Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Black Friday to see the day

Aliya, do you know who is the unluckiest director in Bollywood?”
I remember Mithun asking me, back in last November.
“No,” I replied.
Anurag Kashyap,” he said. “He made Paanch and invited trouble with the Censors. Now his Black Friday is also denied release.”

Black Friday is finally making it to the screens. And the report in the Movie Plus page of our paper also began in a similar tone.
“Mumbai: Anurag Kashyap, the jinxed director of “completed, but awaiting release” movies such as Paanch and Black Friday is a relaxed person now. After all, the court has given a go-ahead to his much controversial, four-year-old movie Black Friday and come February, the movie will finally be released across the country.”

Interesting guy, he is. He is probably Bollywood’s only director to gain a fan following even without a single release. He has written some impressive screenplays, including the internationally renowned Ram Gopal Varma movie Satya (1998), but attempts on his own had to face tough times. Paanch was canned for six years, Black Friday for four, and two attempts Gulaal and Alvin Kalicharan are somewhat like aborted foetuses.

My first film, Paanch, had run into trouble with the Censor Board in 2000. They felt it wasn’t “healthy entertainment” because it dealt unapologetically with sex, drugs and misguided, alienated youth. It was constructed around the famous Joshi Abhyankar murder in Pune, but I had fed a lot of my own life and angst into it — my anger, my escape into drugs and alcohol. Jakkal, the murderer, was a brilliant university topper, but he was led into crime. I saw myself in him; I saw what I could have so easily become if I had not channelised my rage into writing. I saw that violence often has no justification. Not everything stems from emotional desire, or motivations like revenge. It is just irrational, impulsive, irreverent. And, for being that, more brutal. But our cinema is not allowed to reflect our realities. Once Paanch was cleared by the censors, it couldn’t find a distributor: no songs, no stars, no foreign locales,” recalls Anurag in an interview given to last October.

Writer director Abbas Tyrewala, in his blog, accounts the face-off Anurag had with the Censors.
Anurag screened Paanch for this Jurassic wonder. At the end of the screening, a man who I believe is a primary school teacher called Anurag in and asked him what cinema meant to him. Anurag asked in turn what it meant to him and the man replied, without blinking an eyelid, that it meant “healthy entertainment”. Healthy entertainment, according to Masterji, was absent in Paanch. He asked why there were no “positive characters” in the film. Obviously it would have been a complete waste of time to explain the concept of a noir film to the gentleman; Anurag explained instead that all the characters were to him positive to some degree.

The gentleman then suggested that the film was too violent.

I have seen Paanch. Its wizardry lies in creating a sense of violence without its explicit depiction. The film gets under your skin, creates the kind of dirty residue that normally remains in the aftermath of a street fight. Instead, Teacher Rex felt that this film glorifies violence. Anurag asked for specific scenes that had bothered the Board, which he was willing to defend and delete if necessary. No instances were forthcoming; the man was too busy objecting to the language now.

Then came the piece de resistance. The man said that the film was too long for a thriller. He arbitrarily asked Anurag to trim it by forty minutes! Too long for a thriller. Oh Anurag, I wish I had been there to see your face. The joy it would have given my aching heart to see your initial lack of comprehension, then the rage and then the helplessness; the intense desire to ask this gentleman where he kept his cane so you could put it where it belonged. Too long for a thriller. Marvelous!

Maybe Once Upon A Time In America should have been cut down from four and a half to two hours. Oh wait a minute, they did. And reduced a classic to a schizophrenic collection of visuals. Isn't Bertolucci's 1900 too long for an epic? Well, it does encompass the story of a century, so I guess it can stretch to five hours. And thank God cricket matches last an entire day, or else Lagaan would have had to be trimmed by an hour or so.

But a thriller! What in a thriller justifies two hours and forty-five minutes? Your story? Your development of characters? Your plot? Your choice?

Finally, Paanch was cleared, but left with absolutely no takers. Anurag recalls in the interview: “We had more than 200 private trial-screenings of Paanch — the audience response was fantastic. But no distributor would risk it. Bollywood is controlled by families that have grown up in trial rooms. They have no knowledge of the real world.”

A single Googling on Paanch gave me a list of Bollywood technocrats endorsing the movie.

Govind Nihalani, Director: There is no justification for the censor board to refuse a certificate to Paanch. It is an extremely well made film. It belongs to a genre not seen before in India. The censor board has no right to decide what subject a director should choose while making a film, or what the treatment ought to be. It's the director's prerogative to decide on his approach. As long as the film's content does not violate the censor board's guidelines, the board has no justification to ban a film. It is not for them to verify whether a film is full of hope or despair. It is up to the writer and director to decide whether their film needs to generate hope amongst its audience or shock and depress them. The censor board has no right to force filmmakers to make positive films. People should be given a chance to see Paanch. The very fact that other filmmakers who have seen the film are openly supporting it, and are willing to associate their names with it, means the film is not deserving of a ban.

