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Director Anurag Kashyap and his leading man in Ugly, Rahul Bhat, in conversation with team Box Office India

Box Office India (BOI): Ugly is up for release. What are your expectations from the film?

Anurag Kashyap (AK): We are very confident of Ugly as we have adopted a very well thought-out strategy for the film. We make different kinds of cinema but the problem is that we promote each film in a similar manner. We promote every trailer in the same manner, with the same songs, the same action sequences, and a similar P&A budget. I thought it didn’t make sense to front-load a film with such a huge P&A budget, especially when it’s not made on such a big budget. So when we thought of releasing the film, I told my guys that there was no need to announce the release date. But everyone told me that I had to announce the release date so that it gets published in the trade magazines etc.

So we were discussing what attracts people to watch a film. Either it’s the cast; or the director and you have been waiting for his next film; or the trailer. You liked the poster and you want to know more about the film. I have a limited audience, around 4-4.5 crore people. The only known face of our film is Ronit Roy and his audience is the TV audience. As a primary audience, we know that the number is fixed. So if you promote it for four months, the number won’t change. Why, then, should we spend marketing monies unnecessarily? We don’t have songs in the film, so why unnecessarily record a song just to promote the film? It is a different kind of movie and the only way to create a buzz is to announce the film when people wonder, what is wrong with them? That will get us more eyeballs.

BOI: That’s why you are releasing the film after PK?

AK: Yes, also because nobody will believe you, right? We know that 60 per cent of the audience will watch PK in the first week. There are also some Hollywood releases, all feel-good films. But Ugly is a completely different film and we definitely will get an audience. We thought Christmas was the right holiday to release the film, compared to any other holiday, because we face less competition on that weekend as compared to any other week.

BOI: But PK will corner maximum number of cinemas.

AK: We don’t need more than 300 to 400 screens. We are looking at four to six shows per day. If we get that, it will be more than enough. We know we will be able to generate that much excitement, so we don’t need anything more. We sat down with the distributors DAR and we figured that of the number of people who watch PK, if even two per cent of them watch our film per show, it would be more than enough. So that is why we don’t want to burden the film with a large marketing budget.

BOI: What’s so special about Ugly that makes you so involved with the film’s marketing and distribution?

AK: We all believe in the content of the film. I watched the film with the audience in France and it reached out to a wide audience. This film connects with people on some level and that has been a unanimous reaction I have got. Now it’s our job to draw the audience to cinemas for that first time. After that, the content will drive the film. Friday to Sunday jo hona hai woh hoga, but from Monday onwards, it’s the director’s work, it’s the content.

BOI: But what about your core audience, the kind that likes quirky stuff like Dev D and Gangs Of Wasseypur?

AK: They too will like it. I am saying this on the basis of reviews it received internationally and even in India. Everyone who has watched the film has liked it. There are some quirks in the film which are my signature. Jihne dekh ke mazaa aata hai. I have always tried to introduce humour in my films because that is very important.

BOI: Rahul, how happy are you with the film, not as an actor but as a member of the audience?

Rahul Bhat (RB): I am very happy. First of all, I am the actor so I have to say that this film is close to me and it is great! But even as a member of the audience I would want to watch films like this. So, as an actor, it is great to be a part of these films. Just now, you were discussing P&A budgets of films and Anurag said that everyone has started promoting their films in the same way. Everyone is repeating the same stories and doing the same types of film. Not surprisingly, the audience keeps complaining about not getting good content-driven films. Now here we are presenting to the audience a good film, and let’s see how they receive it. I am very happy with the way it has turned out. I have acted in a film after eight to nine years and I got to work with Anurag Kahsyap.

BOI: Was Anurag Kashyap the reason you said ‘yes’ to the film?

RB: Of course! He was the reason I chose to do the film.

BOI: Did Anurag come to you with the film or did you go to him?

RB: We met…

AK: We met, I saw him and I said that I had a film for him. There was no pitching; I just told him the story and decided to make the film two years later

BOI: Rahul, you will be seen on screen after a long gap in a film made by Anurag Kashyap, and you are now working with Sudhir Mishra. Why that break?

