Anurag Kashyap: I only work with people I trust

The filmmaker, who is back to Cannes, talks about the world premiere of his latest film, Kennedy, the connection he feels with South India, and more
Anurag Kashyap: I only work with people I trust

Anurag Kashyap is a Cannes veteran. He probably knows the bylanes of the French Riviera like he knows Bandra and Andheri. Both as a producer and a director, Anurag has been visiting Cannes with some of the best Indian films over the past decade. This time around, it is for the world premiere of his directorial, Kennedy, which is featured in the Midnight Madness section of the Cannes Film Festival. 

Veteran filmmaker Sudhir Mishra was the guest of honour at the premiere of the film, dedicated to him. “I stole my protagonist from Sudhir. In 2003, he was making a film with Sanjay Dutt and Tejaswini Kolhapure, produced by TuTu Sharma, and I was writing it,” said Kashyap about the Sudhir project, which got shelved later. Mishra’s stories about a real-life cop named Uday Shetty, formed the base of Kashyap’s Kennedy, which stars Rahul Bhat as Uday Shetty. The cop from the 80s has turned into a new-age officer, operatig in times of a pandemic, in Anurag’s noir thriller about an underground cop who’s on a secret mission to kill. The protagonist is also a mourning father, simmering with rage and revenge, trying to find salvation and reconnect with his estranged family, and particularly, the daughter.

Another interesting addition to the ‘Thank You’ list is Vijay Sethupathi. “He helped me find the character and the film. He is such a sharp mind, and he put the entire film together for me in one line,” says Kashyap, who incidentally, heads to Chennai after Cannes to shoot with the actor for Nithilan Swaminathan’s next, Maharaja. There is more to the film’s South Connect. The original choice for the titular character of Kennedy was actor Vikram, whose real name happens to be Kennedy John Victor (which is the inspiration for the title). “There was a miscommunication. For eight months, I was trying to reach him by sending messages to a wrong number. Sobhita [Dhulipala] who was shooting with him for Ponniyin Selvan brought this to his notice finally,” reveals Kashyap in this interview, hours before the premiere. “Unfortunately, we were already six months into the prep and ready for the shoot, but he was so gracious and expressed his happiness that my film was named after him.”

Rahul Bhat proved to be an able second choice, giving his all to the role. “He has this sense of egolessness,” says Kashyap about the actor, adding, “His performance was so consistent and outstanding, and that became a binding factor in the film.” While he may have worked before with Rahul, this is the first time he is collaborating with Sunny Leone (who plays Charlie). Sharing that Sunny was always his choice for Charlie, who unexpectedly crosses paths with killer Kennedy, Kashyap says, “I find her a fascinating, underutilised, underrated person, and extremely professional.”

Kashyap first noticed Sunny in the rather infamous and much-publicised television interview where she received a lot of support for handling judgmental and probing questions that were thrown at her with grace and dignity. “I was blown away, and wondered if she would audition,” says Kashyap, who believes she gave her everything to the test, which was an indication of her seriousness of intent. Kashyap is extremely confident about his two leads. “I am very nepotistic. I only work with people I trust. They might not be family, but they become family,” says the Raman Raghav 2.0 filmmaker.

As is usual with a Kashyap film, even if nothing else hits the mark, the music always does. Kennedy coasts along on the songs of Aamir Aziz and Boyblanck aka Raghav Bhatia, and the background score by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Adam Klemens. It also marks a return to the genre that his fans love—dark crime thriller. “Every time I have tried something that I've not done before, they write my obituary,” laughs Kashyap, adding, “If my fans had a way, I’d only be making crime films. I am ready to do that if they come to theatres. But my films are either celebrated after their OTT release or turn out to be ‘download hits’.”

So, what makes Kennedy different within the genre? “It is a character piece that started with this character and the five-night story that got built around him. It was fermented and sieved through him. It is less sensational and moodier,” shares Kashyap, who credits his peers Sriram Raghavan, Vikramaditya Motwane, and Abhishek Chaubey among others for giving him the right feedback and criticism to ensure he was ruthless with the editing. 

For someone well-versed in the festival circuit, Kashyap always wanted Kennedy to play in the Midnight Madness section at Cannes. In fact, he knew about the selection just a few hours before the official announcement and was the last to submit the film’s DCP (Digital Cinema Package) to the festival. “If I had not made it to Cannes, I would have aimed to take the film to the Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival.”

With practically the entire team of film—whoever could get the passport and visa on time—in attendance, Kashyap confessed that his aim has been to “corrupt” the minds of the young filmmakers in a good way. “When they come and watch great films, they get motivated. When Motwane came with Devdas, he saw Ken Loach and went back to make Udaan. When Neeraj Ghaywan came for Wasseypur, he immediately went back and wrote Masaan,” says Kashyap.

Interestingly, the screening left Kashyap feeling anxious. When asked why it is so even after so many films and accolades behind him, he had a straightforward response. “The film is playing in the Grand Theatre Lumiere, and as per the protocols, the director can’t get up and wait outside during the screening. Seeing people fidget or walk out can give me a heart attack. If it was up to me, I’d have gone out, had four drinks, and come back for the end of the film.” But why the stress at all? “It’s the search for universality in a film that is context-based. How do you translate the context to people outside the country, who are not going to be interested or invested in specificities?” observes Kashyap, adding, “Cinephiles do not always know the political landscape of any country. They are just inside their laptops watching films.”

After the screening of the film, the initial reactions have been tepid. The reviews have been middling, and the real film, about the tug of the father-daughter relationship, does seem to get lost in the chaos of killings and indulgent design. But as always, Anurag Kashyap, and of course, the fantastic soundtrack, just play on and move to the next universe… 

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