Anurag Kashyap: It’s my daughter who has helped me make Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat
Kashyap spoke about people’s fatigue with hatred, taking his brain along for watching Pathaan, his ideas about love, getting inspired by his daughter, being a relatively cool dad and a lot more
Almost Pyaar with DJ Mohabbat, Anurag Kashyap’s 22nd feature as a director (including the anthologies), released in theatres this Friday. Down with a bad cough, exhausted with the promotions, he spoke to Namrata Joshi for Cinema Express the day after organising a special screening in Mumbai, attended, among others, by Aryan Khan. In between gulping anti-biotics and sharing his plans for a recuperative working holiday in Prague to record Tchaikovsky live with the Royal Philharmonic for his next film, Kennedy, Kashyap spoke about people’s fatigue with hatred, taking his brain along for watching Pathaan, his ideas about love, getting inspired by his daughter Aaliyah, being a “relatively cool” dad and a lot more.
This morning, I read about Smriti Mundhra’s documentary The Romantics on Yash Chopra and Yashraj Films. SRK has been winning people’s hearts again. Love seems to be in the air. The song in Almost Pyaar… “Mohabbat se hi to kranti aayegi” is resonating even more …
People are tired of hatred. Boycott Bollywood, anti-Muslim narrative, whatever you may call it, is just tiring. I think people are drained of the energies. It’s a very negative energy that has made us all feel exhausted. So, right now, Pathaan is not just a movie. It’s a festival, a celebration.
People have been saying that one must leave one’s brain behind while watching the film. I tell them that I took my whole brain along for the film. I noticed how cleverly that man has put across the message of unity. I am marvelling at that. That’s the genius of SRK, the writers and the filmmakers. SRK has never looked sexier, and John [Abraham] has never looked better to me. It felt so good. My joy is not fake or make-believe. All over the country, people are happy. SRK has given people the opportunity to come back and say “enough”. That’s why everyone is dancing at the screenings.
The release of Shehzada has been postponed. But you and Hansal Mehta are going ahead with your films. I remember you telling me that the success of big films helps the small filmmakers, but doesn’t the enormousness of Pathaan feel like a threat at this juncture?
Shehzada is getting postponed because it wanted a big number of shows. For Almost Pyaar and Faraaz, we are talking about a much smaller number of screens. We are happy with 3-4 shows. So Pathaan doesn’t affect small films. It helps them by getting people to the cinemas. The scales of the films are so different.
Why *almost* love?
It’s about the need for love in this world, the one thing everybody runs away from and the one thing everybody is confused about. The definition of love keeps changing with generations, with individuals. The two love stories in the film may not have reached the desired ending but there’s still a possibility which is what the film—and a podcast within the film that it’s named after—talk about.
It's also about how parents jump in and ruin things for the kids. Both the love stories in the film get ruined by the parents who are hardly there. We don't have the conditioning, we don't understand the younger generation, and we judge immediately. That judgment is based on how we were in the past. We had been made to believe that a boy and girl can never be friends when they can be very good friends.
Like the song, does love mean revolution, freedom for you?
When a couple says, I love you’ what does it mean? I want to tell people that they're just going about their lives. They're doing things that they want to do. They are navigating through life and want to do that together. That’s all.
Love is something that grows over a period of time. I have never believed in the idea of love at first sight. It is just infatuation. We used to call it love in the 80s and the 90s, but it was actually just a crush or infatuation. I have learnt this from the young generation much after having grown up myself: this is crush, this is lust, this is sex, this is love.
For me, two people have to get to know each other over a period of time, and then they come together. That’s what I am showing in the film—the process of falling in love. Two people are just about to go on this journey when the parents intervene. It doesn't matter if the girl is a Hindu or a Muslim. In my film, in one story she is a Hindu, and in the other a Muslim. On one side, people have given it the name Love Jihad, but patriarchy exists on the other side too. I am not scared to say this. The honour of the family is always associated with the vagina. It is not associated with the male child. The idea was to take both scenarios. Hindu and Muslim, small town and the progressive, so-called big city London.
It’s not just India or Pakistan. The entire Asian continent is like that. Why limit the problem to India and the here and now?
So, it’s a Gen X filmmaker making a film for the millennials and Gen Y? Did your daughter Aaliyah inspire you?
I totally stole from the kids. Words, situations and everything. Imagine, the scenario from the times when we were young. When a boy and girl would travel together and get locked in a room, there would always be this sexual tension that comes from repression. That is absent today. They lie next to each other like friends. They trust and have much more clarity. They have no qualms in saying let’s hook up. We were ashamed of even saying I love you.
In my films, it’ll never be about I love this person. I love that person. It’s about a person coming to the realization, a point of finding oneself. Dev D’s D, Rumi in Manmarziyaan. My most filmi love story is Gangs of Wasseypur, between Mohsina and Faizal.
