Menon  who plays the cop says and speaks in the voice of the director “ …Allah was not on your side, on your side was Tiger Menon . He saw your rage and manipulated you. He was gone before the first bomb was even planted. ..he fucked you over. you know why ? Because you were begging for it. All in the name of religion. You are a fucking idiot. You are an idiot and so is every Hindu, who murders one of you. Everyone who has nothing better to do…but to fight in the name of religion is a fucking idiot.”
The end credits appear with the Indian Ocean Song ‘Bandeh’ which ends the film on a poetic note of lament but never pessimistic rather urging the audience to wake up.  It’s a film where there is anger and he wants the audience to acknowledge that justice is not done and wants the audience to question the state of justice in our country.
With his film Gulaal (2009) where the canvas is now the state of Rajasthan he continues his lament of the nation and urges us ‘to save India’ and at a larger level to save this world. Production on Gulaal began in 2001, when Anurag Kashyap was listening to songs from Pyaasa and his film Paanch was struggling with the censors. The film is inspired (and gives credit to) by the song ‘Yeh Mahlon, YehTakhton, Ye Tajon ki Duniya’ By Sahir Ludhanvi from the film Pyaasa The film is set in present day Rajasthan, a state in western India. The plot is provided by student politics of the university and a fictitious secessionist movement consisting of former Rajput leaders who have become the  present day elite.
Also revisiting the title card at the beginning of the film sums up the intent and tone of the film which I would like to reproduce here below:
The first text card:
The film is a work of fiction, dedicated to all
Those poets of per-independent India
Who wrote songs of freedom and had a vision of
Free India, which we could not put together.
If Black Friday was more of an angry voice which was symbolized by Anurag then Gulaal is now more grief andlament which stronger ,but thers is  is still the use of the strong red color which is symbolic of power and danger. Also the characters of Prithvi Bana and Ardhanareshwar take the film to mythical realms. Returning to the Theme of Revenge with the film Gangs of Wasseypur (Part 1), the film speaks about revenge at various levels and in its very existence laments the current state of our country and contemporary society. What now hits you hard with this film is that ‘revenge’ a primordial emotion is so strongly still prevalent in our society today and the film seems to be questioning our evolution as a species. The filmmaker like in his earlier films here more than ever is drawing on newsreel and documentary footage and attempting to weave the story of India’s independence with the story of this personal epic saga spanning generations which succeed in revealing, the fact  that free India is not really free even today and shows us that prevalent level of lawlessness and bloodshed is so paradoxical in an apparently democratic India. ‘Might is Right’ which is something of the cave man era is still so prevalent in our 21st century, Kashyap does not spare the viewer from confronting this brutal truth nor does he dilute harsh reality with candy floss.
Violence and revenge are intertwined and thus become a very important part of his cinematic vocabulary, violence being mostly external and visceral but also speaks about internal violence specially in one of his more personal films That Girl in Yellow Boots and No Smoking. Dev D also at one level is about revenge where Devdas is on a mission of self destruction.
The Auteur and Realism as a treatment
Anurag says that he makes films about things as he sees it. In fact the appeal of a lot of Anurag’s films are his realism which seems raw to a lot of viewers. Here raw for me refers to the unadulterated truth and not a work that does not treat the raw reality. As art and an artist does not present to you life as experienced in real life as raw and personal but by the process of his art and craft he makes your experience richer, makes you reflect and offers you a space to experience the apparently raw reality which he has treated with the processes of filmmaking. Also an interesting observation of a lot of viewers after seeing a Kashyap film is that they could not emotionally identify with the characters and that I would say is revealing as it seems that the filmmaker does not passively want you to get sucked into the emotional life of the story but remain detached enough to be an active viewer and participate in its unfolding. Also what makes Anurag’s films special is the Realism in them. But what I mean by realism is like what you would feel in a film by Satyajit Ray who has observed life and character’s closely and brings them alive in each scene nuances, uniqueness and an authentic truth which connects with the viewer (however I am not suggesting here that the experience of an Anurag film is close to the experience of a Ray film, film, far from that)The Auteur and the writer
A very important aspect of an Auteur would be a director who is part of the conception and script of the film and in this regard Anurag is very closely involved in the creation of his work. In fact he started his career as a writer writing scripts in Mumbai (he wrote the script of Auto Shankar overnight which was loved by Sriram Raghavan and Shivam Nair) and got famous and recognized with his script Satya which he wrote for Ram Gopal Verma. Black Friday, his first feature film, was based on a book but the screenplay was by none other than Anurag. Now another dynamic sets into play, Anurag as an Auteur is not (or is not supposed)to be the sole originator of his work, it has in fact always been a practice that auteur directors including Truffaut have associated with other writers for the script and screenplay, sometimes to keep away from personal  indulgence and many times because the idea or story is