Just Saying: The writer’s views are as gritty as Anurag Kashyap’s cinema, but not put in a dark way akin to his movies.
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The line between indie and commercial Bollywood cinema that used to be a thick one until not long back – Anurag Kashyap has played an instrumental role in bringing the required change and blurring the lines over the years by not succumbing to the hype of commercially successful cheesy cinema. Kashyap kept making his gritty, dark, real, “indie” cinema right from his unreleased debut ‘Paanch’ in the year 2003 – injecting several now-celebrated actors into the Hindi film industry.
He has his fix set of the genius artists he frequently collaborates with – particularly Aarti Bajaj the editor, Kay Kay Menon the actor, Vikramaditya Motwane as writer and AD. Besides, he has perpetually introduced us or simply brought the best out of many actors – Kalki Koechlin, Nawazuddin Siddique, Huma Qureshi, Pankaj Tripathi, Piyush Mishra, Girish Kulkarni, Ronit Roy, Tejaswini Kolhapure, Mahie Gill, Vicky Kaushal, Vineet Kumar, Gulshan Devaiah, Sobhita Dhulipala – this list can go on. He loves cinema and his movies, which is clearly evident in his work, which ends up being too indulgent at times as if he apparently forgets that his movie needs to end. Revisiting his excellent filmography, below I rank only his feature films from least good to best:
What can be more off-putting than monotonous storytelling in an apparent thriller? A predictable storytelling. A gritty attempt at telling the tale of a half-British girl ‘Ruth’ in search of her father amidst the corrupt scenario of Mumbai, TGIYB falls flat soon for it has little to offer, both in execution and paper, despite having the promising Kalki and Anurag as writers. Blame it on my overworking gray cells that could predict the cinematic solution to each lame short-lasting fix that is set up in the narrative.
It’s the ultimate performances that keep it going till the end – a terrific Kalki living her colorless life around a colorful massage parlor, Naseeruddin Shah and Kumud Mishra as morally opposite old men who are regular parlor customers, Puja Sarup as the hilarious parlor owner, and a first-timer Gulshan Devaiah nailing his role of a naive Kannada gangster – Chittiapa is the name, you cannot forget it easily.
While watching the feature film on India’s own mythological superhero for the first time back in the days, I didn’t know that it is helmed by the person who has delivered a mind-boggling thriller (read: ‘No Smoking’) just two months ago. Kashyap’s only animation film has all the cool elements to it to challenge one’s imagination about the superpowers of Lord Hanuman.
The freshness in the portrayal of the mythological figures is vividly evident. So, we see the Gods in heaven using the latest technology gadgets, using the trendy Hinglish words with sheer abandon, and frequently making references to the kids’ pop culture and forever celebrated Bollywood movies. A much cherished cinematic experience for me. Oh, nostalgia!
Kashyap’s 2016 dark cat-and-mouse thriller is the movie I would recommend to none who is sadly on any stage of depression. It requires a mood to be watched – a carefree mood, and it still left me depressed – indeed the impact of this cinema is high. Starting off in an apparent Tarantino fashion with flashbacks and budget-friendly style, it depicts the story of a “saccha behooda” serial killer Raman Raghav who needs no motive to kill people in cold blood, which this cinema wants one to celebrate – while Vicky Kaushal the cop chases him.
Watching this made me feel guilty about celebrating Tarantino’s random gore – particularly the famous and celebrated Mr. Blonde’s ear-chop sequence from ‘Reservoir Dogs’. But I still love Tarantino’s RD, and I despise the coolness and style of RR 2.0. The difference is thin, but it does exist. This all doesn’t take away from the remarkable performances by both Nawazuddin and Vicky Kaushal, and my favorite Shobita Dhulipala is also there making a notable acting debut in her brief appearance.
Manmarziyaan (and not Gulaal) is Kashyap’s most seamlessly colorful movie with equally colorful characters. One can easily see other colors on-screen here other than the Kashyap’s apparently favorite bloody red. Showing how love is best-served grey amidst the heartening backdrop of Amritsar city, the movie tells the story of two crazies Rumi(a natural act by Taapsee) and Vicky(Vicky at his best) and one sane “Raamji” type guy Robbie(Abhishek being Abhishek) caught in a straight love triangle.
Though this template of love has been witnessed previously in Bhansali’s HDDCS, Manmarziyaan holds its own ground firmly and engages for its authenticity and freshness, credits to the suitable acting by the cast, witty dialogues, and Amit Trivedi’s another soulful soundtrack (remember Daryaa?). But the screenwriting gets too indulgent towards the second half, which makes the narrative unnecessarily twisted and come across as long and repetitive. At last, the noise fades and it all ends on a nice walk with minimal noise in the background – contrary to everything that happens before – reminiscing me of the Before trilogy walks. Happy Ending.
