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In Conversation with Bollywood Writer-Director: Anurag Kashyap

Writer-director Anurag Kashyap shot his critically acclaimed film, That Girl in Yellow Boots in thirteen days, in an industry where it takes longer to shoot a Bollywood song. Every once in a while the indie auteur drops a surprise on the movie going public: a brilliant, yet modestly budgeted film about a subject that hardly fits the Bollywood mould.
BY Uttara Choudhury |   2012

NEW YORK – Prolific writer-director Anurag Kashyap, 39, shows no signs of slackening. Every once in a while he drops a little surprise on the movie going public: a modestly budgeted film about a subject that hardly fits the Bollywood mould.

 Naseeruddin Shah and Kalki Koechlin in That Girl in Yellow Boots

In 2004 there was Black Friday, about the 1993 Mumbai bombings; in 2009 there was Gulaal and Dev D which many critics termed a turning point for the way Bollywood makes films. This year, three films Kashyap is associated with — his own Bihar-set, two-part, revenge saga, Gangs of Wasseypur and co-production, Peddlers were screened at Cannes.

That Girl in Yellow Boots ventures into unsettling territory taking on a subject as taboo as incest, and a candid portrayal of drug addiction and withdrawal.

Kashyap struggled for years, sleeping on friend’s couches while trying to bring his films on the screen. In 2003, when Paanch was held back by the censors Kashyap was told he ought to quit making films.

“In the depths of despair in 2006 Kashyap shocked his friends by sending out a mass SMS to everyone in the industry asking for help. No one responded except (actor) John Abraham who sweetly bought him a ticket to Los Angeles so he could have a change of scene. There Kashyap wrote No Smoking a dark allegory about individualism,” wrote Nisha Susan in “Tehelka.”

The Director’s Director

Now producers beat a path to Kashyap’s door, actors want to work with him and he is an icon for aspiring Indian filmmakers. He has been called the “best film school” in India for changing the way the game is played: he is an economical filmmaker who delivers powerful movies. His films invariably have hit songs but avoid the usual Bollywood dance sequences and weary monologues.

Potential funding partners wanted more sex in the movie. “People wanted to fund the movie for all the wrong reasons. They felt it dealt with a lot of sex. I said ‘No, it will be largely off-screen.’

I met the indie auteur at the New York screening of his film, That Girl in Yellow Boots, which ventures into unsettling territory taking on a subject as taboo as incest, and a candid portrayal of drug addiction and withdrawal. While introducing That Girl in Yellow Boots at its New York premiere at the Asia Society, Kashyap nervously said, "I hope you feel the film, because you will not enjoy it." It was an apt disclaimer as the film is a dark and tragic story of a girl in search of her father in Mumbai’s underbelly.

In a raw, sensitive performance, Kashyap’s wife, Kalki Koechlin provides the movie’s guts as Ruth, a British woman combing India desperately looking for her father. The film carries the viewer along the journeys of Ruth as she struggles in Mumbai, living as an illegal immigrant, working in a seedy massage parlour and dealing with a rogue’s gallery of bribe-taking policemen, postmen and visa officials.

Explosive Themes

Kashyap said he wanted to make the film to explore themes he had been struggling with for years. The film with its child abuse subtext is intensely personal as Kashyap himself was a victim of child abuse for 11 years.

Despite a small budget, Kashyap’s directing creed attracted classy actors like Naseeruddin Shah. “Naseeruddin did an interview with MTV in the US saying he wanted to do a film with me. I saw the interview and jumped.”

“With every idea there comes a time when it just boils over. I think about my films for a long time, maybe years, but I write them in days,” said Kashyap who asked Kalki to co-write the story. “I didn’t want a male perspective.”

That Girl in Yellow Bootswas shot in thirteen days, in an industry where it takes longer to shoot a song sequence. The film is primarily framed in tight spaces — apartments, seedy massage parlors and auto rickshaws. With Rajeev Ravi’s brilliant cinematography the film has a gritty realism.

Kashyap may have got Rs 20 crores to make Gangs of Wasseypur, his most expensive film to date, but he struggled to get funding for That Girl in Yellow Boots. “After Dev D became a big success people felt I had found my groove. I have seen a lot of film-makers falling into that trap. Once you succeed you make that a formula. The reason I did this film is because everyone told me ‘It’s a career suicide. Don’t do it!’ said Kashyap.

Anurag Kashyap is a prolific writer-director whose art house films have hit the mark

Potential funding partners also wanted more sex in the movie. “People wanted to fund the movie for all the wrong reasons. They felt it dealt with a lot of sex. I said ‘No, it will be largely off-screen.’ Finally, we chose to go out and do it on our own. I borrowed money from UTV to make the film,” said Kashyap.

Improvisational Approach with his Actors

Despite a small budget, Kashyap’s directing creed attracted classy actors like Naseeruddin Shah. “Naseeruddin did an interview with MTV in the US saying he wanted to do a film with me. I saw the interview and jumped. I asked him for a day. He came in the morning, shot all day and left after wrapping up all his scenes,” said Kashyap.

“I also saw these great actors in a play and they ended up being in the film. They have a great chemistry and I tapped into that vibe to create a layered film,” said Kashyap.

“It is an entirely selfish decision to turn producer because I want my kind of cinema to last and flourish and helping young filmmakers make those kind of films is the best way to do it.”

Kalki, who has been a performing arts student at Goldsmiths University in London, is excellent as Ruth, bringing the right amount of angst and vulnerability to her character. She also wrote full scenes and handed them to Kashyap. Kalki was born to French parents in Pondicherry. Her parents who still live in India came to the country some 38 years ago. Kalki doesn’t miss a beat in depicting the bureaucratic maze in India’s immigration offices.

“I was born in India but I didn’t have my citizenship till much later so I have done many rounds of these offices,” said Kalki who speaks Tamil, English, French and Hindi.

"A lot of the characters like the Kannadiga gangster were based loosely on dadas that I had seen, growing up in Bangalore," Kalki added.

Ironically, the film’s working title was “Happy Ending” although it is anything but sunny. “If you have a happy conclusion then it sets your heart at rest,” says Kalki. “When it doesn’t, it nags at you,” chimes in Kashyap finishing his wife’s sentence.

Encouraging Good Cinema

Kashyap turned producer in 2010 with coming-of-age cult classic, Udaan directed by Vikramaditya Motwane. The tale set in Shimla and Jamshedpur, was an official entry at the Cannes film festival two years ago.

“It is an entirely selfish decision to turn producer because I want my kind of cinema to last and flourish and helping young filmmakers make those kind of films is the best way to do it,” Kashyap told “Reuters.”


Anurag Kashyap: That Girl In Yellow Boots

 

Uttara Choudhury is Associate Editor, North America for TV 18’s Firstpost news site. In 1997, she went on the British Chevening Scholarship to study Journalism in the University of Westminster, in London.   

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