Saurabh Shukla, Actor: I saw a rough cut of Paanch long time ago. The film wasn't complete then and I'd seen the unfinished version on video. I have no idea about the ideology of the entire film or what the end conveys. But whatever little I saw, I didn't think the scenes had abusive language or violence that was without context. Everything that a particular character says or does in a film is part of the film's journey. And it has to be seen in that context. One cannot just take it out in isolation and talk about it. I thought the film's language went with its characters. I have worked with Anurag in Satya and know that he's a good scriptwriter. But then, this is a personal opinion. Just like what one person thinks about a film, may not be what others think.

Farhan Akhtar, Director: I saw the film and found it very contemporary and extraordinarily intelligent. I think the film should be viewed by all sections of the adult Indian population. From what I have heard, Paanch has been refused certification by the censor board because, among other things, it has no social message. But then, most films that are made today do not have any message. And I feel films need not necessarily have social messages. The film has been criticised for its unjustified violence. I can name a 100 films now which have more violence. And there's no such thing as justified or unjustified violence. Isn't all form of violence unjustified? How can the censor board decide whether the film is suitable for adult viewing or not? What do one mean by the term 'adult'? Isn't it supposed to mean someone who can take his own decision? In that case, we are as capable of making the decision as board officials are. It is time we reviewed this system of five people sitting inside a room and making decisions about what is good for the rest of the Indian population. I totally support Paanch and think that it is a very good film.

Saeed Mirza, Director: I have not got a chance to see the film yet. But from whatever I know of this young man (Anurag Kashyap), he is a responsible man. He understands the sensibilities of filmmaking. People who know Anurag closely, filmmakers who have worked with him, also feel the same. Many of my close friends, all filmmakers whose opinions I have high regards for, have seen the film and all of them have liked it. They support the film whole-heartedly and I respect their views. I'm sure the film is worth a release. I don't think the censor board needs to make such an issue about Paanch and keep it away from the public. If the board feels the film is too violent, it can clear it with adults or whatever other certificates it has. It need not ban the film. It's the director's first film and he deserves to be given a chance. He has a right to take his film to the public and one should not deny him that. Let the public decide for themselves.

Paanch was accused of having all dark characters. But we can’t expect a Kuch Kuch Hota Hai from a man who had undergone dark times right from his childhood, can we? Molested in childhood, grew up as an insecure, confused youth, he found solace in writing. He found passion in cinema. As put in by Anurag in the interview,

I grew up in Benares, part of a larger community of relatives and neighbours. My father was an officer in the state electricity board; my mother was a housewife. We often ate at a cousin and neighbour’s home. I was five when an elder cousin and a neighbour began to abuse me sexually. It was more than molestation; it violated everything. I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t speak of it. I was always a very detached child. I went into a deeper shell; my behaviour became erratic. When I was eight, my father sent me to Scindia School in Gwalior. It was more than he could afford and I will always be grateful for that. But Scindia was hell for me. The sexual abuse continued there for years. I hated myself. I couldn’t understand why it was happening to me. I was often picked out, beaten, then taken to the toilets. To save myself from the beatings, I’d give in to the abuse. Once I saw a senior abuse another junior. I spoke up about it. The repercussion was terrible. When I was in Class VII, I felt suicidal. That’s when I began to write.

I wrote a story, I still remember, called Apekshit. I was the youngest in my class, the prodigal, but always very good at my work. But when my teacher read the story, he said, this can’t be genuine. I looked up the word in the dictionary — the Hindi-speaking gunk in an elite English school — and that became my burden for life. I was thwarted at every turn. I excelled anyway. But every achievement became a joke.

My turning point came in 1993. I had joined the Jan Natya Manch while in college. Those years were a haze of beer and pot and anger. Then Moloyshree Hashmi and Joy Sengupta urged me to catch a de Sica retrospective. That changed my life. Cinema became my cocoon. Two months later, I left for Bombay. It was raining. I had Rs 6,000 in my pocket. I spent eight months on the street, sleeping on beaches, hanging around outside Prithvi Theatre for work and a night out of the rain. My most permanent shelter those days was the space below the water tank in the Four Bungalows complex in Andheri. Then, I wrote a play and people began noticing me. People like Makarand Deshpande, Mahendra Joshi, Shivam Nair, Sudhir Mishra, Ram Gopal Varma and Amol Gupte infused hope and faith into my life. They were my mentors; my proof of generosity

After the Paanch sabbatical, came the idea of Black Friday.
Heavily based on Hussain Zaidi’s book of the same name, the attempt was to make a TV series. It was very convenient to make it a TV series indeed, as there were so many strands and so many characters in the work that that they just would not fall into place. Then it was decided to start the film at a point three days before the blasts — when one of the accused allegedly informed the police about the attempt but no one believed him — and worked backwards to the Babri Masjid demolition.