9. Paanch (2003)
Evident from the title, ‘Paanch’ is the story revolving around 5 characters – played by Kay Kay Menon, Aditya Srivastava, Vijay Maurya, Joy Fernandes, and Tejaswini Kolhapure. These evils have their own unique shades of vices besides sharing self-destructive nature in common. The standout performance here is by Kay Kay Menon who excellently portrays a well-written character, which later became a common feat. in all his collaborations with Anurag Kashyap.
Bringing a distinct novelty through hot-headed characters with poor morales, an intriguing narrative, certain pop culture references, journey of an ordinary man whose life changes after extensive gore, violence, and drug abuse – Paanch has all these recurring traits of regular Anurag Kashyap cinema – and it never made it to theatres for the same reasons. The Censor Board banned it.
Finally giving Vineet Kumar his long-overdue breakout after several small parts in previous Kashyap films, Mukkabaaz can vaguely be passed off as the love story of a boxer. But when one digs deeper, it seems so much more than that in retrospect – it indeed emerges like watching Kashyap’s own struggle to stand tall in Bollywood against all odds.
It follows the journey of Shravan – an ambitious boxer from Bareilly who besides fighting the boxing matches, has to also fight an unsupportive father, the socio-politics of society, the bias of the sports world against small townies, and the boxing federation head(another great Jimmy Shergill act) – whose niece he loves. This is not your Raging Bull, the boxer actually loves the girl. As the movie switches gears between sports, love, and social messaging – Anurag Kashyap tends to falter a little in his simplistic storytelling but Vineet’s powerful act is what grasps the movie till it ends with a tight victorious punch.
Hailing from Lynch school of filmmaking, ‘No Smoking’ is indeed a bizarre but surrealistic piece of cinema by Anurag Kashyap. A much original film belonging to Bollywood’s rarely ventured mindfuck genre, it is a commentary on mankind that gradually gets enslaved by its own vices, with no bearable consequences thereafter.
No Smoking traverses the journey of K (John), who is a chain smoker and this habit gets him abandoned by his wife Anjali(Ayesha). For treatment, K visits a Bengali Baba(Paresh Rawal) at a weird rehabilitation center namely Prayogshala. The hilarious black comedy that then unfolds makes for the brilliance in the movie. Probably very few were ready for watching such a Bollywood movie feat. John back in 2007, and thus another project churned out of Kashyap man’s Prayogshala tanked, deservingly attaining a cult status off-late.
6. Dev.D (2009)
A modern adaption of Bimal Roy’s Devdas, Dev.D is one of the cult personified movies of Bollywood, that receives polarizing opinions from viewers. I stand on a neutral ground regarding the same. For the best part, Dev.D has a soundtrack (by Trivedi) that is a mood in itself, much remarkable performances by the ensemble, and a dope cinematography beautifully capturing the trajectory of Dev(an excellent Abhay Deol) and his world.
The best of the lot here is Kalki(as Chanda) who proves her acting mettle in her debut itself and becomes the only character with a convincing backstory. The rest two characters look insane likewise the movie. Akin to every Anurag Kashyap movie, Dev.D doesn’t know where to stop after a while amidst the trap of love, pain, and self-destruction – it just keeps on getting entangled in its messy relationship extravaganza created – or maybe that’s how real relationships are which Kashyap succeeded in portraying.
‘Bombay Velvet’ is the rare big-budget Anurag Kashyap movie, that almost no one watched in the theatres, but I wish I too hadn’t done the same going by the reviews. It is a period crime drama set in the 60s of Mumbai. The production design is authentic and attractive, the style of filmmaking is noir, and it does achieve to a huge extent what it aspires to – exactly like our protagonist Johnny Balraj (a usual great act by Ranbir).
The street scum boxer Johnny falls for the Jazz singer (a shining Anushka) at a club, and this whole love-crime drama gets them acquainted with a shrewd tycoon Khambata (Karan Johar, the revelation!), who fulfills their Bombay dreams by opening the ‘Bombay Velvet’ club. With the right retro feel and having Scorsese’s approach to filmmaking, everything is splendid about the movie – the grandeur, the charming cinematography, Anushka perfectly lip-syncing to Neeti’s powerful voice(especially in Dhadam Dhadam song), Trivedi’s enchanting Jazz compositions and the ample homages this movie smartly pays to crime drama classics like Scarface, Goodfellas, and The Godfather. Let the jazz sink in within you, and this cinematic ride feels intoxicating!
