You ease out while speaking to Anurag Kashyap. Despite all said and done, he is the best example of ‘What you See is What you Get’ in Hindi cinema- an honest, unpretentious and opinionated filmmaker. With his brave move to release his baby, ‘Ugly’, a week after the Aamir Khan flick ‘PK”, he has once again put the spotlight firmly back on the content versus hype debate in Bollywood. Here, he talks to AK about stars and non starry films, and his exhaustion with speculations over his personal life.
'Ugly’ first released in France in May 2014. How did you manage to control piracy of your film? And how did it do there?
You sign a contract that the DVD of the film cannot release before the Indian release. And Europe is a lot more controlled than India when it comes to piracy. The film opened to 1 crore INR on it’s first weekend in France. It was very good. At the time of its release, it had the highest opening for a non-romantic and a non- comedy film. In France, comedies and romances work the most. So ‘Ugly’ being watched in that market is quite good.
In terms of your release strategy, to position in on 26th December after ‘PK’ what is the thinking behind that?
We talked to each other internally, and thought, what makes you really want you watch a film? It’s usually the first poster of the first trailer. Audiences that watch my films tend to decide to watch them anyway. Then the trailer leaves a decisive impression. So the audiences will watch the film based on that.
For instance, consider Hollywood films in India. They release a poster & a trailer just a week before the film hits theaters, and still manage to do business worth 20-25 crores. I am specifically referring to non- superhero flicks like ‘The Conjuring’ or ‘Gone Girl’.
What happens when you are Not aware of the film? You see the poster, you like it and you go check out more information on the Internet. For ‘Ugly’ we are releasing about 4-5 different posters. If the posters make audiences curious, I believe they will go and view the trailer, will find out more. ‘Ugly’ is not a star driven film, 20 different trailers is not going to get it an audience that brings n 20 crores in the first weekend. Lets be very clear, the film won’t get an ‘opening’. Why should we then spend on marketing and getting an opening ?
Look at ‘Main Aur Mr Riight’, the film was marketed quite a lot, but the opening ultimately remained quite limited. So why to spend more money on publicity and marketing, than the entire cost of the film? Therefore, we decided that lets announce the release date just weeks before the film hits theaters. People will then at least talk about us calling us suicidal, or idiots, or whatever else.
Besides, we’ve got such a big window because of ‘PK’. ‘PK’ is a big whale (smiles). Small fishes survive by hanging around the big whale. They save themselves from shark attacks by latching on to big whales. People are going to return to movie theaters because of ‘PK’. Lets make our presence bigger inside the theatres.
Its innovative strategy though
No, it’s an experiment. It stems from a belief system, a discussion, and has been thought through by us. Lets see if it works. If it works, it will justify not spending so much money on small films. It will help us (Phantom) to release ‘Peddlers’, ‘Haraam Khor’ and smaller films, which are not releasing precisely because its foolish to spend four times their cost on promotions and marketing.
Having said that, how do you view this trend in release strategies that is fast becoming a norm. I am referring to the trend of fortnights, two Fridays or more, being cleared up for a big star’s film. It’s been a struggle for any sorts of small film to even position themselves for release. Don’t you think that’s detrimental?
We simply don’t have enough theatres here in India. Shekhar Kapur saab once stated something very relevant. He said that, “We pay big money to big stars because it helps us get more exhibitor space. That way, exhibitors give us more theaters.” But then, to recover those big monies, a star release essentially needs to occupy 60 percent of exhibition space! So if you have 52 Fridays in a year, and every big release tries to take up 2 Fridays, that translates to just 26 Fridays available in a year, then it doesn’t make economic sense. Such limited space (to reach out to viewers or consumers) is bad for business anyway. In this process, good content will suffer, and it may well kill the business.
In the long term, either you create more theatrical space or you have to find innovative ways to release a film. You need to take risks, and do it. For me, with these minor publicity costs, if this film works, then it will prove that, we spend unnecessary amounts of money for doing P&A for some films! My film doesn’t have a Shah Rukh Khan, or Aamir Khan. My film cannot take the load of that kind of publicity and advertising costs. Even big films sometimes cannot take that. We have seen such huge P&A (publicity and advertising) spends for poor content, and then the film still fails to take a decent opening! According to me, such high costs on publicity and marketing are simply not justified.
Speaking of high publicity and advertising costs for films, how do you view some of the bigger releases of this year? It’s no secret that even today, good films often struggle to find financing. And to be honest, ‘PK’ hasn’t been over publicized either.
This has not been a great year. Lets hope ‘PK’ ends it well, Raju Hirani can be trusted to make a very good film (smiles). Somehow, it always works, the low publicity. I have seen low key, focused publicity work for two big movies before. One is ‘Three Idiots’, and the second is ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’. With less publicity, expectations from a film are lower, the content is stronger and it works to the film’s advantage.
The trailer has just released on the Internet. You’ve called ‘Ugly’ your best work so far. Tell us what’s the film about.
It is. All critics have called it that- Raja Sen and Sudhish Kamath think it’s my best film. World over, critics in France and at other festivals, have called it my best film. Everyone who has seen it, loves it. It’s the first dark film that my mother saw and cried. She said, “Beta bahut acchi picture banayi hain.” (Smiles). It’s quite dark, but it touches the hearts of mothers & fathers. The first thing that people do after watching the film is call their kids, to find out how they are and where they are. That’s the impact it has. It’s my first film that gets the desired impact.
As a filmmaker, you are pretty much at a stage where you can pick up the phone and call up just any actor and ask them to work in your film. But you don’t do that right? Why do you choose to work with non-stars more often than not?
