One is a brand, the other a debutant. One is the film’s co-producer, the other, its director. It was these very features that made Anurag Kashyap and Sachin Kundalkar the perfect jodi to make the upcoming Rani Mukerji starrer Aiyyaa a special project to work on
How does the symbiotic relationship between an established filmmaker and new talent help each other?
Anurag Kashyap (AK): For me, it helps to back someone like Sachin (Kundalkar) because I can anticipate the problems he is going to have. Having been a director myself, I know what kind of a producer I need on my set, and I try to be exactly that person. I make myself available as a bouncing board for my director. And I’m sure that is what Sachin also does, since he is not only a director but he has also been a producer of regional films. As a filmmaker, I function best if I have my own team. And since I was the producer of this film, I let him have his own team.
Sachin Kundalkar (SK): When there is freedom, there is responsibility. So a lot of responsibility comes with the freedom Anurag has given me. We have developed something like a Bluetooth connection! We don’t talk much, we hardly meet as he is busy with his own films, but at the back of my mind, I have a safety net. So it’s not a day-to-day relationship that we share.
AK: I see myself more as an enabler. In my genetics, I am not at all a producer. I became a producer with one film because I believed in someone and no one was making the film. And people said that if I took responsibility for it, they would finance me to make it. And that’s how I became a producer. So people started trusting my judgment about other filmmakers or scripts. But I reapeat, I’m just an enabler.
SK: But I think Aiyyaa, was all Anurag’s vision and trust. I was lucky as Anurag and I had a common friend in Sonali (Kulkarni) and she had asked Anurag to watch my Marathi film Gandha, which blended three short stories. He liked my film, especially one short and asked me to develop a script for a Hindi feature film. My first reaction was, ‘kaise banayegne 20 minutes ki short ko badi feature film?’ But he believed I could
Sachin, you were lucky to have Sonali playing mediator. But, Anurag, how easy or difficult is it for other talented newbies to approach you?
AK: It is easy but also difficult. It is easy because I like new talent. I am not averse to them and I don’t run away from them. And it is difficult because, I can’t spend all my time meeting them. So I have built a lot of walls now, because I have to make my own films. And a lot of new talent comes in thinking that I must be some kind of a scion or a very rich man, who has a lot of money. And they think producing a film is giving them money to make their film. To tell you the truth, Anurag Kashyap doesn’t have that kind of money.
SK: You know he makes people wait, to see if the person is really keen on making the film. In addition, the patience or the impatience, that gets checked is worthwhile, because I have experienced it myself. And through all this, our system of communication has evolved. I have cracked the way to communicate with the Anurag Kashyap. I will be making my debut again and again in different genres. One has to find a way. You are not dealing with a producer only; you are also dealing with a creative man who is engaged in his thoughts at all times.
AK: To give a filmmaker a chance, I must see how patient he is. And if he is waiting, does he keep working on his script or does he keep changing his ideas? I have come across a lot of desperate people that believe in yeh nahi toh woh sahi, woh nahi toh kuch aur sahi, so main thoda unse ghabra jata hoon.
So did you make Sachin wait too?
AK: Yes, there was a natural waiting period.
SK: This was mainly due to practical issues like waiting for money to come in or for an actor to say yes. Rani Mukerji says yes only when there is a bound script. And I don’t know how Anurag monitored the writing process. At every level, he knew what was happening. I am yet to understand how he creatively monitors everything. He never visited the sets. I felt he should have been there with me on the first day to give me moral support, but he was away in Latin America. Then he got busy shooting Gangs Of Wasseypur.
So what is the secret, Anurag? How do you keep a track?
AK: (Laughs) I don’t know. It’s instinct, or let me put it this way… I don’t have instincts about certain things. I don’t know how to market a film; I don’t know how to compose a song. I know how not to compose a song. I know how not to market a film. So I work on a ‘not-to’ basis.
And that’s why the films work?
AK: Yes, that’s why the films work very well. Sachin is making a film so it should be his film. He should have his space to create stuff. If I tell him what to do, why do I need him?
But how do you keep tabs on things?
SK: That happens through talking. There is communication happening, of course!
AK: (Cuts in) I don’t need to keep tabs. Everybody thinks I keep tabs and so does Sachin. But that’s not true. I do my homework before the film starts, which is why there is a waiting period. It takes care of my insecurity about the individual. I judge the person and see how much he is in control. Can he do it or not? Can he lead a team and does his team listen to him? Does his team follow him and does he have clarity? I monitored Sachin’s interaction with Amit Trivedi, Amitabh Bhattacharya, Rani and other people. Everybody’s worst enemy is their own insecurities. I know that from experience. I waited 12 years.
