Anurag Kashyap features centre-stage in an all important friendship ritual in my adult life. Every Anurag film is watched with due reverence, after a satisfactory build-up and is awaited as an event in life.
That is to say, a couple of us friends get high before the movie, watch the film, get fucked in the head, come out (sometimes in tears, sometimes in anger), get (super) drunk, and then discuss., dissect and write about the movie for weeks after. Some of the writing legible, most buried inside emotional scribbles.
It is not a secret club where we wear Anurag Kashyap friendship bands, but it’s close. It is a shared love and adulation for Anurag and his forays into cinema. Among us, we talk about him like a friend; anytime we get blown away by a nuance in his films (like a goat munching on leaves next to Faizal and Mohsina in the Parmissan scene), we attribute it to his deliberation, his innate, indulgent haraminess (said in a nice way); we genuinely believe he is constantly pushing the envelope; and we were much happy (for him) and disappointed (for us) when he got it going with Kalki. No, we’re not gay for Anurag, unhein kabhi aisey dekha nahi, but as fanboy slackers, we found much to cheer in Anurag’s angst. And we were afraid that regular fucking would kill that angst. As I said, we talked about him like a friend.
For me personally, Anurag has been the angry young man that I looked up to, the Amitabh Bachchan of my generation. I am part of a larger reality of a country where specific movie experiences are life events, where there’s a symbiosis between characters on the screen and reality, both seamlessly affected by each other. It would be fair to say that I started watching foreign language films because of Anurag. When Anurag asked people to watch a film, I watched it. I have been reading Anurag’s writing for a long time. When Anurag had been related to any movie in any which way, I watched it. When people I knew by association with Anurag, when they made movies, I watched them too. And this simple philosophy has held me in good stead, in my own perspective expansion. Anurag wouldn’t lead you to a bad movie, period. I have discovered a lot of good cinema on Anurag’s recommendations, and not only content but the desire to watch more good content.
I have looked at him as an idol, not only because of the movies that he made, but because of his long and inspiring struggle, and the manner of his rebuttal through that struggle.
I am the kind who writes posts about Anurag Kashyap like these. If I had a good picture of Anurag as a poster, I would put it up in my room.
This ritual actually didn’t even start with Anurag’s films, but with Johnny Gaddaar which released a month before No Smoking, in 2007. Johnny had blown our collective minds, right from the opening credits. Anurag’s earnest crowing had led me to the first day first show. I had seen Black Friday much before, in a scratchy 320*240 pixel video in early 2005. No movie of his henceforth has been missed. Even Black Friday has got it’s ritual due posthumously, with repeat DVD home screenings.
Of the many build up conversations about Gangs of Wasseypur, a specific one had caught my eye while Anurag and the crew had been taking the movie to Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight.
From The leader of the pack,
“The big need in Indian cinema is to look within. Dibakar Banerjee and Vishal Bhardwaj stuck to the roots. I was the one who strayed. It is Tamil cinema which inspired me to return to my roots,” says Anurag, all set to display his gangs in Cannes. He clarifies it is not the mainstream masala fair from the South, which is inspiring Bollywood these days, that hooked him. “I got hooked to films like ‘Subramaniapuram’, ‘Adukulam’, ‘Paruthiveeran’…works of directors like Bala, Ameer Sultan and Vetrimaran. Watching these films, I realised I come from North India where many such stories exist in small towns and villages and I am stuck in cities.”
I had nodded that same evening to the ‘club’, “Saala Anurag ne zaroor koi gand-masti kari hai”.
It is foreboding and excitement both being an Anurag Kashyap fan. We are fond of thinking of Anurag as a rather extremist sabki lega guy. His characters, his actors, his fans, koi nahi bachega. His angst burns through everything, even “himself”. The character K in No Smoking represents Anurag’s creative force (or something such), and we all know how that turns out.
