It’s a bright November morning, and the 19th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival, in full swing after a two-year lockdown-enforced lull, is swarming with local and international visitors. Anurag Kashyap, a regular at the festival which loves all things Bollywood, is delighted to be back. The world premiere of his new film, Almost Love With DJ Mohabbat, at the open air giant screen at the Jemaa El Fna square, was packed; the director, along with his young cast, Alaya F and Karan Mehta, can’t stop smiling.
On the sidelines, at the stunning Hotel Mamounia, Kashyap speaks about the inspiration for his new film, moving away from gangster-giri, and emerging from a long funk. Excerpts:
You say you haven’t been yourself for four years. What happened?
I imploded, na. I went into massive depression. But I kept working throughout. See, my way of dealing with things is to go to films, where I pour out everything. Maine Mukkabaaz (2017), Sacred Games (2018-2019), Lust Stories (2018), Ghost Stories (2020) kiya, aur yeh (Almost Love With DJ Mohabbat) bhi kar raha tha. The film had started already in London, because that was the time I had left from here (India).
Was that after the Bombay Velvet (2015) debacle?
No, this was the time I went off Twitter because my daughter started getting trolled, getting rape threats, and she started getting anxiety attacks. So I went off Twitter in August 2019, and I went to Portugal. I was shooting this in London, and then when the whole Jamia Millia thing happened, I came back to India. I was like, yeh mujh se bardaaasht nahin ho raha hai, koi kuchh bol nahin raha hai (I can’t bear it, no one is speaking up). I started speaking (on Twitter) again.
I was shooting this (Almost Love) in Dalhousie, and then the lockdown happened. Overnight, the crew had to leave the hotel, aur hamaari film incomplete reh gayi (and our film remained incomplete). Then this Taandav (the 2019 web-series on Amazon which ran into trouble) thing happened, and one of my projects got stalled because of that. I totally imploded. I went off Twitter completely. I went into rehab three times, had a heart attack, my health went down, I didn’t know how to deal with it. Then slowly, I crawled back. I’m myself now. But I still went on making films. I made Dobaara. Unlike other people, I don’t have the luxury to sit and wait. I don’t do massive budget films which can sustain my people, my team.
I remember around the time of Black Friday when nothing was going your way, you sounding exactly the same, the depression, the darkness…
Yes, I was in the same zone, but at that time I had nothing to lose. There were no dependents on me. Kuchh nahin ho raha tha (nothing was happening), but I could go on, because I was on my own. This time, it was different. My films had stopped, so acting bhi kar raha tha (I was acting as well).
I saw the ads with Shah Rukh Khan (for a Disney Hotstar show)
Yes, that was fun. I like anything self-deprecating. Apna mazaak udao, toh chalega, uske through hum bahut kuchh keh sakte hain (You can say a lot by poking fun at yourself).
I have lived with this film (Almost Love…) for a very long time. It was written with the idea of talking to very young people, in the process of trying to figure out my relationship with my daughter. My therapist told me that you are a migrant to their world, they are the natives, they are dealing with the consequences of your actions. Suddenly I was like, I want to make a film where we only see the consequences of the actions of the patriarchs. The villain in the film is patriarchy, the most impact is on the girl, ladka toh nikal jaata hai (the boy manages to go scot-free).
Yes, that last bit is as true even today.
Ab toh aur bhi mushkil go gaya hai (It’s more difficult today). Ek time tha jab logon ne inter-caste, inter-religious relationships accept karna shuru kar liya tha (There was a time when people had started accepting inter-caste, inter-religious relationships), at least in the bigger cities. But I didn’t want to make that film. Nagraj (Manjule) has already made it (Sairat, 2016) so beautifully. My film is about young people finding themselves, finding love, looking for it, being hungry for it. Through that, I wanted to talk about our prejudices, predatory behaviour, homophobia, a total lack of unwillingness among the older generation to understand.
So is it still an Anurag film, given that so many people (Vishal Bhardwaj, Imtiaz Ali, Varun Grover) have contributed to it?
I sought them out one by one for what I needed. For DJ Mohabbat’s language to be unlike my language, I went to Vishal Bhardwaj, to Varun Grover — they shaped it. The music by Amit Trivedi is very Gen Z, my daughter would sit in on the sessions.
How much of your daughter is in the film? You keep referencing her.
A lot. She has her own mind, and she thinks about things. She says, why don’t you go on a date? I tell her that my generation doesn’t date. I call it the mating game. They are not as promiscuous as our generation was. Their generation is very different. They actually believe in love. That’s the whole point of the film. As the last line of the last song goes, ‘mohabbat se hi toh kranti aayegi’.
So is this a shift from your usual dark zone?
I’m tired of gangster shit. Wherever I go I’m asked to make a Gangs Of Wasseypur 3, 4 or another gangster movie. I’m exhausted. Gangs maine iss liye ki thi, ki (I made Gangs… because ) I was amused with these bewakoof (silly) characters who live on the same road, and still have been fighting for years. And I thought I could also talk about the political history of Bihar in a very subtle way. Now, unless I have a story to tell, I won’t go there. Mujhe khud ko explore karna hai (I have to explore myself).
Where do you think Bollywood is at today? Especially when so many of its films have failed, and some films from the South have done so well.
Sab kuch regional hone wala hai (everything is going to be regional), from movies to politics.
But one is getting the sense that filmmakers (in Bollywood) are fearful these days.
These days, before anything else happens, a lawyer has to go through your script, whether it is for a movie, or OTT.
So what’s next?
I’m looking for stories. And I’m finding them, and writing. And wherever I feel it is Anurag talking on Twitter, I take it out.
But Anurag is no longer on Twitter, right?
Aur ab filmon mein se bhi nikaal raha hoon (I am taking him out of films, too). Counter propaganda is also propaganda. Now all my friends say baat woh kar jo facts hain, characters ko bolne de (speak the facts, let the characters speak), don’t let them mouth AK.
But still continue to use subversion?
Subvert toh karna hi padega (Of course, I’ll have to subvert).