It’s a clear November morning and the 19th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival, in full swing after a two-year lockdown shutdown, is teeming with local and international visitors. Anurag Kashyap, a regular at the festival who loves all things Bollywood, is delighted to be back. The world premiere of his new film, Almost in love with DJ Mohabbat, the outdoor giant screen in 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, in the beautiful Hotel Mamounia, Kashyap talks about the inspiration for his new film, distancing himself from gangster-giri, and comes from a long funk. fragments:
You say you haven’t been yourself for four years. What happened?
I imploded after. I fell into a huge depression. But I kept working all the time. See, my way of dealing with things is by going to movies, where I pour it all out. 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 already started in London, because that was the time I left here (India).
Was that after the Bombay Velvet debacle (2015)?
No, this was the time I quit Twitter because my daughter started getting cheated on, rape threats, and she started having anxiety attacks. So I left Twitter in August 2019 and went to Portugal. I shot this in London, and when the whole Jamia Millia thing happened, I went 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 speaks up). I started speaking again (on Twitter).
I was shooting this (almost love) in Dalhousie, and then the closure happened. At night the crew had to leave the hotel, or hamaari video incomplete reh gay (and our film remained incomplete). Then this Taandav (the 2019 Amazon web series that ran into trouble) something happened and one of my projects got stuck. I completely imploded. I went completely off Twitter. I went to rehab three times, had a heart attack, my health was deteriorating, I didn’t know how to cope. Then I slowly crawled back. I am myself now. But I kept making movies. I made Dobaara. Unlike other people, I don’t have the luxury of sitting and waiting. I don’t make huge budget movies that can support my people, my team.
I remember around the time of Black Friday when nothing took your fancy, you sounded exactly the same, the depression, the darkness…
Yes, I was in the same zone, but at that point I had nothing to lose. There were no dependents of me. Kuchh nahin ho raha tha (nothing happened), but I could continue, because I was on my own. This time it was different. So my movies had stopped acting bhi kar raha tha (I was also acting).
I saw the ads with Shah Rukh Khan (for a Disney Hotstar show)
Yes, that was nice. I like anything self-deprecating. Apna mazaak udao, toh chalega, uske through hum bahut kuchh keh sakte hain (You can say a lot by kidding yourself).
I’ve lived with this movie (Almost love…) for a very long time. It was written with the idea of talking to very young people as I tried 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 have to deal with the consequences of your actions. Suddenly I thought: I want to make a film in which we only see the consequences of the actions of the patriarchs. The villain in the movie is the patriarchy, the most impact is on the girl, ladka toh nikal jaata hai (the boy manages to go free).
Yes, the latter is equally true even today.
Ab toh aur bhi mushkil go gaya hai (It’s harder today). Ek time tha jab login ne inter-caste, interfaith relations accept karna shuru kar liya tha (There was a time when people started accepting intercaste, interfaith relationships), at least in the bigger cities. But I didn’t want to make that movie. Nagraj (Manjule) has already made it (Sairat, 2016) so beautiful. My film is about young people finding themselves, finding love, looking for it, longing for it. By that I wanted to talk about our prejudices, predatory behavior, homophobia, a total lack of reluctance on the part of the older generation to understand.
So is it still an Anurag movie considering how many people (Vishal Bhardwaj, Imtiaz Ali, Varun Grover) contributed to it?
I looked them up one by one for what I needed. In order for DJ Mohabbat’s language to be different from my language, I went to Vishal Bhardwaj, to Varun Grover – they formed it. Amit Trivedi’s music is very Gen Z, my daughter would attend the sessions.
How much of your daughter is in the movie? You keep referring to 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 my generation is not going out. I call it the mating game. They are not as promiscuous as our generation was. Their generation is very different. They really believe in love. That’s the whole point of the movie. As the last line of the last song goes, ‘mohabbat se hi toh newspaperi aayegi’.
So is this a shift from your usual dark zone?
I’m tired of that gangster shit. Everywhere I go I am asked to make a Gangs Of Wasseypur 3, 4 or any other gangster movie. I’m exhausted. Gangs maine iss liye ki thi, ki (I made Gangs…because) I was amused with this security guard (silly) characters who live on the same road, yet 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 don’t go there. Mujhe khud ko explore karna hai (I have to explore myself).
Where do you think Bollywood stands today? Especially when so many of his films have failed and some of the Southern films have done so well.
Sab kuch regional honey wala hai (everything becomes regional), from movies to politics.
But you get the feeling that filmmakers (in Bollywood) are scared these days.
These days, before anything else happens, a lawyer has to go through your script, whether it’s for a movie or OTT.
So what now?
I’m looking for stories. And I find them and write. And anywhere I feel it’s 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 also take him from movies). 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 say AK.
But still use subversion?
Undermine toh karna hi padega (Of course I will have to undermine).