Oh, we were talking about my trepidation for Gangs of Wasseypur when I heard that Anurag has gone to his roots in the movie. Disclosure: I am a Bihari. A reluctant Bihari nevertheless, not proud of it at all. I had seen a national award winning “Bihari” film, Antardwand a little while back, and it had shook me. I imagined a far worse fate at the hands of Anurag. By invoking those two names – Vishal Bharadwaj and Dibakar Banerjee, he had stated something majestic.
I have been suggesting (and gifting) Maqbool, Oye Lucky Lucky Oye (and Black Friday) DVDs as the first names I can think of when introducing new age indian cinema as world cinema. I got exactly what Anurag was saying when he said these film-makers have never struggled while creating characters because they come from that milieu.
No matter how global the story, or unfamiliar, if you describe it as truly as you see it, it becomes something people can understand. The Gonzo oath!
If a person writes about a scenario from an honest, personal view underlining his own contextual position, then the scenario being described – no matter how radical becomes understandable and relatable to the reader. The writing becomes independent of the person writing it, even though it is extremely personal writing. The reader’s brain decodes the context automatically if it has been honestly put in by the author, and eventually sees the scenario from the eyes of the observer, devoid of judgements.
From Raw appeal,
“The international audience wants to see a country through its cinema. For them it is an aspect of our country,” says Kashyap. “Ninety per cent of the happy-go-lucky films that the overseas audiences have been exposed to are so unreal. When they see the strife and rural India, it is real India for them.”
On an aside, in the Hindu article quoted above, Anurag says this about Dibakar Banerjee,
“To me he is Hindi cinema biggest filmmaker. I don’t take the kind of responsibilities that Dibakar takes. I get very personal, at times indulgent. Mera cinema is pyaar zyada hai. I am a big cinephile. I remain limited to cinema. He is boundless. I am a researched filmmaker, he is an organic filmmaker. His observation of little-little things is marvellous. I don’t know what to do and how to do. I know what not to do. I negate things to make my way. Dibakar knows where he has to go. His music sense is very strong. I don’t know music. I have to scrape a lot. He is natural. Yes my destiny is perhaps better than Dibakar. He should be given the space that he deserves at the international level,”
But then Anurag is taking a film with 25 songs to Cannes!
So like earnest school boys couple of months back, we went into Gangs of Wasseypur -1. I mean, with the mood that the economy is fucked, future is black board, and even if apni to naiyya hai ram ke bharose re, chalo Anurag to film bana raha hai. The idea that if Anurag is making a film, he would be making a movie that he wants to make, no compromises; and that notion, even as a fan, is very liberating. It was good to hear the 5 hour film being received well at Cannes.
We sat through the film, and of the final scene, the stylistic shot of Sardar Khan’s demise in the middle of the road, Ameet exclaimed, “Ye to Godfather hai!”
He had just started reading The Godfather a couple of days ago. By complete coincidence and sheer force of my will.
I scoffed, “Aisey to har gangster movie Godfather hai”. Then I saw Raja Sen’s comment that the final scene reminded him of the shooting down of Sunny Corleone. I could see how the lusty, easy to anger Sardar Khan could be a red herring for Sunny. Nevertheless, I was adamant that if the final scene of GoW part 1 had to remind someone of something in The Godfather, it had to be Vito Corleone’s death (well yes, The Godfather didn’t die then, in the book, the one in GoW did. Inspired from real life events.)
Long conversations about the choice of background music for the death scene were had, and the camera angles from down below, tracing the gun in the hand and sunlight gleaming off in the wide frame. The former discussion concluded, “Godfather mein Don is sicilian isliye sicilian music, yahan par Don is bihari, so bihari music.” The latter with the thought that in the whole movie as one five hour twenty minute entity, this would be a generational shift, shown so dramatically to underline something beyond the year printing on the side.