initiated or bought to the director by someone else who then with that merit being the best person who knows the world of the story should be present to be a partner in scripting the project. The film Gulaal has Raj Singh Chaudhary as a co scriptwriter. It was Raj Singh Chaudhury who bought the story to Anurag based on his experiences of college ‘ragging’ and its consequences. Raj says the story idea was his ( and he also suggested the film be set in Rajasthan) but the script and screenplay was by Anurag. No doubt Anurag connected with the story as he recalls in an interview to Tehelka in 2005 ” Scindia (school in Gwalior) was hell for me. The sexual abuse continued there for years. I hated myself. I couldn’t understand why it was happening to me. I was often picked out, beaten, then taken to the toilets. To save myself from the beatings, I’d give in to the abuse,” . Another fascinating aspect of Anurag’s script collaborators is that all of them are actors. Raj Chaudhury was also an actor and had in fact written the story keeping himself in mind. Anurag felt he would fit the character perfectly and in spite of other popular actors keen to play the role he cast Raj as one of the lead actors, Raj says he also helped in the scripting of No Smoking.
Dev. D is a collaborative effort too. The film was developed from a concept that Abhay Deol( who plays Dev, the main protagonist in the film) narrated to Anurag. “Core idea came from Abay, Abhay told me this idea of a boy lost in a strip bar  in LA and this triggered off a lot of ideas I had in mind and showed the possibility of adapting Devdas.” “ …. The idea was to try and explore that adjective(Devdas) that it has become and through which I wanted to talk about the youth , I wanted to talk about how they look at love, life, relationships, in today’s day and age, the age of fast cars, fast cash, fast food, instant gratification. Does it really happen that people are longing for one woman for the rest of their lives because  I don’t see that happening today. It has changed . So it was trying to explore all that by using Devdas as a medium.”  Vikramaditya Motwane(assistant director of Sanjay Leela Bhansali and latter Anurag produced and co-wrote his debut film Udaan)  was asked to write the first draft of the script and Anurag said he would take his draft and add his bits to it (From Eros extra features). Also what would be an important touch to the film would be that Anurag understands very well and has experienced being depressed and lost like the character Dev, of course for other reasons, a young boy who enters science and takes up zoology at the University of Delhi, dissatisfied with his choice, confused and depressed he takes to drugs and alcohol.
How do you measure popular mainstream cinema – its by the stereotypes and clichés that it adopts in its telling.
Dev D is backed by a major corporate house, who is encouraging alternate cinema catering mainly to the multiplex audience but not limited to them. Dev D is a modern reinterpretation to the classic Devdas (which has 12 film versions made of the Bengali novel written by Sarat Chandra  Chattopadhyay). So the first rule that Anurag breaks from the popular cinema standard is ‘romanticizing’ the hero Devdas and he makes him into a very real practical contemporary youth of today. He also breaks the backbone of the character who epitomizes self pity to giving up drinking, discovering that love is not romantic ideas and does not die for Paro but chooses Chandramukhi instead and starts  a new life. This is in fact one of Anurag’s rare films which has a positive, if we can call it, a happy ending, but never the less, seems real and not romanticized.
The sexual frankness given to the characters including the female characters is unlike popular formula films and the women are strong and determined not passive and docile. And the self-sacrificing Chandramukhi (played by Kalki Koechlin) that became the epitome of the character mold of the prostitute with a golden heart in Hindi cinema over the years was also broken, in fact her past life is also contemporary in its origin and is taken from a real incident and inspired from newspaper headlines.
Another important collaborator with Anurag has been Kalki Koechlin, she had been invited by Anurag to co-write the script of That Girl In Yellow Boots primarily because he knew that she would be able to give insights about the world that the film portrayed and also she is the key protagonist of the film. Where like other instances we have the actor-scriptwriter collaboration merging into itself.
Also this being a sensitive subject and theme close to Anurag’s heart and Kalki being his life partner who he credits to have rid him of his past pain adds another dimension to the film itself.
His recent film Gangs of Wasseypur (Part One) seems to  have a long list of writers Zeishan Quadri, Akhilesh, SachinLadia, AnuragKashyap. But it was Quadri who bought the story to Anurag. Quadri’s deal was simple. He’ll write the script and play the character Definite, a key character in the second part of the two-part film.
“Though I was born in small town in northern India, I migrated to the city to make films, the city got to me and I went deeper in exploring it’s effect on me through my films until I met Zeishan. Zeishan was from Wasseypur and a few things that he told me about this place dragged me back to my roots, my backyard, my growing up and my tryst with Bollywood and the politics of my region.The few anecdotes that Zeishan shared with me of this place then went on to be retelling and an analysis of the history of the place explaining it’s evolution as a burning inferno and it’s fight for coal to the way battles were fought. From digging coal to killing someone over an innocuous brawl to vengeance being inherited. Part One of the film gets to the roots of the people and explains why they are the way they are.”(Anurag’s own words -  GOW official website)

