Across 14 feature-length films and a two-decade-long career, Anurag Kashyap has developed finely tuned filmmaking process. From doing his best work only on chaotic sets to giving his collaborators a lot of space, we revisit interviews in which the director talks about how he approaches his craft:
He only thrives amidst chaos on set
I’ve always thrived in chaos. I remember shooting Bombay Velvet (2015) – everything was so organised and I was so lost. I didn’t know how to function. It was the first day, my assistant directors had the call sheets, everything was in place and I did not know how to shoot. So I just got up and gave different instructions to every single junior artist. I went to (cinematographer) Rajeev Ravi and said, ‘Let’s shoot now, there’ll be chaos.’ And there was. I think I can only work like that because that is how I was trained, with Ram Gopal Varma. We lacked budgets and had to still somehow go out and get shots and make the films that no one else wanted to make.
I remember Manmarziyan (2018). Two days before the shoot I called Tapsee Pannu and said, ‘Listen, can you dye your hair red?’ She said, “Abhi yaad aa raha hai?” (You’re telling this to me now?) I said, “Abhi to ghusa hoon film mein” (I’ve only just started immersing myself in the film). Then I called Vicky Kaushal and said, ‘I’m sending you a reference hairstyle. That is the hairstyle you need to get.’ Vicky had worked with me as an assistant director before and so he wasn’t surprised. Tapsee had never worked with me before and she said, ‘I know you are going to improvise but can I get a rough idea of what the script is going to look like?’ I said “Okay, we’ll postpone the shoot by a day.” (Writer) Kanika Dhillon and I sat for two days, two nights inside a room and finished the script. Then I told Taapsee, ‘This is the script. And we start shooting tomorrow.’ I don’t know any other way of working.
He gives his composers enough time to work
I give them a lot of time. I work with Amit Trivedi every three or for years because that’s how long it takes for me to work on the music of a film. When we had finished Dev D (2009), I told him to start listening to jazz, because the plan was to do Bombay Velvet one day. He started working on Bombay Velvet five years before it actually came out. Sneha Khanwalkar worked on Gangs of Wasseypur for three years. I look for composers who are new and available and can give all their time to me because that’s how long I take to work.
He likes writing abroad and on flights
I like travelling, I like being up in the air. I like long-haul flights because I write a lot there. I like solitary spaces. The advantage of being abroad is that I can go out for a stroll while writing without an actor walking up to me and saying, ‘Sir, I want a role.’ Or someone trying to solicit a script. There’s this idea that I’m the only one who works with outsiders. So all of them come to me. It’s not like I haven’t found good people that way – I found (composer) Rachita Arora like that, standing in my parking lot – but there are also too many stalkers. Ever since Nawazuddin Siddiqui became famous, everybody tells me, ‘I’m also dark-skinned like Nawaz, give me a chance.’ Nobody gives him credit for actually being a good actor, being trained. So it’s better to be abroad.
He gives his collaborators a lot of space
My process is that I’ll write a script or have an idea and then everybody will start working in their own direction. They all start working individually before it comes together. I work by negation – I tell my collaborators what doesn’t work for me, what I don’t want. That opens up possibilities and that is why people like working with me, because they get to do their own thing. They don’t have to meet my expectations because I work in freeform. Everybody feels like they are contributing to the film. And everything always happens at the last minute. With Manmarziyaan, I called Amit and said, ‘I’ve found this word – fyaar. I need a song to explain what it is.’
He doesn’t like his characters to wear a lot of makeup
The discussions between my costume designers and I are minimal. They have a lot of free hand to make suggestions, but the characters should also seem real. Like if a character is at home or in bed, asleep, they he or she can’t be wearing what our Hindi film hero or heroines wear to bed, with their hair perfectly in place. I don’t like the makeup person to touch up their face. When I can see an actor or actress’ real, honest face, I find that very attractive because I feel I can touch them, like I’m looking into their eyes. That’s what is more important to me – when I feel like they’re real. When they’re too pretty and made up for the camera, it feels like they’re too distant. There’s something cold about them, they’re far away from me. So I take off all the sheen and just see the character as he or she is.
He turns his broken heart into art
I don’t think I’ve known any other way. I just put everything into my films. All my angst finds its way into my work. I’ve been like that since I was born. My films change midway through the shoot if I’m going through a life change. The ending of Dev D changed. The script originally didn’t have a happy ending. Vikramaditya Motwane was the most upset by this. He was like, ‘You have destroyed the film.’
He works best without a budget
All my friends tell me that I should not be given budgets to make movies. When I’m given a budget, I don’t know what to do with it. When I’m given nothing, I actually create.