Then yesterday, I saw this video, a making of short for Jiya ho bihar ke lala, a song sung by Manoj Tiwari (a real world bihari superstar and bhojpuri singer) which plays as the background to the final scene. I have always loved these making of videos from Anurag’s films, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Check out Anurag’s reasoning for the song 20 seconds into the video. Bihari pride. Something that is playing on even as the person dies. The pain is not experienced by that who is singing but by that who is listening. Also see what he tells Manoj Tiwari after he gets out of the 20 min loop, “Ekdum end hone tak bajate rahenge isko theatre mein”
Overall, I had a lost feeling with Part 1. It was evident that Anurag ghus gaya hai and the coal mafia, and the politics were just the context (an excellent excuse for his story). Anurag had gone all out in Bihar.
Manoj Bajpayee was definitely playing Amitabh Bachchan, and Part 1 played out like an 80s action flick. Details in place. Everything pat. The acting fantastic.
But cui bono?
Why was Anurag making this movie? Why this story?
Sardar Khan is a fascinating character to be put on screen, a complete Bihari character, not a caricature of a bihari. I grew up seeing such characters. I grew up hating such characters.
This was how gundagardi was in Bihar in the 70s-90s. And by a casting coup, Anurag got Manoj Bajpayee to play the lead. As Manoj says again and again over interviews, that their relationship is from the time Anurag was 25 (the latter quips in an interview, “Our wives still don’t know about it“), over three scripts that Anurag wrote for three landmark films, Satya, Kaun and Shool.
Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, whose “Gangs Of Wasseypur” will be premiered at the ongoing 65th Cannes International Film Festival, says he is still unsure what convinced Manoj Bajpayee to say yes for the film.
“This film is based in North India and required actors who understood the language and the region. I have worked a lot with Manoj and his name cropped up in my mind first. I was sure that only Manoj can essay this role of Sardar Khan but we had not talked to each other for a long time,” the 39-year-old said.
“So, I took the lead and called him and said that I have a script. He immediately came at 11:30 in the night. He asked for red wine, finished the entire bottle, heard the script and gave his nod. I still don’t know whether it was the script or the bottle that made him say yes,” he added.
Listen to Manoj describe his role,
Compelling character, pat context, but I felt the first part kept things hanging too much in the air. There was too much packed into it. The maniacal efficiency to endless details felt grating after a while, and I fell prey to the most ridiculous of all critic complaints, Why did you choose to tell this story? Why didn’t you lop this part? (that is of course, the film-maker’s prerogative, he made the story he wanted to make. It’s stupid asking why. Like why is the sky blue at this time of the day? Uska mann!)
I felt the grandfather Shahid Khan section had been included only in trying to maintain a long narrative attached with the coal bazari context. About the first bahubali, I didn’t see the sense in it, except for adding a first chapter, in how it added to the story.
We were the ones who walked out of the theater before seeing the trailer for the second film. We didn’t know.
Na jaane ban mein kitne phool khile hain, har phool khussbudar nahi hota
Anurag reacted to a lot of such sentiments on twitter with “Arrey aisey kaisey? How can you make your opinion without seeing the whole movie?”
That was fair. I stopped reading reactions and reviews (even after watching the first part). Meanwhile, my mom was in Bangalore and I went for a second viewing with her. She was blown away, and raved about it enough to dad back home in Patna, raved so much that he went alone to watch the movie a couple of days later. For the first time in his life, my dad went to watch a movie alone in a theater. He was much perturbed by the first part, an expected reaction (over which mom and I had howled over earlier). He also managed to lose his mobile phone while getting back home from the theater, an eventuality that both mom and I see as an effect arising from the film.
My dad has grown up, studied, and worked all his life around Dhanbad. His engineering college was right in the middle of the coal belt, he worked his years in a government department overseeing industry in Bihar and Jharkhand all his life. He would have quite identified with Srivastav ji, “Aap to soche ki Srivastav saheb to khali kalam ghiste hain, koyla bajari ke baare mein inko kya pata hoga”.