Another impactful and unforgettable Anurag Kashyap movie is Black Friday, which kicks the horrors of reality right from the word go – the bomb blasts in the first scene itself. From then itself, the movie sets no mood to make you feel better – the brutal interrogation and several subplots kick in, conveying what a pothole of filthy proceedings followed the Bombay blasts of 1993. It is no Mani Ratnam’s Bombay to have a soothing flute playing in the background with a melodrama to conveniently alter the reality. This is the world of Anurag Kashyap.
Standing neutral on the moral and religious ground regarding the incitation of hatred, it calls the spade a spade. Besides the amazing execution – the acting by Kay Kay Menon, Pavan Malhotra, Imtiaz Ali (yes, him!), Aditya Srivastava adds further credibility to the storytelling. Nothing goes over the top, no one is the hero of any army – the police, middlemen, victims, terrorists – they all seem like a part of the documentary this movie is with little of drama – as if a curious journalist worked very hard to research it all and tell an objective story about the ever-memorable events of modern Indian history.
Gulaal is one of those rare movies where several intriguing subplots come together to contribute to a well-made piece of cinema. On the surface, it is a socio-politic drama about the Rajput regime which strives to fight and win back its power from the government, but the big picture just emerges stronger when each powerful thought conveyed is pondered upon.
The one whose journey is closely watched is the initially ordinary Dileep(Raja Chaudhary), a student whose life turns upside down once he is subjected to the campus politics in college. When taken under his wings by Dukey Bana(an impeccable Kay Kay Menon), the odds turn in his favor and his rise begins. Raja’s act is a satisfactory one. Besides Kay Kay, the actor who captivates your attention is the exceptional Piyush Mishra as the poet Prithvi Bana, seamlessly putting on platter his blunt thoughts – saying out loud how the pen is still mightier than the swords used in battle to claim victory. His score, especially the powerful song “Aarambh hai Prachand” only adds to the impact of the proceedings when it plays in the background, and what lyrics man! Gulaal is indeed an enchanting and enticing cinematic piece by Anurag Kashyap. Bravo!
2. Ugly (2013)
First things first, a huge shoutout and love to the powerhouse actor Girish Kulkarni who in his Hindi debut, outshines most of the actors in the exemplary cast of Ugly. Playing a regular Marathi cop, he has a memorable and long hilarious sequence set at a police station in the first act – about bluntly interrogating two people who come to him to lodge a report regarding a missing girl. Girish nails that sequence and every time he is on screen. Ronit Roy, Rahul Bhat, Vineet Kumar, Tejaswini Kolhapure, Surveen Chawala (she clearly was enjoying her bit) – you name the actor in this thriller, he plays his part to perfection.
What starts off as a police inspection to find a missing girl Mili gets uglier once every character starts oscillating between black and white moods, eventually sticking to a grey side. One never knows what a person has in his mind, and who may double-cross the other one for self’s profit of any sort. With apt flashbacks, the drama gets more intriguing and holds your attention with its fast pace. Cheers to Aarti Bajaj for editing it right. Not spoiling the suspense for you with any further revelation – this is a must-watch thriller. The third act is a little dull one, but the big picture acquaints us with so many real characters doing their natural stuff amidst the tight screenwriting for the most part – so no complaints.
After all these years, Gangs of Wasseypur needs no introduction. Touted as India’s answer to the iconic Godfather trilogy and City of God, GOW is an epic rivalry saga spanning over decades. It has put Anurag Kashyap the director and his cinema on a global map, and is the reason he could get money for making the ambitious Bombay Velvet. You go, gangster man! In a runtime of around 5 hours, each moment is worthwhile, has attained an iconic status and impactful enough to not be forgotten ever.
Everything is so iconic and perfect about this picture – the often-quoted dialogues, Kashyap’s slick direction, watertight screenwriting, the epic soundtrack by Sneha Khanwalkar, the right usage of color scheme for each period, pop culture references using movie posters to depict the timeline, the perfect background score (you do remember at what moment Teri keh ke lunga plays in the background), and the acting by the ensemble – Manoj Vajpayee being his usual audacious, Pankaj Tripathi and Nawazuddin getting their long due with brilliant performances, Richa Chaddha and Huma Qureshi holding their own like a boss amidst the male gang, and the excellent Tigmanshu Dhulia dropping truth bombs with “sanema” dialogue – one remembers them all by heart.
P.S.: To the ones who are still reluctant to watch the “dark and indie” cinema of Anurag Kashyap, I have many dialogues from Kashyap movies to quote here, but they’re all A-rated, so forget it.
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