The Auteur and his style (visual)
Style or treatment of the film by a director is not necessarily consistent or easy to catch but some directors do have a distinctive style that can be recognized as a signature style of the artist in his body of work. Anurag Kashyap according to me has a characteristic way of using colour in his films and that becomes an integral part of his signature style which began from his first short film and continues till this day. In his visual palette we see the use of the three primary colours Red, Green, Blue and their combinations at various points. Besides being three primary colours we have the added dimension of the colours mostly appearing either desaturated or as part of the noir vocabulary of neon lights reminding us of the underbelly of society that we are exposed to in the films.
Below is a brief observation and analysis of Anurag’s colour palette in his films.
Anurag’s first short film Last Train to Mahakali  (1999) ( a short film 45 minutes made for the television series ‘Star Best Sellers’) starts the film with a green desaturated tint while we are introduced to the main protagonist of the film a prisoner who is on death row. His present world in the prison seems to represent this colour. In fact green is repeated in No Smoking(2007)  – In the film an important set or world of existence is the rehabiliatiton centre and the world of Baba Bengali who runs the rehabilitation centre (which is symbolic of the establishment) is presented in a desaturated green tint.
The film The Last Train to Mahakali does fleetingly play with blue and red but it is the end of the film which is red mixing with yellow, like a kind of an orange (which in fact is the common space occupied by the journalist and the prisoner) there seems to be a surreal (artificial) sunshine that fills the room on the chilling note that the film leaves you with.
In the film Black Friday (2004)the colour red seems to dominate which symbolizes anger to me besides the bloodshed and pain that it contains within itself as a colour not to forget the element of danger that the colour stands for and that at one level the filmmaker is alerting us about. Red is an important part of its title and credits and a red filter is used in significant scenes of the jail torture which enclose an important message of the film by the director. Anurag is said to have referred to those scenes saying that he wanted a green filter but since that was not available he went for the red filter instead. The filter was to reduce the realistic goriness of the scene but  I feel it does more than that and fortunately since the green filter was not possible the red palette by default  comes into play.The film has a special use of blue, rather in its de-saturated form, for the flashback sections specially where Dawood is shown and also to portray the treatment of the recreation of the pain and loss of the actual bomb blast which ends the film.
So if Black Friday begins with red and is about protest then so is the case with Gulaal(2009) where the chief color seems to be red. This film primarily uses red as an integral colour in the film right from the gulaal which is red in colour to certain sections of the inner haveli which are bathed in red light or a filter where there is a clash between characters who revolt. In this film red is also part of the costume palette  which infact is part of many of his films but here they become symbolic, Prithvi Bana played by Piyush Mishra is dressed in red and his mythic Ardhanareshwar  who follows him around is in blue (his body is painted in blue). The film has scenes where green and blue light are visible but red stands out as a primary symbolic colour of this film.
The film That Girl In Yellow Boots has yellow as one significant colour in its colour palette which is related to the boots which the protagonist wears on this journey in the film (it also appears in the title and credits titles). Yellow could represent hope for a brighter future, a joy the protagonist is searching for. But the film also has blue which is the other important colour and the note on which the film ends . To quickly glance though the world of the film – the massage parlour is predominantly green, Ruth the protagonist of the film has an apron which is green in colour. The last scene the client who we realize is her father has a blue towel ( however the towel is always blue for all clients)also we saw earlier the room where she discovered her father’s pictures (when she visited his home)  also predominantly had  blue walls. The film reaches its climax when Ruth confronts her client who she discovers is her father and his reaction to her truth shatters her into a state of shock and grief. It’s the end of the film which this sequence leads to which has an important use of the colour blue as symbolic yet part of the realistic setting of the film. After the confrontation with her father she walks into the corridor with a green light, then enters the streets which are yellow and when she sits in the taxi, her face is bathed with blue light (which is the light in the taxi as planned I assume) and the world outside which she leaves behind has a tinge of yellow and green. The last scene is the taxi ride, a minute long in duration where the camera remains with Ruth as a mid shot followed by a kind of jump cut mid close, and the audience remains focused on Ruth’s  face bathed in blue light, she then shuts her eyes and the film fades to black.
The film Dev D is sprinkled with many colours starting primarily with green and yellow and then moving on to red, blue and most importantly pink that enters into this film with the character of Chandramukhi played by Kalki( Red + Green = Pink).  Pink represents a very feminine colour at the same time is very punk . The film travels into the drug world of clubs and underbelly of Delhi and gives the makers to exploit the neon filled streets and existence of the colour that seems real, at times gaudy but symbolic. The concluding scenes have  Dev and Chandramukhi bathed in a tint of a combination of red and yellow with a hint of pink( being the colour of the bathtub in which Dev is seated and the loffah with which Chandramukhi is gently scrubbing him). But the last scene however is natural colours with the sun shining through on the couple riding a bike.This film The Gangs of Wasseypur – Part One (2012) is subtle in its colour palette and merges with the real world but on keen observation it is prevalent. He chooses a palette for its production design to be predominantly green and blue. With a brief small scene in red and continuing the desaturated blue at many points. But at the end of the film which is the death of Sultan brilliantly played by Manoj Bajpai is the use of the colour yellow or rather the yellow of the sun going into white which with the death of the protagonist is symbolic of the fiery revenge which finally turns to nothingness. White is the combination of the three primary colours (Red +Blue +Green = White) and thus in his colour palette he is now critically poised already combined and merged all his colours. I do not suggest that this is necessarily consciously done but for me it plays out brilliantly. What next …
The Auteur and his collaborators  
Since Anurag’s films have a distinct colour palette and the visual impact of the film being strong requires a special mention of Wasiq Khan as a Production Designer(responsible for the visual look of the film) and his two key cinematographers till date being Natrajan Subramanium (Last Train to Mahakali – Paanch – Black Friday)and Rajeev Ravi (No Smoking – Gulaal – Dev D – That Girl in Yellow Boots- Gangs of Wasseypur) who have contributed significantly to bring his vision to life.

