Saturday, March 24, 2007

'I’m impressionable as a writer'

'I’m impressionable as a writer'
By: Shraddha Sukumaran
February 9, 2007

Anurag Kashyap in conversation with Mahesh Bhat
Black Friday’s writer-director Anurag Kashyap says he will come wherever and whenever so that Mahesh Bhatt can interview him ahead of the film’s release (today).

A sunny Tuesday evening rendezvous is finally fixed at 5 pm at Bhatt’s editing studio in Juhu. The two greet each other brusquely – nods, handshakes, brief smiles – so it’s a little surreal when their dialogue begins to bare their history and allows us a rare peek into what goes on in their minds.

Bhatt: On March 12, 1993, I had taken my wife, then heavily pregnant with my daughter, to the doctor. He had just come back after seeing pieces of human flesh as a result of the 1993 bomb blast. That’s what first came to my mind when I saw Black Friday in Bradford. This was a UK post 7/7, a UK which had tasted what we had in 1993.

And suddenly, there was great empathy for this film. Normally, the premiere night of Bite The Mango festival is not well-attended, but here a huge gathering of people chose to stay back and watch the film.

The response was phenomenal. In fact, I’d expressed a desire to interview Anurag even then because I thought it significant to communicate to India the impact Black Friday had in UK.

The pre-dominant Asian community consisted of Muslims who felt more victimised then. The hall got still as the movie unspooled. They watched the film with respect; normally they are very impatient with Asian films. There was a sense of acknowledgement.

For you Anurag, it’s been one hell of a journey from the young boy who stood below my office to get Rs 10,000 because he was in a financial crisis, to a guy who’s being interviewed by me. That too without a single film of his being released! A lot of life has happened to you. Finally, one of your films is going to see the light of day. So...

Bhatt: Why did you decide to make Black Friday? Do you recall the exact moment when the film rook root in you?
Anurag: It was after I finished the first chapter of the book Black Friday by S Hussain Zaidi – it described the day of the blast and the build-up to it. It goes into the back story of how a man tells his wife, ‘Main aa raha hoon’ and passes one site of the blast unhurt.

Then on the second site he goes to Lucky Petrol Pump to get petrol and dies there. That suddenness with which life can be taken away started to give me perspective.

All I knew about the 1993 bomb blasts was what the papers were going on about – Sanjay Dutt — which I felt had five degrees of separation from the blast after reading the book. But the papers decided to print only that because he started selling.

The book gave me a perspective of what actually happened, who officer Rakesh Maria was, what caused the blast and who Badshah Khan was — to me the most important character in the film. Khan was a normal man who became a fanatic, and the book traces his journey even when he turns approver.

B: What was the impulse that said, ‘I want to give a sizeable portion of my life to this film.’
A: When I start reading, I started seeing visuals. I wanted to put that on screen. Also, the book was not out then. I was reading the manuscript.

B: Did any pre-censorship take place and affect Black Friday?
A: Pre-censorship always escapes me. Looking back, maybe I was innocent to just put down what I felt. It was my naiveté that made me get into this. The subject always takes over me. I’ve always written like that. I don’t decide where I’m going – I just follow. Everything was organic, so there was no pre-censorship.

After putting the film together, the first cut was 3 hours 20 minutes long. It was difficult to choose which story to take out. But when it went to the Censor Board, there were just four audio cuts on abuses that didn’t affect the film. Other than that, they let the film be.

B: Do you think the Censor Board has come of age?
A: It is much more mature.

B: So we’re living in freer times?
A: From what I faced with Paanch to Black Friday, there’s been a drastic difference.

B: What separates a true filmmaker from a mere technician is his personal vision?
A: What I strived to get during Black Friday’s making was the need for more tolerance among us. There were many choices in the process of writing and making the film. We could have gone with Rakesh Maria’s story, Badshah Khan’s story or the third point of view (which we chose), which was an objective, detached view. I realised that I’m too impressionable as a writer. So to detach myself and have a bird’s view, to state things as they happened, I decided to go with an objective view.

B: Is there a core philosophy?
A: The whole thing that binds Black Friday is that it began with the blasts and went back to the history of the Babri Masjid demolition. There must be a history beyond that. If I need to kill someone, I’ll find a reason to. But we need to have more tolerance. ‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’ is the film’s statement and the song ‘Arre ruk ja re bandhe’ endorses that. The producers and I didn’t want to vocalise our statement in the film.

B: Would you say that at your age you have rediscovered Gandhi?
A: Yes. That is the statement. I also got a political perspective into my own life during the process of making Black Friday.

B: What was that?
A: I was not an objective person before Black Friday, and that shows in the first draft I wrote of my other film Gulal. I wrote that film before I set out to make Black Friday. I eventually rewrote Gulal’s final draft after Black Friday.

