By Utpal Borpujari
Gulaal by Anurag Kashyap, who is riding high on the success of his directorial venture Dev.D, had been in the making for eight years. Till its release on March 13, the film suffered a number of financial setbacks, including the death of financial Jhamu Sugandh, which explains the intermittent delay. But that has not impacted this poweful political drama set in a fictional town in Rajasthan, where a local Rajput leader is plotting an armed struggle to carve out an independent Rajputana.
In a sense, Gulaal is a much bigger political comment, on the many insurgencies, the rise of regionalism and communalism, and the forced retreat of voices of reason facing aggressive vigilantism in many parts of the country. At the same time, it is also a heartfelt cry about the futility of all pursuits of power, as signified by theatre director-actor Piyush Mishra’s evocative poetry used in the film.
The film is hard-hitting but has a satiristic undertone that come to the fore quite often, for example, through liquor that goes by such interesting names as “Democracy Beer”, “Constitution Whiskey”, “Put-in Vodka” or other hard drinks named Capitalism, Colonial and so on. The film sure packs a punch, through its hard-hitting story and uniformly-brilliant acting by its cast, comprising Kay Kay Menon, newcomers Raja Chaudhary and Ayesha Mohan, Deepak Dobriyal, Aditya Srivastava, Piyush Mishra, Abhimanyu Singh and the rest of the ensemble cast.
Kashyap developed the story for Gulaal inspired by Sahir Ludhianvi’s classic poem “Yeh Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye To Kya Hai” from Guru Dutt’s Pyasa, and he did it when he was in a particularly angry mood, with his debut feature Paanch stuck with the censors (this film is finally expected to see the light of the day towards mid this year). It is not surprising, therefore, that Gulaal is a strong, angry critique of the political system of the country based on caste, regional identities and power play rather than any thought of serving the society.
Kashyap explains, “Gulaal is a political film. It’s on student politics vis-a-vis national politics, the structure of democracy that we have made over the years. I had started making this film in anger, though since 2001, when I launched this film, I have become much quieter.” Kashyap, who burst onto the Hindi film industry as the screenplay writer of Ram Gopal Varma’s Satya, had reasons to be angry. He had been dubbed as the most unlucky director, with his Paanch stuck with the Censor Board for long and the release of Black Friday, based on the 1993 Mumbai blasts, stalled by the courts till the relevant legal cases were over. His another planned venture, Allwyn Kallicharan starring Anil Kapoor, never took off, compounding his woes, even as he went on to write screenplays and dialogues – some good, some mediocre and some bad – for other filmmakers. The release of Black Friday seemed to have broken the jinxed tag attached to him, but then he made No Smoking which fared miserably on both critical and commercial fronts. He redeemed himself to some extent by directing the animation Hanuman Returns and finally tasted success after all these years when his recent film Dev.D hit it off astonishingly with both critics and lay viewers, making it a Box Office success. Gulaal, he hopes, will take him to another level of creativity.
“Gulaal is very difficult to explain. It is a completely contemporary, though set in a fictional town. The film is a metaphorical protest against all those who are segregating people on the basis of language, religion, caste, etc. It’s a film that has got songs that are like Gadar’s street poetry. We’ve even done mujra that makes a strong political comment about the state of affairs in world politics. It’s a very strong political movie,” says the director who is riding the success of Dev.D. The political consciousness, he says, comes through his reading of seven newspapers every morning. “That is where I pick up real-life references for my stories, like I have done in ‘Gulal’ too, referring to the Bijapur medical college ragging incident in 2001 in Karnataka,” he says. “The newspaper reports lead to many issues swirling in my head. I don’t know how it will come out and when,” he says, adding in jest, “Right now, it is the Pink Chaddhi campaign against Ram Sene in Karnataka that is spinning in my head.”
While he admits that No Smoking was a film that was not understood by anybody, he says that like Dev.D, Gulaal too is an accessible film. “I had to make people understand what No Smoking was through blogs, but in Dev.D and Gulaal, you don’t have to break your head, though I tend to do the stories in my own way, like I did in Dev.D where I developed the background of Chandramukhi’s character. I have major problems otherwise with Devdas the novel, which uses both Paro and Chandramukhi as mere appendages to take the story forward,” he says.
Next, he is planning a big-budget sci-fi film based based on the popular Indian comic book character Doga, who is a dog-faced superhero from the Raj Comics stable. To be produced by Sony International, it will have special effects never before seen in India, he claims. “We have bought the rights for the character and I am now writing the script. There will be such high quality special effects that I will myself have to do a three-month course on the subject before I start the film,” he says, revealing that Kunal Kapoor will play the superhero. Also on the thought process is a “plain, simple” comedy. A man of action, this Kashyap surely is.