‘Song and dance’ form a very integral grammar of popular Indian cinema and starting with Dev D Kashyap with the music director Amit Trivedi has reinvented the music soundtrack specially with the song ‘Emotional Atyachar’ (one of the important sources of reference for the song was Om Dar Ba Dar – an avant garde Indian film in the year 1988). Over the years a very distinct quality of an Anurag Kashyap film is his soundtrack that he has developed and this film is an important juncture for it to take off which reaches a new high in his latest film Gangs of Wasseypur(Part One)  with the title track  ‘kehke Longa’ and ‘Womaniya’ besides others . In this film Sneha Khanwalkar who has designed the music and song for the film ( besides the background score which is by G V Prakash Kumar) has added a special touch by including folk singers and tunes mixed with modern sophistication to give a vibrant dose of chatpatta music that brings alive the landscape of the story and characters. Song and dance is a powerful tool to enhance the emotional experience of the viewer which has its roots in ancient Indian arts and aesthetics and most of Indian popular cinema uses this to transform the viewer into a realm which is not imitating reality but experiencing emotional  truth( what an item number does , can be another essay in itself ). However  most of the songs in Anurag’s  films are not limited to the emotional realm of realism but many times the songs are a commentary on the film’s theme, its plot, or its characters. The songs are rooted in Indian culture but yet are funky and reinterpreted in a postmodern vein. In this regard Piyush Mishra is also an important close collaborator in his films who wrote the lyrics for Black Friday and Gulaal, also being the music director for Gulaal. He also wrote some lyrics for Gangs of Wasseypur along with Varun Grover. (Piyush has also acted in many of Anurag’s films besides being a reputed actor himself, he played some memorable characters like Prithvi Bana in Gulaal and an important character role in GOW Part One). Each film having a unique identity and original soundtrack  Black Friday had the special quality of the music of band Indian Ocean and with the film No Smoking Vishal Bharadwaj interpreted the surreal world on the soundtrack as an artist.
Another important collaborator is the editor -editor Aarti Bajaj edited many of Kashyap’s films including Last Train to Mahakali ,Paanch (unreleased), Black Friday, Dev D, Gulaal, No Smoking and shaped the films to a powerful experience. But from the film That Girl in Yellow Boots and his recent film Gangs of Wasseypur,  Anurag has worked with Shweta Venkat Matthew (as I assume his personal life came in the way of the professional world and this collaboration broke up).  Each of the two editors try to keep up with Anurag’s pace and rhythm for his films and the result is a highly charged film.
But I would say that like a true auteur he maintained his style in all departments of filmmaking irrespective of changes that took place and found the right individuals to fit his vision. Also at any given time there are many young aspiring filmmakers in his office wanting to learn and be part of the exciting world of filmmaking that Anurag represents to the Indian  youth.
The Auteur and his influences from cinema 
What has been the influences on Anuarg as an auteur besides his personal experiences, and here cinema itself plays a very important role. In his recent film Gangs of Wasseypur he mentions the influence of Tamil cinema, infact dedicates the film to ‘the 3 musketeers Ameer, Bala and Sasikumar, the sons of Madurai’ as he calls them. He says “I realized that these filmmakers are making their films in a milieu that’s so much familiar to them. This made me feel that even I have lots of stories to tell which belong to the place I belong to.” (Interview by Sethumadhavan.N featuring on the website www.madaboutmoviez.com).
But it was in 1993 in a film festival (which he was urged to attend by his friends) when he witnessed ‘A Retrospect of Vitterio De Sica Films’ (Bicycle Thieves is the film that influences him the most among the 55 films of De Sica), it was “an epiphany” he says which changed his life and he runs away from home with Rs 5,000 in his pocket and decides he wants to make films. The Screening of the film Taxi Driver by Martin Scorsese (on a tv screen in the office of Shivam Nair, Shriram Raghavan during his struggling years in Mumbai) was the beginning of another interesting phase. Pic Posters of Bicycle Thieves and Taxi Driver
Seeing films like Fun ,De Sica’s Films, Taxi Driver he says gave him confidence to make cinema as his voice was similar and other hindi films he saw he could not relate to, they were films not about him but some other people. Also the attraction to noir is that its about him too. Anurag says “Noir might mean different things to different people, but for me its an environment and a story of the underdog. We don’t pay attention to the people on the streets and just pass them by.” He thought cinema could be about that too. “I wanted to tell those kind of stories and these films gave me confidence.”
However Anurag ‘s work includes the influence of Bollywood, and in a post modern sense. Gulaal has for its inspiration a song from the Hindi classic film Pyaasa but the film builds on the original and adds a new dimension to it. In Gangs of Wasseypur Bollywood referencing is integral to its plot and characters – the film explores this revenge saga through the socio-political dynamic in erstwhile Bihar (North India), in the coal and scrap trade mafia of Wasseypur, through the imprudence of a place obsessed with mainstream ‘Bollywood’ cinema. This has a direct link to his childhood, when as a young boy in UP he was attracted to Hindi cinema from a very young age and repeatedly saw films (often visited  the open air theatre or the Government theatre next to his house)like Kora Kagaazand Aandh iand latter Do Badaan in his college days.
The Auteur and acting
Another influence as a director is that Kashyap was an actor before being a director and a distinct quality of his film is strong and powerful performances which bring the film to life and seem real and truthful. Acting was something that he did while he was struggling to find his voice, he joins a theatre group Jana Natya Manch and performs street plays. This also helped him to meet people and its not therefore a coincidence that a lot of his collaborators specially his scriptwriters are actors who are attracted to work with him. He says “Instead of the actor performing for the camera, I let the camera capture the people….” A little known fact is that Manoj Bajpai was responsible for suggesting Anurag’s name to Ram Gopal Verma as a young scriptwriter for the film Satya (which got him a lot of fame) and Anurag does not forget to return the favour by casting Manoj in his recent big budget film Gangs of Wasseypur (which has helped Manoj bring back his acting career to the top after a low phase). Anurag like the rest of his team has been quite loyal to many of his characters like Kay KayMenon and Kalki but without compromising the film at any cost.
Conclusion
Where does Anurag Kashyap go from here – the real world and the world of cinema meet in his films, will one dominate the other – and how  – and to what effect ? What form will his colour palette take on now, are the three primary colours going to be repetitive and boring or are they going to help telling a story and increasing its complexity of  visual vocabulary ? Will the distinctive style of the songs in his films take on newer dimensions and reinvent themselves or will its novelty die out? Will the plot of revenge be a continuing fascination and lead to deeper insights ? Will the commentary of Indian politics and society be allowed to freely express itself, will it continue to cause a stir in the conscience of the youth ? What will Anurag Kashyap discover about himself and the world around him is what we the audience will have to wait and watch to see!
Anurag’s films are like a silent scream – real yet not raw, disturbing yet not deafening, shocking yet not depressing, violent yet not ugly, a hope hidden in a lamenting.
© Copyright Oorvazi Irani
You can follow Oorvazi on her personal website here and her short film The K-File here.
www.oorvazichekhovindia.com
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Blood and lust-partha chatterjee