B: So the making of Black Friday changed you?
A: Yes. I still get angry, but I get less angry. Today, I’ve found various channels to vent my anger by writing films or articles for newspapers and magazines. Earlier, I would get physical; go out on the streets and fight.

B: The aftershocks of March 12 are still reverberating. Do you think India will ever be free of the ghosts?
A: I wish it does, but if you ask me I don’t think so. If we want to change society, the responsibility lies with a lot of people. Lots of journalists ask me is, ‘Don’t you think you’re digging up old wounds?’ The whole country wants to live in a comfortable cushioned life. We have to get uncomfortable and ask the right questions. America learned from a blast post 9/11. But India makes itself a vulnerable, soft target because we are not tolerant. Someone will come and incite us and we’ll be incited.

B: Did you meet Rakesh Maria before making the film?
A: Yes, he spoke to me at length. His investigations were covered, but nobody covered how his mind had functioned during those days.

What were those key moments? There’s a scene that’s not there in the book: when the first accused Asgar Mukadam was brought in, two men came with him. One was his father, the other his uncle. Maria told me, ‘The way his uncle was reacting, I knew something was wrong.’

The uncle was actually Asgar’s father’s biological child. Asgar himself had been adopted. So Maria asked the father to leave and kept the uncle in there. Just one threat to the uncle made the guy open up on his own.

That’s what an investigating mind is like, and I respect that a hell of a lot. There’s a lot that Rakesh Maria did that we as outside parties may not understand, like third degree measures, but to me he was a man doing his duty.

He was forced to deliver results, but at the same time he was also a human being. I wanted to highlight three aspects of his investigations: that he was ruthlessly doing his duty but was troubled by things happening around him and would find his own cocoon to let it out.

B: He’s one of the most secular people I have met in my life. I think you’ve brought that dimension terrifically in the film.
A: Yes. He really lived with those policemen in the jail. There’s a definite hierarchy in the force, but there’s a scene where they’re all in that bathroom and the hierarchy has vanished – their uniforms are off and they’re in their banians.

But Rakesh Maria’s personal loss is not there in the film – his mother was suffering from cancer at that time. There were two calls to his child’s school that there was a bomb there and it had to be evacuated.

B: If you had to see Black Friday with the accused, their families and the police, would you feel comfortable?
A: Absolutely. People who see the film in the right frame of mind will see the point I’m trying to make. I’m not afraid.

B: Among your contemporaries, who would you like to show the film to?
A: There are some underrated contemporaries like Mohit (Suri) and Anurag Basu. I go back with Basu a long way. Then Kabir Kaushik (Sehar), Tigmanshu Dhulia, Vishal Bhardwaj, Sriram Raghavan, Sudhir Mishra – these people’s opinions matter to me.

B: How do you think the aristocracy of Bollywood will react to the film?
A: I don’t care. I really don’t. Bhattsaab, vada pav zyaada bikta hain lekin uska matlab yeh nahin ki woh exotic ho jaata hai. People I respect will recieve my respect all the time. Somebody who has more media space or box office clout does not have my respect. I respect people for what they stand for.

B: Who are your heroes? Do you feel the need for them?
A: I do. My heroes are people like Che Guevara, Dylan Thomas, (Franz) Kafka,. Kafka is a big hero because he died without seeing a single work published, and today we celebrate him. My heroes are those who have sought change and fought for it – sometimes they succeeded, sometimes they didn’t.

B: Are you still asking yourself ‘who am I?’ and ‘why am I here?’
A: (Chuckles) I ask myself that all the time.

B: Have you found the answer?
A: No!

The background

Bhatt: A few years ago (‘In 1992,’ says Anurag. ‘We started together. Bhattsaab brought me here.’), this boy was in an economic doldrum. He came to my office and I gave him the money.

Today, I’m interviewing him. His films haven’t released, and yet Anurag is somebody people like. He has audacity, he has irreverence and the capacity to draw ideas. He will be a filmmaker today (Friday) when the movie flickers onto the screen. And yet he creates a furore.

He reminds me of myself. People tell me, ‘Anurag is what you were,’ but I say, ‘No, he’s 1,000 times more talented!’

He has a control of the craft; he’s cinematically brilliant and has a fire in his belly. But what he hasn’t perhaps found is his vision in life. He doesn’t have to arrive at it now, but when he does, he’ll be an exceptional filmmaker.

Black Friday is an unflinching film — it looks at history fearlessly. A creative director makes a decision and is ready to face the consequences. It gave me great joy to see him walk tall. As you grow older, you begin to have faith in younger people. That’s what life is. People like him and me are blessed with thirst. To quench us, is to kill us.

(Anurag nods, laughing).

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