RB: I don’t know. I guess I was very angry back then. I produced TV shows too but I never acted in my TV shows. I was kind of angry and disappointed. I was actually Ugly and Devdas both! (Laughs)

AK: You know, it’s a life long struggle. For instance, I know the kind of cinema I want to make so I wouldn’t add a song to a film if it wasn’t called for. What happens then is, aapka nuksaan hota hai. We were talking about this a few days ago, why do we pay stars so much these days? That is because they guarantee a certain amount of business returns. But, in reality, how a film performs at the box office depends largely on the volume of the release. There are 52 Fridays, so if stars block 15 Fridays, where is the business model? A film needs to sustain on its own, but our films have become about Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It has become all about the opening. So, if I get a star and I create an opening which is big, it is my job to create content that I am able to monetise from Monday. Considering the volumes at which films are releasing these days, they should earn Rs 400 crore. But that’s not happening.

Opening weekend se zyada collections nahi hota hai. Our laws don’t allow us to add screens. The number of cinemas has stagnated. Chinese cinema has seen a major growth because of the huge number of screens they have. And their films are rich in content and therefore travel to many countries. Hence, it is our responsibility as directors to make sure that the film reaches as many people as it can, due to its content.

BOI: How much appeal will this film have in smaller cities?

AK: It will appeal to them too. See, I have never worked with a star, and the film has managed to reach so many people despite the lack of a star cast. Inhi same films mein aap bade stars ko daaloge toh the business will grow further and the dynamics of these films will also change eventually and their budgets will also balloon, and I think they should. Sure, there are some films that absolutely need a star. For instance, you can’t make Bombay Velvet without a star. Also, when you spend a whole lot, it should be visible on screen. In Bombay Velvet, 70 per cent of the budget has been spent on production, and that can happen only when there is content. Only then will they agree to invest so much money.

On the other hand, if I am only using star status, the stars get all the money and the producer and director should get a salary since they are not really making an effort. So it’s justified when the stars ask for profit-sharing. That’s precisely how the system began – because directors and producers were not bringing anything to the table and films were working solely on the strength of the star.

But to stay in the business, it is our job to constantly reinvent ourselves. Ek formula milta nahi hain ki sab uske pichhe lag jaate hain. If we don’t bring variety to the table, how will business grow? Why do you think people feel excited when a Rajkumar Hirani movie is about to release? Because they know it will have good content. So we do need new stuff. Anyway, I have been talking about this for so many years.

BOI: You have been talking but do you see any change?

AK: I do! There are some filmmakers who are very particular about their content, like Imtiaz Ali and Dibakar Banerjee. Zoya Akhtar is so careful with content that we do tests on 10 pages. Change is underway and there will be more filmmakers like these in next few years. And since I have been saying this for so many years, it’s time for me to deliver on my word. I am telling you a story but, still, I am real, I am believable. I am spending money but not on things that are not relatable. That’s how we have worked all along. Gangs Of Wasseypur’s budget was Rs 50-60 crore but we made the film for Rs 18 crore. I am saying you spend less and create more. You have to figure out the budget and this must reflects on screen.

BOI: Do you think audience is changing?

AK: The audience is not only changing but is demanding! Movie-goers are not fools; they will slowly start rejecting everything. They know when a filmmaker is using the anticipation factor but will not deliver. Our audience is growing bored. People are watching cinema from around the world and they wonder why we can’t make movies like that. We are thinking ‘bigger’ but why our ‘big’ is not as ‘big’ as their ‘big’? It’s not that we can’t create; we can actually create the same cinema at a lower cost. The problem is, we are copycats. So, slowly and steadily, things will change and we will make better cinema. Mainstream will change in the next two to three years and all kinds of cinema will co-exist.

BOI: You spoke about Gangs Of Wasseypur and looks versus cost. Similarly, your other films like Black Friday and Dev D looked bigger than they actually cost. What is the secret behind that?