partha chatterjee has written this article in Fronline  Volume 29 - Issue 15 :: Jul. 28-Aug. 10, 2012  issue
“Gangs of Wasseypur” typifies the commercial cinema in which paranoia passes for intensity.




 
Director Anurag Kashyap during a road show to promote the film "Gangs of Wasseypur", in Mumbai on June 5.

There is more of the withered state of contemporary India to be found in commercial films, particularly those in Hindi, produced in Mumbai, or Bollywood, than in daily newspapers, magazines or even television news channels. If news channels give you a slice of life, commercial films give you a slice of cake disguised as a slice of life! India’s chaotic economic and political condition gets best reflected in the paranoia that passes for intensity in commercial cinema. A case in point is Gangs of Wasseypur, directed by Anurag Kashyap. He is believed to be one of the leading lights of what might be called the “neo-progressives” among Hindi film-makers of Bollywood. His latest production is a huge hit – his first – and is being compared by neophyte film critics with Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972), which chronicles the rise of the Mafia in the social and political life of the United States between the two World Wars in the last century.
Gangs of Wasseypur begins some years before India’s independence from British rule in 1947 and continues into the late 20th century. It is set in the coal belt of Dhanbad in what is now Jharkhand. The film is set in flashback, with hoodlums armed with AK-47 automatic rifles, a weapon meant exclusively for the army and the paramilitary forces, attacking a house in a kasba, an offshoot of a small town.
On hearing the commotion outside, moments before the gunfire begins in earnest, a shopkeeper watching Kyon Ki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, a hugely popular Hindi TV serial, quickly pulls down his shutters. The gangsters apparently wipe out the family of a rival gang leader and, on their way out, butcher an inconvenient police cordon. The parallels with the utterly lawless Bihar come to mind, whether Kashyap wants it or not. Then the film slowly but surely meanders into hero worship, horseplay and, of course, myth-making.
The intention of the director, for all his grandiose posturing, appears to be the manufacture of harmless entertainment; the kind that excites, even titillates, the economically deprived, giving them false hope in the form of Sardar Khan, the son of Shahid Khan, a slain bodyguard of a rising gangster. The son avoids all the pitfalls his father had faced, until overwhelming success in crime goes to his head and his seeming invincibility is put to the test. The structure of the film is misleading, much like the structure of the Indian economy, if one can indulge in a bit of levity. A number of red herrings are thrown at the viewer; there is some chit-chat about the state of coal mines and the deplorable treatment of miners during British rule and how the conditions have not changed in independent India, but nothing develops organically in relation to the narrative. Kashyap and his scriptwriters have somehow sketched in the background to tell the story of Sardar Khan, a gangster.
Coal played a vital role in Bihar’s politics in the second half of the 20th century. There were huge profits to be made. Politicians and the gangsters they employed made huge sums of money and successfully terrorised both colliery workers and lay citizens. The climate of fear brought about by the ruling party and its henchmen kept the party in power in Bihar for a long time, until one fine day the gangsters who worked for them declared “independence” and decided to seize power for themselves and their families.


 
Stills from the movie. Critics have found parallels with Francis Ford Coppolo's "The Godfather", though they are in reality quite superficial.

Sardar Khan is a thoroughly repulsive character; he will kill without any twinge of conscience and fornicate as and when he has the urge. He is the kind of man that every deprived Indian would be proud of; after all, he is a challenge to the authority of the state, if largely at a theoretical level. He is in reality only a pawn and the source of a dream that the poor cling to in the absence of justice, dignity and equity.
Kashyap and his scriptwriters know the box-office value of having a protagonist such as Sardar Khan, what with the prices of vegetables skyrocketing; grain rotting in silos but not given to the starving, teeming poor; and jungles belonging to the tribal people being handed over by the government to gigantic corporations for enormous mutual profit that the mineral wealth under the tribal land might eventually bring. One is not suggesting that Kashyap and Co. made this shrewd move deliberately. It may have been unconscious, for all we know. However, it has paid handsome dividends at the box office and raised his stature in the eyes of a largely apolitical but disgruntled audience.

Utterly nihilistic

Gangs of Wasseypur-Part I is indicative of the fact that it is going to be an ongoing saga. In its intention and politics it appears to be inspired by the Godfather Trilogy (Coppola) and Kill Bill I and II (Quentin Tarantino), both films espousing, of course without intending to, hard-line right-wing politics. The irony suggested is intentional, not many American film-makers have had the guts to be openly political since the McCarthy witch-hunt in the late 1940s. Coppola’s study of the Mafia in The Godfather is not critical enough, and, at times, without intending to, is admiring of the gangsters of Italian origin, who well-nigh pulverised social and political life in the U.S. Tarantino’s Kill Bill is nothing more than a tale of blood, gore and revenge; utterly nihilistic.
It is nihilism that has permeated Indian social (read also religious) life, for the two are entwined, and has brought about an overwhelming desperation among the poor and the middle class. There is an unexpressed feeling that despite godmen fleecing all and sundry and promising prosperity and peace of mind to all the faithful, God, that bribable judge, may after all not deliver. There is also an increasing awareness among the marginalised that the rich and the super rich have robbed them blind to reach where they are. These are some of the considerations that come into play when the success of Gangs of Wasseypur-I is to be analysed. It makes the poor as well as the middle class happy, but for different reasons.
It gives (false) hope to the poor to see a man like Sardar Khan, who has risen from among them, overcome and terrorise all upper-class, upper-caste opposition, symbolised by the equally villainous Ramadhar Singh, who earlier controlled the economic and, therefore, political life in the region. The middle-class people, with their stomachs full and with money to spend even in these times of high inflation, are titillated by a character like Sardar Khan and the tale he inspires. In a perverse way, Sardar Khan makes them feel good! Gangs of Wasseypur manages to kill two birds with one stone.
The English language press has gone overboard in its praise of the film. Critics have found parallels with The Godfather, though they are in reality quite superficial. There is, for instance, the final sequence in which Sardar Khan is betrayed by a phone call made by his second wife and is gunned down at a lonely petrol pump on the highway. This section certainly is a copy of the portion in The Godfather where Sonny Corleone is first set up and then led to his death in a shoot-out. Kashyap’s personal touch can be found in the pseudo folk song in which Sardar Khan is hailed as a hero. There is no irony here as there would be in a Sam Peckinpah film, nor is there a sense of utter futility resulting from a life that has been a misadventure from the start. Some squeamish critics – from the “educated” middle class to be sure – have found the violence in the film to be excessive; one of them even said, “If we were to meet the characters from Gangs of Wasseypur, they will leave us unmoved.”
The absence of knowledge as to what constitutes cinema, its aesthetics, its moral and ethical dimensions, has in recent times led to much confusion, especially among young newspaper and magazine critics of cinema. This is all the more ironic because DVDs of films from all over the world are now as freely available in India as in many other countries. A misreading of the word “globalisation” has led to much confusion. The idea of “anything goes” under the guise of freedom of expression has affected the subconscious and conscious thinking of the young the world over. The young in India have been similarly affected.