You pre-empted my question. As a director, you have never been associated with love stories, yet your films have an element of love in them.
Mukkabaaz has that, and Bombay Velvet has that. Gulaal was built around it. The boy feels betrayed and used by the girl and blames everybody for it. I keep saying that my favourite romantic film is the Before trilogy [by Richard Linklater]. It’s a lifelong story of love. Love need not be validated by physicality or any other thing.
If you don’t have love and empathy within you, then we get the situation where couples get beaten up on Valentine’s Day. You don’t have the capacity, you don’t have love in your life, and deep down you are jealous. You don’t want anyone else to have it. It’s this insecurity people have with love.
I once told you how my niece thinks of you as this very cool dad, thanks to all the YouTube videos she has been seeing of you and Aaliyah…
I am a relatively cool dad.
So, does being a relatively cool dad help in making a film like Almost Pyaar…?
It’s my daughter who helped me make the film. It’s she and other people in my life who have made me appear like a relatively cool person. People tell me that it’s amazing how you have brought up your daughter. I tell them not to discount the contribution of Aarti [editor and Kashyap’s ex-wife Aarti Bajaj]. It’s she who has done the hard work. And Aaliyah has worked hard on herself. Aaliyah has worked very hard on me, making me understand things and making me see things in a way I never saw before. She is a very mature person. She talks about mental health. She talks about things that we didn’t dare to talk about. And her following is so huge. Parents, and people who work in the mental health field come and tell me how amazing my daughter is.
Has she approved the film? Did she like it?
Yeah, yeah, she did. She would bring her friends to watch the film. I have gone ahead with it based on the confidence of that generation. Yesterday, also we pretty much had Alaya, Aaliyah and Karan bring the younger people in. The show was full of young kids. They loved the film; the film spoke to them.
You very rightly pointed out how sorted the young are. But, in the times of social media, YouTube, podcasts etc, how much tougher or easier is it for them to negotiate love?
If left alone, they will find their way. We forget it when it comes to ourselves, but we found our way, right? My daughter once told me a very nice thing. She said that she had heard many stories from me, about my dad, and his struggles. Half of it has become mythology. She said that my guilt was that my father spent so much money on my education, but I wanted to be a filmmaker at a time when filmmaking was looked down upon. She tells me that my struggle was my choice, my parents let me be. She dropped out of college and is on YouTube and it is her choice. She will navigate. She tells me that when I made a mistake, I dealt with it myself. So, she will also deal with it herself. Parents think that they can help their kids with their experience. We think we know how to find solutions for everything. But we mess it up for them. Our solutions are based on our understanding, and we want to secure things for them. We must allow them to navigate on their own. We only need to have their back. Be there when they need us and when they call us. That’s how I’d look at it. When my daughter calls me for anything, I’ll just be there, but I won’t tell her how to live her life.
There’s something about Alaya F [the lead in his film]...
Khatarnaak hai. She already had it when I saw her 18-minute showreel. The world has seen her in Jawaani Jaaneman and Freddy. Karan [Mehta] also had it in him, but it needed to be honed. I put him through training. Alaya being from the industry, had a sense of direction. She knew where to go. She came prepared. She is very natural and extremely focused. You should see her yoga videos on Instagram. The Bhopali accent video she does in the film is not her language. For her to master that, do it with conviction and in only one take!
How did you convince [filmmaker, programmer, and programming director of London Indian Film Festival] Cary Sawhney to play a role in the film?
Because the role is similar to who he is. Cary is Sikh and gay. I wanted someone who had lived that life. I didn’t have to convince him. I just told him, ‘I want you to play you’. It’s like why I wanted Karan Johar as the villain in Bombay Velvet. When a straight actor plays gay, he overdoes it. Being gay doesn’t change a human being. There is homophobia, but there is also predatory behaviour within that world. I wanted to show that. I didn’t want to make a woke film. I wanted to make an honest, real film. The boy slaps the girl in anger at one point, but it’s between the boy and the girl. What he felt at the moment. The girl also replies in her way but doesn’t hit him back. For her, that was not the way to answer back. I did not want to make a film where we can check all the boxes. I wanted flawed people and let them remain flawed.
The short film of yours that I saw recently—Four Slippers, currently playing at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam—is about the denial of love leading to a cycle of toxicity in a man and his radicalisation. It’s a parallel narrative of sorts to Almost Pyaar…
We have just taken four different episodes from a person’s life. There’s the childhood where you are unable to express yourself. That’s how the conditioning has been. You are married even before you have found yourself. It’s about repression. Putting a picture of an actress on the wall and fantasising is ok for the man. But when your wife wants to speak up and explain something, you say it's gandi baat. These men are uncomfortable in such situations. They can’t discuss things. The wife leaves, and this man leads a sad life alone and becomes a toxic human being. The Manav Kaul segment [about a bigot] is factual. It happened and we all saw it. We just changed Aamir Khan to Ajeet Khan.