May 10 2015
India’s very own Tarantino has moved into the mainstream with a big budget film and established Bollywood stars but can he take the step up? How will audiences react? Our correspondent in Goa, for the press launch earlier this week, surveys the scene and quizzes director Anurag Kashyap and the big Bollywood names…
By Udita Jhunjhunwala
IT’S A RARE thing in Bollywood; in fact some might say it was a first when studio Fox Star India arranged a press junket for Anurag Kashyap’s “Bombay Velvet” in the coastal city of Goa.
Set in the 1960s, Kashyap’s drama is his leap into the big league.
“Bombay Velvet” is the biggest budget film (£10 million) with the biggest stars Kashyap, the one-time poster boy for Indian independent cinema, has ever worked with – Ranbir Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and Karan Johar headline.
Bollywood heartthrob Ranbir Kapoor plays ambitious Johnny Balraj in “Bombay Velvet” while Anushka Sharma plays jazz singer Rosie and Karan Johar plays the villainous Khambatta.
All three, along with Kashyap, are relaxed and enjoying the systematic and concentrated press interactions lined up in the Goa resort. They are given enough time after the interviews for a quick costume change and then it’s time for song and dance, because no Bollywood event is complete without those.
Sharma explained the advantages of assembling India’s film press corps under the palms.
“It’s a very easy environment here, we have time. In Bombay (Mumbai) on that same day we may be stuck in traffic, have to go for dubbing, have meetings and all that. But here in Goa we are all in the same hotel, it’s easy and relaxed and we are getting more and better work done. Also a unit like this doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s why this is so successful,” said Sharma.
While Johar joked: “I only want to know how many costume changes I have! For once I am not concerned with anything on the production side and I can just relax and enjoy myself.”
Spontaneously jumping on stage and dancing, running into the audience and coaxing journalists to join them in a jig and warmly speaking about their film, the cast and crew display an infectious energy even after a long day of sharing anecdotes and fielding questions about their upcoming film.
It’s selfie-central in the banquet room of the Park Hyatt as journalists and TV reporters jostle for a picture with the stars. All of them are most obliging.
Day two and round two of press interviews: the media is waiting for the stars that are an hour behind schedule, which is no surprise since they were partying till close to 5am.
“Coffee please,” you hear the repeated request by the three actors and their director present in the room.
Johar is the first to arrive and begin his 18 interviews of the day. When asked why a highly successful director and producer of quintessentially glossy, glamorous, romantic Bollywood films such as “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai”, “Kal Ho Naa Ho” and “Student of the Year” agreed to act in a gritty period film by Kashyap, whose aesthetic is diametrically opposed to his own Johar, responded: “I got an opportunity to work with a celebrated filmmaker creating a film about a world not seen on Indian celluloid with amazing lead actors and a part that is not riding on you, but solid enough for you to do it.”
Kapoor is the last to arrive, a few minutes after Kashyap. The latter holds up his hand and asks the actor, “How many fingers?” Kapoor replyed with a coy smile, “Five. I am fine” and then turned to the waiter nearby, “Can I get a coffee please?”
As I settled down to chat with Kashyap, who I have known since his early days of struggle with “Paanch” (see box), I asked what made him decide to take on such a risky project, to step out of his comfort zone and into the world of big studios, stars and the pressure to recover budgets?
“I have always been talking about redefining the mainstream and you cannot just keep talking about it. We have to get in and do it,” said the 42-year-old filmmaker. “I have got three or four big ideas – that’s all, no more. I mean big in terms of scale. But my approach is to still make them the same way – the indie way.”
And what does that mean? “That means that on set I spend an hour creating chaos and then shoot with hidden cameras. None of the actors know where the cameras are. I shot ‘Bombay Velvet’ in 75 days which was much tighter than ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, and most of the money has gone on screen,” he said referring to sets and computer graphics that recreated 1960s Bombay.
The trade is divided on the fortunes of the film.
‘Bombay Velvet’ is as much a litmus test for Kashyap as he flirts with the mainstream as it is for Kapoor, who has thus far played mostly coming of age characters in the films “Wake Up Sid”, “Rockstar” and “Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani”.
“As actors, very rarely do we get excited about material that comes our way. Usually we get excited about the director or the project. But once in a way you get material that has so much strength in it that the other things don’t matter. Also you know that Anurag is more than capable of handling this great material,” said Kapoor, whose Johnny Balraj is a boy consumed by the desire for a brighter future, trying to be a big shot in the big bad world of Bombay.
You could almost say the same of Kashyap the boy from Varanasi. His first Hindi film “Paanch” (‘Five‘) was caught up in censorship battles and issues with the producer, and over a decade later still has not released. His next feature “Black Friday“, about the serial bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993, released in 2007 after a 20-month ban.
The film was feted at film festivals around the world. Kashyap became a talent everyone was watching, but he followed this up with duds like “No Smoking” and an animated film “Hanuman Returns“.
His fortunes began to turn, and glimpses of the unique voice and face of Hindi cinema were seen again when he reinterpreted the classic tale of a heartbroken lover “Devdas” in “Dev. D” (2009). “Gulal” and “That Girl In Yellow Boots” were next – two more independent films with offbeat themes that met with greater critical appreciation than commercial success. The tide turned with Kashyap’s two-part “Gangs of Wasseypur” (official selection Cannes 2013) giving him that leg-up in the industry and earning him accolades that opened up a world of bigger names, budgets and studio backing.
“Bombay Velvet” is Kashyap’s big shot at the mainstream and it remains to be seen how equipped he is to handle the fate of his first (approximately) Rs. 100 crore (£10m) film.
*Bombay Velvet opens worldwide on May 15
Udita Jhunjhunwala is a Mumbai-based entertainment and lifestyle writer, film critic and author who has written for Vogue, Vanity Fair, The Observer, GQ, Time Out, Screen International, Mint and Hindustan Times.