 
The English language press has gone overboard in its praise of the film and the Indian language press has not been far behind. Those who lavish praise on "Gangs of Wasseypur" ought to pause and think in what ways their hearts and minds are being illuminated by the film, says the author.


Overboard in praise

Those who write film reviews, especially for dailies and magazines in English, resort to a plethora of adjectives to describe a film. They forget that films are about action, about movement in time, and that verbs, rather than adjectives, would prove to be more useful in describing one. A particular critic, unable to find the word “visceral” to describe Gangs of Wasseypur-I, went into a tizzy and used words like “coitus” and “virus” to describe the intensity he felt after watching it. As to its moral and aesthetic possibilities, he is silent. He is, it seems, completely convinced that a film must, above all else, be an “experience”, and to quote a jargon of today, “a value-free” one. He seems to forget that the most amoral book or film has its own system of values, its own aesthetics. In this regard Gangs of Wasseypur-I is an arid exercise, yet the film has been hailed as a path-breaking work by leading English language journalistic publications in the country. The Indian language press has not been far behind in showering praise on the film.
Uncritical praise of a film whose primary objective is to make money does not speak well of the critics who indulge their whims while pretending to understand the medium. They, in their defence, may say cinema in India, or for that matter in the U.S., should only be seen as a purveyor of mere entertainment. These worthies forget that some of the most memorable films ever made were “entertainments”. Perhaps the Hindi word for entertainment, manoranjan – that which paints/illuminates the mind – is more to the point. Those who lavish praise on Gangs of Wasseypur-I ought to pause and think in what ways their hearts and minds are being illuminated by the film. Let them see, if they have not, Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, a 1974 (political) thriller made by Sam Peckinpah, the last great director to come out of that meat factory called Hollywood, in 50 years or more. The studio bosses who employed Peckinpah did everything possible to derail him; they mangled his films and released truncated versions of them. But nothing could take away from them their fierce intensity and flashes of acute political awareness, a fact most critics in the U.S. were blind to.
Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia is about a down-on-his-luck barroom pianist and his sex worker girlfriend literally chasing the head of a dead gigolo, who made the young daughter of an immensely wealthy Mexican rancher – read warlord – pregnant and disappeared without a trace. The reward for his head is a million dollars, though the rancher’s henchmen offer Benny, the pianist, only $10,000 if he succeeds. Such stories end in tragedy, and this one does. The film has grandeur and a profundity because it is a most perceptive study of capitalism and the greed it engenders both in the rich and the deprived, of course of different kinds.
American critics, for all their high literacy, tend to pigeonhole film-makers; they did that to Peckinpah as well. Of Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, Roger Ebert, the eminent film critic of Chicago Sun-Times, observed, “The movie is some kind of bizarre masterpiece. It’s probably not a movie that most people would like, but violence, with Peckinpah, becomes a psychic ballet.” The critic from a much smaller newspaper, Cole Smithey of Daily Radar, was much closer to the truth when he wrote, “Fermented in a tragic romanticism placed firmly in a no-man’s land between liberation and capitalism, Sam Peckinpah’s 1974 thriller is a film that sticks in your mind’s eye like a lingering sunspot.”
One may ask why all this talk about Sam Peckinpah while discussing Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur-I? The answer is that both are products of mainstream cinema of their respective countries, the U.S. and India. Talent in the eyes of the moneybags is the ability to sell tickets in very large numbers, and in today’s context, various other rights connected with the film, such as television screening rights, DVD rights and music rights. Peckinpah’s producers thought they knew more than he and always took a pair of scissors to his films, without rhyme or reason. They, poor apolitical finance men, were always trying to “tighten” his long narratives without once understanding their political or philosophic intent. He was always considered an anarchist who liked to rebel for the heck of it.
Kashyap, on the other hand, is considered a safe proposition. He has made films ‘different’ from the norm, like Black Friday, Dev-D, The Girl In Yellow Boots, and now, Gangs of Wasseypur-I, though how different one wonders.
His politics, like that of most of his colleagues in Bollywood, is conservative and covertly right-wing, despite his claims of once having belonged to the Jana Natya Manch, a leftist theatre group from Delhi founded by Safdar Hashmi, who was martyred at the hands of Congress goons in 1989. Take a scene from Black Friday based on the 1993 bombings in Mumbai following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya by Hindu fanatics on December 6, 1992. There is a scene of a young suspect running for his life from several overweight, middle-aged policemen, for what seems to be an eternity. Against all norms of logic the boy is caught; more so, if one keeps in mind a newspaper report that said a middle-aged policeman, appearing for a physical fitness test prior to promotion, collapsed and died after running a kilometre. The metaphor that Kashyap uses is not cinematic, it is a literal expression of the saying, “Nobody can escape from the long arm of the law.” What exactly is his political or philosophical thesis in this film?
The financiers have realised that his films make money and are a safer commercial proposition, especially if they keep in mind the investment-to-return ratio compared with the average medium- or big-budget Hindi film. Gangs of Wasseypur-I, budgeted at Rs.18.5 crore, has already touched the Rs.50-crore mark in India, and the money is still rolling in. Various overseas rights have not come into consideration as yet. Who has the money to buy expensive cinema tickets – they certainly are expensive in metropolitan India – one may ask? Twenty-three per cent of the Indian population still can, despite murderous inflation, while the remaining 77 per cent goes to bed hungry. These figures are not arbitrary but have been provided by a former economist of the Planning Commission, the late Arjun Sengupta.