Regardless of experience, things can still go wrong.
AK: Kabhi kabhi jata hai. Toh mera andaaza bhi kabhi galat ho jaeyga. Par abhi tak toh nahi hua hai. (Laughs)
SK: I used to look upon Anurag as a demi-god but once you start working with him, you have to see him as another human being, as a fellow filmmaker, as a friend. Then there has to be that relationship between a producer and a director. I have been in complete awe of Anurag Kashyap as a filmmaker but as a producer, he is just another human being.
Anurag, despite their quirky subjects, your films reach a cross-section of people.
AK: And Aiyyaa will reach a bigger audience.
Is that why you cast Prithviraj, to woo the South audience too?
AK: I don’t cast my actors; my director does that. I just manage them and that’s why they work. I didn’t tell him whom to cast. Right from Amit Trivedi to Amitabh Bhattacharya, to the cameraman, everyone is his choice.
SK: I wanted a South Indian actor as the character is South Indian. I am against working with a limited set of actors in Mumbai. The biggest problem in Bollywood is that we are strapped for casting opportunities. Vicky Donor broke that norm. Anurag’s films too have gone against the belief that a film will work only if you cast certain actors. I wanted freshness. Of course, Rani is there and she is an A-lister representing Bollywood. And Anurag stood by me.
I also told him I wanted Marathi theatre actors and a South Indian lead opposite Rani. So it’s a pan-Indian film, Bengali and South Indian lead actors, Marathi supporting actors, Punjabi producer, Marathi director and Gujarati music director, and again, a Bengali lyricist. That’s how a Bollywood film should be. Hindi films should reach everyone. I wanted to make a film full of my culture and flavour.
Prithviraj is a South superstar but not many people have heard of him.
SK: That’s what I am talking about! He has acted in 79 Malayalam films and Aiyyaa is his 80th film. But do you see how small our world has become? We have become so closed in Mumbai that we don’t even know what talent exists outside. Also, people tell us that if we don’t cast one of those ‘six top’ actors, your film is dead. But all you need is a great story, tell it in an interesting way and have new and interesting actors.
How do you make sure the film reaches the largest possible audience?
AK: When I watch a film, I wonder how much business it can do on a good day, a very good day and on a bad day, and so on. I think of how much a film would earn on a very bad day and that decides its budget. So we work backwards.
That’s about the budget. How about marketing?
AK: I work in the same way with marketing. My first film with Viacom 18 was Shaitan. It was not the kind of film a studio would usually go all out for but Viacom did. They over-spent, actually. But they learnt from that and I learnt from it. But what was most important was that there was a studio that believed in the film.
For That Girl In Yellow Boots, the only discussion we had was, ‘let’s not overspend’, and it’s not a film that was going to reach out. The cost of the film was very low. We thought of targeted marketing. Similarly, with Wasseypur Part I, we needed to spend more and Part I would become the marketing for Part II. We discussed everything and the team did the best they could. We discuss ideas till we arrive at the best one.
SK: I am learning all these aspects now… marketing distribution, everything. How to tap into the pulse of the audience, how to market the film, how much to spend on marketing, how many prints to release. Making a good film is very different from knowing how to market it. I have learnt that if you know how to make a great film, you should have a strong partner who can market it.
Was the studio creatively involved in the making of Aiyyaa?
AK: No! They trusted me and I left my director alone. I was like the wall between the studio and the director. I took creative responsibility. If I make a wrong choice, I will face the consequences. Nobody else should tell my director what to do.
SK: They saw the script and the edit and they trusted me. A studio is a must, otherwise these films cannot be made.
Does having a star on board help the prospects of a film?
AK: It’s a great enabler. It draws more attention and people want to watch your film. But it’s not a must. People still used to watch my films even when we didn’t have any stars in them. This is the first time I am working with a star.
SK: I didn’t approach Rani because she was a great star. You see, I always have a face in mind when I write. The character needed a star. Meenakshi is a simple girl with a big Bollywood dream. Rani knows what those dreams are, what a Madhuri Dixit or a Juhi Chawla is and she could lend colour to the character. But if you ask me if that is a rule, my answer would be, ‘Go and watch Vicky Donor’.