A peek into Anurag Kashyap's DVD collection will tell you that he's a bonafide film geek. Ever since he decided to chase films as a career, he has educated himself on the art form by watching and learning from filmmakers from across the globe. He's worked hard on this education by going to great lengths to find DVDs, books on films and screenplays. We asked Kashyap to trace his love for the movies – right from the storytellers who impacted him in his formative years to the ones he's learning from now.
My love for Amitabh Bachchan started with Zanjeer which affected me deeply as a child. The idea of a man against the system had a major impact on me. Even in Kaala Patthar, this guilt Bachchan carries with him was intriguing and I loved that he was not a superhero. In Zanjeer, he was in the system and had to fight it. These themes have stayed with me for so long.
I was a big fan of N Chandra's Ankush and later I saw Tezaab and Pratighaat that I loved. Through N Chandra's films I started my Nana Patekar phase. He became the second on-screen hero that I became a fan of. I watched Parinda for him and it led me to my third obsession – Anil Kapoor. In his Meri Jung, I once again found the anti-hero that I was obsessed with – the man who didn't fit in.
Around 1991-92, a friend called Sumit Sinha introduced me to the world of theatre. Together we would visit various cultural centres to watch movies. It was during this time that I ended up watching a lot of Japanese movies. One of the first great films I saw was the 1965 movie, A Fugitive from the Past, by Tomu Uchida. It's about a thief on the run who meets a geisha and that becomes his undoing.
From then on, I went on to watch more world cinema. In 1993 at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) I saw the Italian films Bicycle Thieves, The Roof and The Children Are Watching Us -all by Vitoirio De Sica. The Roof is the hardest to find. I looked for it for years and much later I found the DVD in Australia.
While growing up I had read Crime and Punishment in Hindi and was hugely impacted by Dostoevsky. Later when I started going to the embassy to see films, I watched War and Peace for the first time. When I decided to get into movies, I started consuming films like a mad man and I discovered so many of them through their books. I remember watching To Kill A Mockingbird and Shoot the Piano Player. I picked films that were adapted from literature and then went back to the book. Then later I reversed the process – I started reading the books first and observing how they were adapted to film. This is when I read Crime and Punishment for the first time in English. I also read James M Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice and found all the movie versions of the book. That's how I also discovered Double Indemnity.
When I moved to Bombay, I spent a lot of time at Lotus House Books in Bandra. It had a lot of cinema-related books and they used to publish screenplays by Faber and Faber. They were the only ones who had the screenplay of Shoot the Piano Player. This place was introduced to me by Sridhar Raghavan, who was like my teacher. He had a vast knowledge of cinema.
The 1994 IFFI was in Mumbai and that's where I saw Pulp Fiction. It totally blew my mind. There was also this strange Canadian film called Fun. It's a lesser-known film that no one talks about. This film is told through flashbacks and I remember it had a very unique structure that I borrowed for my films Paanch and Last Train to Mahakali.
I had read most of James Ellroy's books. LA Cnfidential was a thick book and the film blew my mind because it wasn't what I had imagined it to be. Curtis Hanson threw out a lot of stuff from the book. He invented Rollo Tomasi to keep it together. Around the same time, I saw Govind Nihalani's Drohkaal. Then I found out it was loosely inspired by The Battle of Algiers so I made sure to see it. The influence of that film was very visible in Black Friday, you'll see. It taught me how to tell a story of something that actually happened. How to replay a sequence of events by being a fly on the wall.
Somewhere during 1995, thanks to Sriram Raghavan, I made my major discovery – Martin Scorsese. Films like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull brought me back to my favourite themes of alienation and being an outsider in a city. At that time, I was also very affected by Bombay. I would walk around the street and live with those characters in my head. This was Scorsese's first phase.
His second was Goodfellas and Casino. The Sharon Stone character in Casino changed the way I wrote women. Indian women in films don't have flaws, don't make mistakes and you believed it. This challenged my notion of how I saw women. I started seeing women as fully fleshed-out people, like my male characters.
Slowly I started getting interested in the politics of cinema. I was curious about world history and what was happening around me. That's when my Oliver Stone phase started with JFK, Nixon and Born on the Fourth of July.
Another film I keep going back to is Alan Parker's Pink Floyd – The Wall. He took the entire Roger Waters album and turned it into a movie. The film has non-stop music. I had the VHS, LD and DVD of the film and now I'm waiting for the Blu-ray.
When I liked a filmmaker, I consumed everything about them, including their interviews. I remember that in one of his interviews, Martin Scorsese spoke about the series The Yakuza Papers by Japanese filmmaker Kinji Fukasaku and how it impacted him. That's when I tried watching it. I saw this as prep for Black Friday. It was hard to find and now I make others watch it. It simplified filmmaking for me.
I went through a major love affair with Korean cinema. It started with Park Chan-wook's films like Sympathy for Mr Vengeance and Old Boy. Then came Memories of Murder by Bong Joon Ho. I just loved the fearlessness in their filmmaking. I remember reading that in Korea, you're not allowed to carry guns so people carry knives and swords… everything becomes a weapon and therefore there is violence. So that one one sequence in Old Boy when the guy comes out of the elevator and kills people was very impactful. From Memories of Murder, I learnt the idea of telling a story that doesn't have a resolution in the end. It changed the way we saw serial killer movies. Without this film, there would be no David Fincher's Zodiac.
After Black Friday got banned and Gulaal got stuck, I saw a film called Head-on by Fatih Akin. This film changed everything for me. It took me back to Godard's Breathless. No one else sees the connect but me. Head-on took my depression away. It inspired a scene in Dev D, which I showed Fatih Akin and we became great friends after that.
This started in 2004. I remember the first film I saw of Dhanush didn't even have subtitles. Then I saw Bala's Sethu, Vetrimaran's Aadukalam and Selvaraghavan's Kaadhal Kondein. I found the strange influence of Korean cinema on what they were making – people using weapons that were self-made and produced from what was available. I liked the way they designed violence and made guns look cool.
In 2008, when I went to England for the first time, I saw a bunch of movies like Look Back in Anger and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which were about average working-class people. These films made me think a lot about my father and how he used to go to work everyday. This led me to Ken Loach's cinema, which is also about working-class people and their struggles.
I discovered him very late. I had only seen Psycho and some of his other popular stuff. But my real discovery only happened when I saw his silent movies and observed the subject matters he dealt with. Shadow of a Doubt was about the relationship between an uncle and niece that borders on incest. I was blown away by his ability to create something that makes you so uncomfortable.
My favourite film of this century has to be There Will Be Blood. I saw it in LA at the Dome and since then, he's become my new favourite filmmaker.
(As told to Mohini Chaudhuri)