Aesthetic reasons

The reason for bringing up Peckinpah’s Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia is also aesthetic. The opening begins like a traditional late 19th century western, when without warning, within the same scene, principal participants in the manhunt that is about to begin drive away in the latest Mercedes Benz car, with horsemen also in the picture. The sequence ends with a commercial jet airliner landing in an airport. Peckinpah acquaints us with the inner and outer structures of a half feudal-half capitalist society with great economy and mastery. In Gangs of Wasseypur-I, the film begins with AK-47 toting ruffians bursting into a lane in a kasba firing crazily, then slowly the film goes backwards in time, to possibly suggest that nothing has changed socially or politically since the British left. But the progression of the story suggests that this attempt at presenting a socio-political backdrop is only a facade. The director, it seems, wants the audience to fall in love with the rogue Sardar Khan despite all his failings, including a penchant for committing murder whenever he runs out of ideas. There is no moral ambiguity here, just a straightforward lust for blood.
He does commit a murder in a lane in broad daylight, most lovingly, by stabbing a man many times, almost at the behest of a choreographer. This scene had a reviewer in paroxysms of delight. What can one say about the taste of contemporary film critics of the English language press who applaud gratuitous violence in films, Indian or any other. Sardar Khan is a one-dimensional character typical of Hindi films; his wonkiness, too, is predictable. He has two wives, one a Muslim and the other a Hindu; he has two sons by the former and one by the latter. There is obvious tension between the two households, and at one point he virtually abandons his first wife and two sons for the second and the son by her, so much so that the young boys from his earlier marriage clean toilets on trains to get by. Then, without warning, he is back with his original family as if nothing has happened. He, however, retains an emotional and sexual affinity for the young Hindu wife and affection for the son, and pays for their upkeep; something he neglected to do in the case of his older family. It is the younger wife who betrays him in the end, fed up perhaps with being the other woman in his life.
Another strand in the narrative is the running feud between the Qureshis (butchers) and the Pathans (presumably warriors) in the area, though one never knows why. Then there is a scene of Shias flogging themselves and being bathed in blood during Mohharam. It is difficult to fathom why Kashyap and his scriptwriters chose to give the viewers vignettes of Muslim cultural life in and around the coal belt in Dhanbad, in what was once Bihar. There are also shots from old black-and-white newsreels and of smoking coalfields that are used as “narrative punctuation”. Do these digressions help to understand better the character of Sardar Khan and that of his associates?
The film is strewn with cliches found in a regular Bollywood film. The son, who had been left to his own devices as a child, has blind devotion to Sardar Khan, and is going to be his unspoken successor in crime. The other cliche is the theme of revenge. There is war between Ramadhar Singh and family and Sardar Khan and family. Sardar Khan’s son kills Yadavjee, the hitman and gun supplier and the killer of his grandfather Shahid Khan, who as Ramadhar Singh’s bodyguard had wanted to take over his employer’s business territory. To add to the confusion is the tale of a young Shahid Khan looting trains in British India masquerading as Sultana, the much-feared bandit!
There is no clarity of vision, and hence purpose, in the making of Gangs of Wasseypur-I. This statement may be challenged by Kashyap, who might say that he was absolutely clear in his mind about making a super hit no matter what the cost. He can claim that he is helping people tired of tightening their purse strings forget their troubles, if only for two hours and 40 minutes! The one claim he cannot make, however, is that a character like Sardar Khan can in any way help make things better for the poor. He is for himself, and his sons shall be like him. There is a similarity between him and Don Corleone in The Godfather, who, of course, was infinitely more ambitious and controlled an empire of crime to match.
Coppola’s The Godfather cannot escape being in awe of its subject because Coppola knew very well the world of the Italian immigrants in the U.S. dominated by the Mafia; indeed his father, who played second flute in the great Arturo Toscanini’s symphony orchestra, had his musical tuition funded by the Mafia. He has gone on record saying that while his machinist grandfather would oil the Tommy guns of the Mafia in the morning, the same weapons would probably be used to kill people afterwards. Anurag Kashyap may or may not be in awe of his lead character in Gangs of Wasseypur-I, but he is certainly rooting for him, though why? One may never know.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

फिल्‍म समीक्षा :गैंग्‍स ऑफ वासेपुर- द हालीवुड रिपोर्टर-देबोरा यंग

Bollywood film maker Anurag Kashyap directs this two part gangster thrill ride about vengeance, greed and deep-rooted family rivalries.