All this while,” says Kashyap, “People kept telling me that it’s going to be damn controversial.”

And the worst fears came true when some of the accused succeded to obtain a hold on the release of the movie. The movie was made on a shoestring budget of Rs 4.5 crores, and with the release being put off for years and the accumulating interest on the debt taken by the producer, the total expense shot off by about Rs 3 crores.

In a turn of events, and I would call it the divine reward for the pain Anurag underwent, Anil Ambani’s Adlabs Films was prompted to offer a deal, following the hypre generated after the movie ban and the posibility of a stellar opening in the multiplexes. Adlabs, on the other hand, seems to be quite charged up about the fate of the movie. The film releases on February 9, 2007.

A simple search in the annals of Bollywood, and you will find many like Anurag, with brilliant ideas and burning passion, but no corporate backing to launch their dreams. Because in Bollywood, the dream merchants have literally taken the wholesale rights to launch the dreams also. As Anurag says, it took a star like John Abraham to make a risky choice to act in Kabir Khan’s dream project Kabul Express, to attract Yash Raj films to launch the movie. It took the success of Lagaan for superstar Shahrukh Khan to take up Swades.

Courtesy: DNA,,,

Thursday, January 18, 2007

It's Pongal, It's Jallikattu!!

7:15 pm.
I walked in with the south page dummy to the cabin of the chief of news bureau of our paper. He had two slots to fill, both on Jayalalithaa, with a total of 630 words. And below the two slots and the picture was a meagre 210-word slot, supposed to carry the Madurai copy on Alanganallur Jallikattu.

He glanced at the A3 sheet.
“Why this small slot for Jallikattu?”
“Sir, Ma’am said that we have had carried several Jallikattu copies for the last few days.”
There was a copy the day before on the Palamedu Jallikattu, a smaller one, held as a prelude to the Alanganallur Jallikattu, and some more on the preparations and protests, including the petition in the Madras High Court.
“Boy, where are you from?”
“Kerala, Sir.”
“OK, understand this. For the entire southern Tamil Nadu, the Alanganallur Jallikattu is the..the,..” he paused
“The event,” I cut in.
“Yes, it is The Event. The one held yesterday in Palamedu was just a prelude. This is the big event, and one of the biggest cultural events in Tamil Nadu.”
He picked up the phone and asked the RE to give prominence to the story.
Dummy changes, and the story gets a 300 word slot, with a picture inside.

Here are the pictures from the world famous Alanganallur Jallikattu. The pictures and the text is borrowed from the copy filed by our Madurai correspondent.

The jallikattu held in the Alanganallur village near Madurai on Wednesday, was a “regulated” sport this year with lesser number of bulls and more men participating in this event. Safety measures taken to segregate the crowds resulted in lesser number of injuries. As many as 120 foreign tourists also witnessed in the event.

The sleepy hamlet of Alanganallur, 22 km from Madurai city, wore a festive look with coloured flags, banners and cutouts decorating every nook and corner. People began filing into the galleries, as early as 6 am, to get a vantage seat and the animals were made to stand in long queues outside the arena.

A team of veterinary surgeons conducted the eyeball test, heartbeat and breathe analyser tests for each of the animals before allowing them to enter the queue. Though 587 bulls had registered for this year’s event, only 345 animals turned up on Wednesday, of which seven were rejected because they did not pass the tests.Similar tests were conducted for the 527 men who entered the arena, wearing T-shirts given by the organisers after they passed the test.

At 11 am the special pooja was performed at the Alanganallur Muniyandi temple and the temple bull was first released into the arena after which the others followed. The animals were brightly coloured and garlanded with flowers.

Most of the prizes included gold coins, dhotis, shirts, beds and furniture. But, this time the owners of the bulls that successfully evaded the chasers bagged more prizes. Jayapandi of Kalavasal in Madurai bagged ten prizes the highest by a fighter in this game.

“More bulls bagging prizes is the result of the ban on the alcohol consumption by both the bull and man” said Marimuthu, a teacher, who has been following the event for more than 10 years. “Under the influence of alcohol, the men would try to have a brave show, increasing the risk of injuries and death. This year most of them preferred to take
the side stand when the ferocious animals were released” he said.

Due to the elaborate arrangements made at the venue, none of the spectators were injured. This was the first time that a double barricade system had been constructed at the venue. Sixty-six persons were injured, out of which six were referred to the Government Rajaji Hospital and the rest were given first aid at the venue. Over 25 doctors were kept ready to deal with any casualty.

The precautions taken by the district administration had also paid off with lesser number of persons being injured compared to previous years. The superintendent of Police T.S. Anbu made the final checks and took care of the security. Around 1000 police personnel were pressed into duty for the games. Kent, a foreign tourist who had come to see the event, said that he felt it was an “unruly” game and that more care should be taken to prevent injuries to men in the arena. Some of them said they enjoyed the whole game.