‘Ugly’ has been such a delight to make because of the freedom that it got me. Actually, I did not give the script to any actor. Nobody knew what he or she was doing (in the context of the whole film). Actors also have a tendency of getting into a role, and playing it. With co producers Darr, I shared the idea, but did not give the script to them either. Everyone saw the film for the first time at Cannes film festival. I said, let me make this film. I am making it at the lowest possible cost, so let me make this film my way & I take responsibility for it.
And that helped the film so much! That’s not possible with stars sometimes. This sort of work only comes from newcomers, who are hungry. They want to give their best shot, and they work on the basis of trust .A lot of people worked on the ‘Wasseypur’ movies on trust. I had not even written the ending, and yet they came on board, and went along with it. I work a lot on trust. As I have not let anyone down so far, they (actors) continue to trust me.
In fact, Ranbir (Kapoor) works on the basis of trust. He works with Imtiaz Ali or Anurag Basu, knowing that he can let himself go with the flow. He is one of the rare stars who works that way. Shah Rukh Khan works that way. Shah Rukh just likes an idea, and if he likes you, he will go ahead and do the film, as you want him to. So there are stars that do that. But not every film can afford that. ‘Ugly’ can’t have stars. It will not have the right atmosphere. The audience will not accept their star at such a stripped down, realistic level.
And I need to make these films, they are my oxygen, I need my oxygen. Ugly is yoga to me (smiles). After doing yoga, I will go and try some funky new exercise!
About your star film, your actor Anushka said Bombay Velvet is more than just a film to her, that it’s an experience. Ranbir Kapoor & Karan Johar echoed similar praise for it. Yet there are lots of stories around the film- that it ran out of finance, and that the studio (fox star) had issues with you. Tell us what’s the real story here.
I know, there are loads of expectations from ‘Bombay Velvet’, and I ready to take them on. I will deliver on them. I always take 8 months to a year on the postproduction of any film; I don’t usually wrap up a film just like that. I keep working on it, and we’ve got Thelma Schumacher to work on the postproduction on it. Everybody came on board for this film for the love of it, the craft. The idea is never to be satisfied. People who have seen the film have loved it like 6 months back. I am saying, we can make it better, and that’s what takes the film forward. Today, the studio and everyone on the team sees why it’s taking longer than usual. Everybody is very excited.
It’s a lot of responsibility! If ‘Bombay Velvet’ does not work, filmmakers who are bracketed alongside me will not be given that kind of money to make a film again. So I carry that responsibility with this film, and I carry the trust of Ranbir Kapoor & Anushka Sharma. I have to win that trust and justify it. I can’t take it for granted that the stars are here, so I do whatever I please! For 15 years, it’s been a battle of sorts that films like mine do not feature in mainstream cinema. If I am making a mainstream, big budget film today, I will need to justify the opportunity. I will need to do my best. It’s a big scale film, a big budget film, and at the same time, its quite real. There is entertainment and it is a love story, but the film is universal and goes beyond typically Bollywood. So I must make the film up to that standard.
Were there issues Fox Star Studios? There has been a lot of talk that the film faced financing difficulties because of issues with the studio.
There were no issues ever. Trade pundits in Bollywood sees me as someone who sinks money, “Ye Kyun aaya hain, ye tou paise dubayega.” Trade has not seen my films make money, but they also never see that my films never have had stars. Without stars, my films make enough money, but film trade rarely sees that.
When sections of film trade and some others see me make a film with a huge budget, they assume that I will manipulate everyone to get money out of them. They never really view the script or content. Why would film studios repeat me all the time? They continue to finance me, and I am on good terms with everyone. Primarily because, I have not been dishonest to any one of them.
Kuch ek ko lagta hain ki Ranbir Ka career main khatam karne wala hoon (smiles). Plus there are always agendas to drive. About ‘Bombay Velvet’ , all the rumours have come from one single film trade magazine. That trade magazine had previously co-financed a film with Fox Star Studios, and are now having issues over share of profits etc. So this is their way of getting back at the studio. In fact, Fox Star Studios advised me to not react to any reports about ‘Bombay Velvet’ being in trouble, for they told me the origin of the rumours. So I let it be. In the end, the trailer will release, as will the film. Once that happens, people will see where the budgets were spent. So I have a much larger reply to detractors in the form of my movie. So why should I bother to retort to rumours?
Second clarification on ‘Bombay Velvet’- is it true that Ranbir Kapoor is not happy, and that his father, Rishi Kapoor has seen the film and not approved of it?
This is a very strange rumour, for Rishi Kapoor has not seen the film. He does want to see it, but we want to complete it and then show it to him. Ranbir has seen the film once, he loves it, and now wants to see the finished version. Ranbir has also said on record that he loves the film, but no one writes about that!
Around your personal life too, a lot has been written. How do you react to it all- the stories around your split with Kalki, or your new relationship? Also, as a filmmaker, and not an actor, did you ever expect such scrutiny around your personal life?
No I didn’t. But I have understood that it will always happen. Because I have been so open about my life, I have decided to just not talk about it. You know, when things go wrong between two people, only those two people know the truth.
Fact of the matter is, me & Kalki don’t hate each other. Fact of the matter is, we are still friends; we still talk to each other. People assume that there’s always a third person behind a split. We both know there wasn’t a third person between us. To find reasons, people linked us to just about anyone. When they spoke about Huma & me, Kalki denied most vocally. When me and Kalki released a joint statement, then a website reported that all 3 of us have something cooking! So there’s no end to it, that’s how low they drop.
So it doesn’t matter to the two of us- and it doesn’t affect our friendship.