An extraordinary ride through Bollywood’s spectacular, over-the-top filmmaking, Gangs of Wasseypur puts Tarantino in a corner with its cool command of cinematically-inspired and referenced violence, ironic characters and breathless pace. All of this bodes well for cross-over audiences in the West.  Split into two parts, as it will be released in India, this epic gangster story spanning 70 years of history clocks in at more than five hours of smartly shot and edited footage, making it extremely difficult to release outside cult and midnight venues. Its bow in Cannes’ Directors Fortnight met with rousing consensus, but it’s still an exotic taste at a delirious length.
Tipping his hat to Scorsese, Sergio Leone and world cinema as well as paying homage to Bollywood, writer-director-producer Anurag Kashyap (Black Friday) fashions a kind of “Once Upon a Time in Bengal”, a piece of violent entertainment that never seems to run out of invention or bullets. Less successful is the screenwriters’ attempt to embed the tale in a historical and political context, which simply doesn’t have room to emerge amid all the mayhem. Though the testosterone level is pumped to the max, there’s still room for funny jokes, fooling around and vibrant film characters that spring to life with mythical deeds and single-minded passions. No moralizing or regrets trouble their consciences, nor are they likely to bother the young male demographic that will account for the lion’s share of the audience.
Vengeance, blind ambition and greed oil the wheels of a long-running blood feud between competing godfathers in the Bengal mining towns of Wasseypur and Dhanbad.  The film opens with a teasing flash-forward to the end of the story, when a gang armed to the teeth with bombs and machine guns blast their way into the palace-fortress of the reigning don, Faizal Khan. The do enough damage to believe him dead, but the audience will be rightly suspicious that his body is not among the rubble.
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In the first half of the film, the early history of Faizal’s family is told, beginning with the rise of his grandfather Shahid Khan in the days when coal mines represented wealth and power. An omniscient narrator, who survives throughout the film, explains how, from time immemorial, Muslims have fought other Muslims in the area, not for religious reasons, but out of pure evil. Back in 1941, the mythic robber Sultana Daku looted British trains; he is later imitated by the sadistic Shahid Khan (Jaideep Ahlawat), who is eventually murdered by the young owner of the coal mines, Ramadhir Singh, setting off a power struggle between the two clans that lasts till the final reel.
Shahid’s hot-blooded son Sardar shaves his head, vowing not to grow his hair until he exacts revenge for his father’s death. His passion for two women who will become his wives gives him a human, even comic, side.  There are only four female characters in this boys’ club, all beautiful firebrands whose bloodthirsty ambition for their offspring would put Ma Barker to shame. Nagma, Sardar’s first wife, bears him four sons including the gangsters Faizal, Danish and “Perpendicular” Khan, while his Hindi wife Durga belatedly contributes the fearsome “Definitive” Khan.  Each murderous son stars in a section of the story highlighting his outrageous misdeeds and amorous pursuits.
If the first half of the film sets the background to the present day, Part 2 has moments of humor and is an easier, if certainly no less bloody, watch thanks to its many salutes to popular music and cinema. Sardar’s violence has made him the godfather, a role he keeps until betrayed at a gas station. His body, riddled with bullets, is carted away by his maddened son Danish, who goes on a rampage. But Danish isn’t smart enough to last long, and the family black sheep Faizal (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a hash smoking pothead, climbs the ladder to power after cutting off his best friend and betrayer’s head. Taking his cue from Michael Corleone, Faizal modernizes the family arsenal and buys some new-fangled pagers that have just come on the market to communicate with his gang. Cell phones will soon be added.
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His courtship of Mohsina (Huma Qureshi) is one of the film’s non-violent high points. Addicted to romantic movies, the lovely Mohsina looks like a Brooklyn moll and wears the same Ray Bans as Faizal, by which they recognize they are soul mates. Their sexy dialogue is a hoot, though the most blatant vulgarities are left to the lyrics (duly translated in the subtitles) to Sneha Khanwalkar’s sparkling score, pumped up with drumbeats at the first sign of gunplay.
It is now 2002 and Sardar’s strangely named teenage sons Definitive and Perpendicular are ready start their own violent careers, both defined by the narrator as “more terrifying than Faizal.” Their wanton killing sprees pepper the final scenes with death. Faizal is talked into going into politics, alarming his perennial nemesis Ramadhir Singh, now a corrupt old government minister. Their final reckoning takes place on election day as Faizal and his handful of loyalists lay siege to a hospital.
Kashyap, whose reputation as a screenwriter and controversial director reach a culmination in this film, is the real behind-the-scenes godfather, never losing control over the story-telling or hundreds of actors, and allowing tongue-in-cheek diversions in the second half that confirm his command over the sprawling material. In the spirit of Bollywood, Rajiv Ravi’s lensing is fast on its feet, with a continually moving camera that always seems to be in the right spot to capture the action.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight), May 21, 2012.
A Viacom 18 Motion Pictures presentation of an Anurag Kashyap Films/Jar Pictures production in association with Tipping Point Films, Akfpl, Elle Driver.
Cast: Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chaddha, Reema Sen, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Jaideep Ahlawat, Piyush Mishra, Mukesh Chhabra, Jameel Khan, Harish Khanna, Aditya Kumar, Murari Kumar, Huma Quershi, Yashpal Sharma, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Raj Yadav, Raj Kumar Yadav
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Screenwriters: Anurag Kashyap, Zeishan Quadri, Akhilesh Jaiswal, Sachin Ladia
Producers: Anurag Kashyap, Sunil Bohra
Director of photography: Rajiv Ravi
Production Designer: Wasiq Khan
Costumes: Subodh Srivastava
Editor: Shweta Venkat
Music: Sneha Khanwalkar
Sales Agent: Elle Driver
No rating; 320 minutes