For two weeks sometime between the first movie and the second, Ameet vanished. He came out of it with a gleeful “Maine Godfather khatam kar di”. He beamed about it so much that I re-read it. The 6th or 7th time, I think. My first time was in Class 8th (from an old copy stuffed into a book rack about 9 feet from the floor. The book had belonged to my oldest uncle and had passed on to three of his younger brothers, judging by the signatures and dates affixed on the front page. I wasn’t supposed to reach it (and another book called Everything you always wanted to know about sex, but didn’t know who to ask) but reach it, I did, and devoured it, I did. Yessir. So this time around hearing him gasp like I did about Luca Brasi, and Sunny, and Michael, and Solazzo and all that first gladness of world you experience when you first read that book, I desperately wanted to re-read the Michael in the restaurant scene or Michael in the hospital scene. So I read the whole thing.
By the time the second movie rolled in, and we got to watching it (no first day first show this time around), we were like two excited school boys who had just read the Godfather. Let me clarify though, the part of the mind that had read the Godfather and the part of the mind that was excited about Wasseypur 2 were theoretically separate parts of the brain. We weren’t thinking of Wasseypur as a Godfather movie, no, Anurag hadn’t done anything simple like that. It was NOT a Spot-the-character movie either, though as fanboys we did spend much of the movie doing it. Just like in every Anurag Kashyap film, or with any bloody good film trying to give homage or tip the hat, it didn’t matter if you knew the original reference. Because, in a good movie, and in an Anurag Kashyap movie, the scene, the hat tip works just as well as it did originally, even in the far new different context it is placed in, without necessarily having an emotional connect with the inspiration.
To rephrase, we weren’t seeking out Godfather cues, just seeing out things from a bright just read Godfatherly light.
Too much disclaimer.
But it wasn’t until halfway through the second film watching Yashpal Sharma croon yet again through another wedding or burial that we honestly thought about the Godfather again. Ameet pointed and said, “Arrey, Ye to saala Johnny hai”. Johnny in our lingo has always been that iconic character from the Sriram Raghavan film, so I was initially confused. I looked at Yashpal Sharma again and back again. Johnny?
Mind blown instantly. The usual how the fuck did Anurag think this. Yashpal Sharma plays an item boy.
Even at the end of GoW1, I couldn’t believe that Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s character Faizal Khan would be playing the pivotal part in the second part of the movie. Not because Nawaz is not a great actor, but because Faizal, as he was introduced was such an unlikely hero!
The character feels so complete, so rich because in aforementioned Anurag fashion, while giving Nawaz the biggest role of his career, and an iconic character to burn the screen, he has put scenes like the Parmissan scene, picked from Nawaz’s real life.
Faizal Khan is a blister of a character, a Michael Corleone for the ages, a local mobster obsessed with Amitabh Bachchan, both in turn and independently inspired from Al Pacino. However, Nawaz chooses Scarface over Godfather, a Tony Montana in his lungi, amidst deep intakes of ganja smoke. The character song defining Faizal is the demonic Kaala Rey, a magnificent song reminiscent of Ganda hai par dhandha hai ye from Company.
Kaala re, Saiyyan kaala re,
Tan kaala re, mann kaala re,
Kaali zubaan ki kaali gaari,
Kaali din ki kaali shaamein,
Saiyyan karte ji coal bazari
He’s all black, body and soul and tongue, but it’s all business. A succinct sum up of the character. A marked difference from Sardar Khan, who is all Keh ke loonga. There is no angst, at least none that stays unresolved at the end.
Listen to Nawaz talk about his character,
In the film’s finest sequence, which expands on the attack on Faizal’s home that began Part I, Faizal doesn’t confront his attackers. He, instead, climbs up to the terrace and jumps to the adjacent terrace and shimmies down a wall and breaks his foot and winces with pain and enlists the help of a neighbour to return home. And instantly, a hero, a protagonist, is reduced to a mere man, who has to visit the doctor to treat this broken bone and walk around in a plaster cast afterwards. This, Kashyap tells us, is what avengers are like – fools, sidetracked by love stories (Faizal is as much a fool for Mohsina as his father was for Durga), men with vague aims but without concrete plans. And this could be the reason for beginning Part I with this shootout – perhaps Kashyap was pointing to his intentions of myth-busting, as opposed to all those films where a revenge-oriented plot enabled heroic myth-making.
