Anurag Kashyap: He’s India’s Man at Cannes

The producer-director has three films in the fest, and has contributed to another

Anurag Kashyap
Guillaume Horcajuelo/Corbis

Anurag Kashyap ended a years-long drought for Hindi films at Cannes with last year’s six-hour “Gangs of Wasseypur,” which premiered in Directors’ Fortnight. He’s back this year with a posse of pics, and received the Order of Arts and Letters from French Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti on May 20 at the fest.

Besides Directors’ Fortnight player “Ugly,” which he directed, Kashyap produced “Monsoon Shootout” (Midnight Screening) and Critics’ Week choice “The Lunchbox” (Dabba). He contributed a segment to omnibus film “Bombay Talkies,” which pays homage to 100 years of Indian cinema and gets a special gala screening at the fest.

The Indian filmmaker, whose career matched the growth of the multiplex on the subcontinent, prefers to make edgy, decidedly non-Bollywood movies, the kinds of films he likes to watch. He is influenced by movies from the West, including Vittorio De Sica’s classic films. In fact, it was seeing the Italian helmer’s 1948 classic “Bicycle Thieves” in 1993 that made him give up studying zoology in college and embark on a film career.

Kashyap made a name for himself with the 2009 hit “Dev D.,” based on Sarat Chandra Chatterjee’s oft-adapted 1917 romance “Devdas.” But his success was hardly a given.

Kashyap’s career got off to a rocky start, with 2003’s “Paanch,” about five college students who fall into a life of drugs and crime. The pic ran afoul of government censors, who said it glorified violence and drug abuse; the film has never been released. “Allwyn Kalicharan” was shelved in 2003 after its star, Anil Kapoor, ankled mid-production. Kashyap says the actor lost faith in the project and Kapoor has never publicly spoken about the film.

Kashyap also raised hackles by tackling touchy subjects such as the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts in “Black Friday,” a pic released three years after its 2004 completion following a lengthy court battle filed by suspects in the explosion. But his luck changed when the film was finally released to rave reviews and played in Locarno. His “No Smoking” had niche box office success in 2007.

Following the success of “Dev D.,” which UTV Motion Pictures released, the two partnered on films including 2010’s “Udaan.” Produced with Guneet Monga and distributed abroad and on the festival circuit via Viacom18, “That Girl in the Yellow Boots” came soon after.

“I just get to make the films I want to make,” Kashyap said during a recent visit to the Indian Film Festival Los Angeles, an early supporter of his films. “I’m enjoying myself. The audiences are opening up, everything is opening up.”

Ever one to embrace controversy, the filmmaker attributed this openness to festivals and piracy sites such as Bit-Torrent, which, he said, bring films to a wider audience. “Piracy is changing Indian cinema,” he said. “Economically, piracy is bad; culturally it is the biggest boon.”

Nowadays Kashyap is helping other filmmakers win their battles. “The Lunchbox” is helmer Ritesh Batra’s first full-length feature after several shorts. “Monsoon Shootout” is Amit Kumar’s directorial debut. Another tyro helmer, Bedabrata Pain, said he owed the release of his “Chittagong” last year to Kashyap opening doors in India.

Kashyap’s former assistant Vasan Bala, who directed last year’s Critics’ Week player “Peddlers,” says the arguments between the two helped make his film better.

“He warned me that I was immature and rushing it,” Bala told the Hindustan Times. But when he showed Kashyap the final cut, the response was, “ ‘It might go somewhere.’ That was motivating.”