AK: There is no secret. When I produce films, I always ask them to slash the budget. I ask them what the entire budget is and then cut it by a certain amount and ask them to make the film on that budget. It’s very simple. I wanted to create an explosion in Wasseypur. If you had the money, you would have blasted an entire mountain. The question you ask yourself is – is it worth spending so much money on a blast scene?

So I found out when and where they blast the mountains and we set up our cameras there and waited for that shot even though it took two months. And we ended up spending only ` 10,000 on that blast scene! We wanted to shoot a traffic jam scene, which is always tough even after you take permission. Now, once you set up cameras, everyone stops to look. So we set up cameras in between the traffic and created a traffic jam. We would do this for 10 minutes every day. So we parked our cars in between the others, set up a few cameras and created a traffic jam. We did this for only 10 minutes per day otherwise we would have been violating the law. We shot the chase sequence over a period of nine days.

With Black Friday, Mid-Day was producing the film and we didn’t have a big budget. We were also very young back then and decided not to book any hotels and sleep in the bus instead. We did the same thing with Gangs Of Wasseypur, where we stayed in Rs 300 budget rooms on the ghats. Manoj Bajpayee, who was the only star in our unit, was living at the Taj. When you’re shooting, you’re working, not having a party.

BOI: You’re working with Tejaswini Kolhapure once again. Your first film together, Paanch, did not release and now there’s Ugly. Was it very emotional for you?

AK: Yes, it was. I met Tejaswini and while chatting with her casually I told her about the film. I waited five years to release Paanch and she also started feeling guilty as it was produced by Tutu Sharma. So for quite a long time we were not in touch. She has always been a very good actress. And her character in Ugly too makes two bad choices in her life. You will understand what I mean when you watch the film. That character came from within.

She was very happy and emotional when I asked her to do Ugly. The first one to watch the film was Tutu ji and he said, ‘Yeh toh commercial film hai.’ He was very emotional after watching it. When Paanch didn’t release, everyone blamed themselves and many people suffered. There was so much hype around the film and many people thought, ‘Hamare bachche ka career banega iss film se’. But that didn’t happen. It was emotional for everyone.

BOI: Do you still want to revive Allwyn Kaalicharan?

AK: Yes, I always wanted to make that film. When I announced it, everyone thought it was a very expensive film to make due to the special effects. Today, the time is right. It just needs to be re-written and updated.

BOI: So how many films does Anurag Kashyap have in the bank?

AK: I have two to three big films, which I want to make on a large scale. Other than that, I am very happy in my space and I want to make thrillers all my life. I want to keep budgets in control and keep making movies.

BOI: Thanks to your body of work, a star will listen to your narration and probably agree to do a film with you. So aren’t you tempted to go with big names? How do you resist that?

AK: It depends on the film. I can’t make every film with a star. It depends on what the script demands. I couldn’t make Ugly with stars. Maybe after working with Ranbir Kapoor I can go corrupt but every script doesn’t demand Ranbir. For some films, I will go with Nawazuddin Siddiqui. We were having a confrontation in the midst of a conversation and he asked me why I hadn’t worked with stars. That’s when I realised I was scared of stars. And due to this, I have let go of many opportunities. I have interacted with every star but, at the last moment, I run away. I feel insecure that they might feel something else about my film. Ranbir said I could not keep working like that. I would love to work with big stars but I can’t do that with every film.

It is also very important that after every big film, I make two small films. It is very important for my own health, creativity and sanity. It can be very corrupting – you make a big film and the next becomes bigger and the next much bigger and there’s no stopping after that. It is very important that you keep going back and reinventing yourself.

BOI: There was talk of you working with Shah Rukh Khan.

AK: Yes, discussions are underway. He is very committed and personally I don’t want to chase people. We have known each other for a very long time. When I was making No Smoking, he called me and said, ‘What are you doing? Are you mad?’ He scolded me for half an hour. I would love to make a film with him and I will. But I want to make it my way. When we reach that comfort level, we will make a film together.

Everyone likes my films and I get good reviews but what about the box office? I have to keep the box office in mind but I cannot be vocal about it till it happens on its own. I have been trying to reach out to people. Initially, I used to feel that people don’t understand my films. But over a period of time, you simplify things.