Even his hero is not the traditionally manly Danish (Vineet Kumar), who asserts his traditional manliness by stuffing his gun down the front of his pants, but the ganja-loving second son, whose smoking isn’t coy, like we’ve seen in the movies, with characters cupping their hands around their mouth – he sucks in the fumes like a vampire feasting on a long-denied infusion of lifeblood. Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s performance is remarkable. He draws on this character trait and plays his part with an addict’s remoteness and cluelessness. (The scene where he demands to know what a pager does is a beauty.) At first, when Sardar Khan’s news reaches home and we see Danish so emotionally overwrought and Faizal in a stupor, we think it’s because he’s in shock. But soon we see that that’s how he is – he walks through life in a drugged-out daze. Kashyap’s two-part saga is, for the first time in our cinema, an acknowledgement of the accidental hero.
Gangs of Wasseypur 2 made it all very clear. Why the motivation for making the movie was telling the whole story? (After watching The Wire, my mind’s horizon has expanded, if ever so slightly. I now understand what Anurag means when he says the primary motivation was the chance to be able to tell the whole story). The movie was year stamped through out because there was an attempt at a parallel social, political and bollywood timeline. A generational shift was being described.
From the time one could hold hundreds of labourers in pouring rain inside a coal mine using just one pehelwan to now where everyone is a hero in his own film in his own head. I was overwhelmed with the spectrum of characters over the years. A daze when seen in part one, a buzz by the time part two ended.
I understood why the first film had made me uncomfortable, whereas my parents loved it to bits. That was the 70s-80s. About that generation in Bihar. My father worked through the division of erstwhile Bihar into two states, first in Bihar, then in Jharkhand. We saw the moments, in the film which say that the people who were earlier looting the treasury were given the keys to it post the state division.
As for the conscience, Anurag says those who indulged in pilferage explained to themselves that when everybody is taking it why not they. “It was like bandarbat, everybody wanted his share. The film captures the changing nature of the business, the vengeance and the politics of it all through three generations of one family.”
This below is a beautiful interview with Anurag Kashyap by Anupama Chopra in NDTV’s Front Row. She confronts him with viewers’ reactions to the first movie, and it is enlightening to hear the things Anurag says.
I got the milieu of GoW2 perfectly. It was the bihari cool I had grown up with. The joke that Definite played on Perpendicular, involving the bike jump; I almost died laughing right there in the theater. It was the kind of jokes kids around me played, with no respect for life or limb, least of all for one’s own. Survival, for it’s own sake, wasn’t considered a big deal, like in the previous generation.
I noticed that I have had a very low gag reflex through the two movies. At absolutely unexpected moments, some inner chord gets tickled (embarrassment, presumably), and I burst out laughing and giggling through the entire scene. If you have one Bihari in a story, you could have a stereotype, if you have two, one could have two facets, more characters – a more honest insistent exploration. This was a whole universe of Biharis. Over three generation of characters, I was overwhelmed! This is so far ahead of scratchy caricatures that it is futile counting milestones.
Ramadhir Singh hasn’t changed. He says, in all seriousness, “Hindustan mein jab tak cinema hai, log chutiya bante jayenge.”
But we don’t take this statement seriously. We laugh at it because if cinema didn’t exist, Kashyap wouldn’t exist. It’s like the anti-smoking warning on a pack of cigarettes – it means nothing to the addict. Gangs of Wasseypur would not have been possible if Kashyap hadn’t been so drunk on cinema – like Quentin Tarantino, the universe he creates is drawn less from life around us than how the movies have depicted life around us. And his peculiar achievement – and, finally, a praiseworthy one – is that he draws from our cinema and, at the same time, denounces it.