It is clear that certain filmmakers have their own peculiar style irrespective of who they work with – a testament of the director always being the center of the film. Even when the film deviates from a particular director’s general style, there’s always going to be an inevitable voice behind the camera regardless of what screenwriters one collaborates with. Now, it’s quite safe to say that Anurag Kashyap has been one of the most influential filmmakers in the Hindi cinematic landscape. Best known for acclaimed movies such as “Black Friday”, “Gangs of Wasseypur”, “Dev.D” and “Ugly”, Kashyap has imbued the industry with a distinctive angsty approach behind the camera; his films are often chaotic, but with enough clarity to establish and reinforce themes that remain increasingly more timely to the India of today.
However, some of his recent films have seen a deviation from his usual trademark style, as the director has sought collaboration with various screenwriters. For instance, his last film, “Dobaaraa”: a remake of a Spanish Sci-fi film that derived its logic from within the fantasy of its reel-life world. Apart from the more obvious shift in genres, the film also had a less indulgent style than his previous films. Kashyap even asserted this shift in an interview last year where he was quoted saying: “With this film, I was trying to go away and stay away from what I would generally do with a film.” Despite being an adaptation, there were still echoes of some of his previous films, most notably of “Ugly” (the last film Kashyap himself wrote as well as directed) that could be seen with the case of a missing child.
One of his biggest achievements as a visual storyteller remains in how he grounds his characters in reality; there’s a cultural rootedness to his films that make them feel different from contemporary works. Even in “Dobaaraa”, there was an existential quest the protagonist was after. What could Antara (played by Taapsee Pannu) do if what appears real to her doesn’t even match up to others’ idea of reality? Even films like “Raman Raghav 2.0”, “Mukkabaaz” and “Manmarziyaan” dealt with a similar existential threat of survival looming over their characters’ fate, but with a more twisted and sharper sociopolitical angle attached. Films like “Choked” and “Dobaaraa” underplayed the director’s own voice, but never at a thematic cost.
Thus, viewed from this perspective, a trademark style may not always be a sustainable creative choice. In fact, some of the most influential filmmakers remain the ones who pushed boundaries, both across genres of filmmaking but also at an individual level. Just the way even the most established actors fear being type-casted after a point, directors too feel that their work could easily become an exercise and an excuse in brand making: a limiting process that blunts exploration, hence, restraining the artist’s ambitions.
At the heart of the Netflix satirical drama, “Choked” remained the social consequences of one of the most controversial political decisions of our times: the demonetization of 2016. Similarly, “Dobaaraa” played around the idea that haunted many of us with the COVID pandemic: What if we were to live a completely different life? What if we were given an option to live another someplace else? What would we choose and why? There’s a devastating poignancy with which Kashyap and writer Nihit Bhave had addressed the dilemma.
Now, as we’re a day away from the release of Kashyap’s next film, “Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat”, it’s difficult to ignore how much the film feels ‘unlike an Anurag Kashyap movie’. It’s ironic, considering that it also marks the first film he’s solely written to his credit since 2014’s “Ugly”. But when you view it through a proper subtext given where his career trajectory’s headed, it makes one all the more curious to see the work of a director who seems to be moving towards a style that excels in such original plots.
The Karan Mehta and Alaya F starrer is a romantic drama targetted at the Gen Z, thus, continuing the director’s pattern of not allowing himself to be boxed in. Kashyap has credited his daughter for the film’s genesis in multiple interviews, of how she brought a valuable insight about her own generation to the project. In a recent interview with The Indian Express, the director was quoted saying, “We think that our children don’t understand the value of struggle, and what they’ve been given. But their struggle is different. It’s not the same as our struggle, but it’s there.” But it wouldn’t be the first time that we would be seeing influences of learnings from his personal life on screen, as even films like “Ugly” had echoes of his relationships that translated on screen in a way that was both responsible and respectful.
Even after the unsuccessful reception to his big budget art house drama, “Bombay Velvet”, Kashyap had acknowledged it being “the biggest loss making movie”, and further went on with the burden of it to direct “Raman Raghav 2.0”, which remains one of the best psychological thrillers of Bollywood. Even dating back to his mid-2000s career with the deeply enigmatic “No Smoking”, he’s opened up about how that wasn’t indeed a film about smoking. The protagonist of the 2007 film was in many ways an alter ego of Kashyap himself, someone who would hide his faults at all costs because he can’t afford to be ridiculed by anyone (in this case, the Bollywood industry). At a time when most of his films unfortunately found an audience through torrenting, the film stood out as being about a man who was robbed of the opportunity of creating art the way he intended to.
All these years later, the very fact that Kashyap continues to make films backed by big studios is both a testament to his healthy collaboration process with his co-stars and the team, as well as to his artistic prowess of wanting to make increasingly self critical films that continue to deliver on relevant themes. While “Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat” plays at the theaters around us this weekend, another short film of his called “4 Slippers” would be playing at the IFFR. The latter tells the story of a nation in despair, echoed through the life of a desolated man lost to religious zeal. Somewhere between the two films, Kashyap’s entire filmography flashes off in front of our eyes, showing his wide range of skill and approach that he now holds to offer cinema. What a great time it is to be witnessing this era through the lens of one of the most accomplished filmmakers of the country.