BOI: People think you are arrogant…

AK: (Cuts in) People who know me don’t think I am. Also, I am blunt and call a spade a spade. I am not arrogant; I just love cinema too much. I believe that one can do so much with all the resources one has. So when one doesn’t because one is lazy… I feel that when I am making a film and using all the resources I have, it should show on screen. When Bombay Velvet was written, it was a Rs 300-crore film but the film’s budget is actually ` 90 crore. I have shot for 75 days. Name one film with a budget of over Rs 60 crore that was shot in less than 120 days. We had to finish a Rs 90-crore film in 75 days or else we would have gone over-budget. Everything was very well planned and organised. When we were in talks with Aamir (Khan) for the film five to six years ago, the budget was ` 160 crore for the film.

BOI: You were planning this film with Aamir Khan?

AK: Yes, six years ago. It was obvious that one couldn’t make a film on a budget of Rs 160 crore; even box-office numbers didn’t reach Rs 160 crore. It was unreasonable. So I put the project on the back burner. Slowly, we cut down on things and decided that we could make the film on a smaller budget without changing the movie. We even travelled the world to find the most cost-effective locations for the film. It was our meticulous planning that ensured that the film became reasonable for everyone.

Like we are unable to make Doga right now because I know how much money it requires. Till the box office doesn’t reach that mark, Doga cannot be made. Of course, we could make Doga with Rs 40-50 crore but that would be a sub-standard film. Basically, you need patience to increase the capacity of a film.

BOI: Rahul, you said you were angry and hence stayed away from the industry. Why were you angry and do you still feel the same way?

RB: No, I have my own television company which is doing very well and I could have easily made a film with myself in it. But I made it a point to not make a film for myself. I am an actor and I want a credible director to offer me a film. When that happens, the anger subsides and if it doesn’t, the anger grows. Till we place a premium on ‘relationships’ in the industry, we will keep making nonsense films with big stars and their sons and daughters. 90 per cent of films made with big stars are crap, and the Khans and the other big actors make the same formulaic films. This is changing slowly as you cannot give the audience the same things all the time and take them for granted. Now I am doing Ugly and I am doing Aur Devdas and I have no reason to complain.

BOI: Why is the film titled Ugly?

AK: This is a very tough question to answer and I have no reply. You will understand the title when you watch the films.

BOI: Is it because of the dark side of the characters?

AK: We all have a dark side. But everyone controls that dark side of their personality. But there comes a time when it surfaces. And this film is about that moment, which comes in everyone’s life. Everyone’s resentment and their emotions, har koi apni badsurati apne andar leke ghumta hai.

BOI: You spoke of constraints you had to work with, like for the traffic jam scene. Does this compromise your creativity?

AK: No not at all. It actually makes it better. The first time I did that, I felt a little constrained but I am used to not having money to make films. Paise toh humare pass hote nahi thhey to make films. We made Gulaal in eight years because we use to shoot every Diwali. We didn’t need lights as the entire city was lit up during that time. We just went out with our camera and start rolling. Actors also used to come along and we travelled by train to shoot. During those eight years, the cost of the film was around Rs 2 crore. We have always found a way as we knew what we wanted to make.

Till our films don’t give returns at the box office, we have no right to demand money on its behalf. What security or collateral am I giving you when you invest in my film? So my job is to make sure that you earn more than you invest. I never tell people that my films will break box-office records or earn ` 100 crore or more but I make sure they don’t run up losses.

BOI: What is interesting about your niche of filmmakers – you, Imtiaz Ali, Anurag Basu and Tigmanshu Dhulia – is that all of you have roots in television. Is that just a coincidence?

AK: I think all of us were together in a series called Star Bestsellers. There was Abbas Tyrewala and Raju Hirani too. Tigmanshu was the front-runner and his episodes were our favourite. Hence all of us wanted to be Tigmanshu in television. Even Irrfan directed a few episodes and so did Vishal ji (Bhardwaj). I think we all have a connection from those days, when we used to share ideas with each other.

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