Following the opening night screening of Ugly at this year’s NYIFF, director Anurag Kashyap and lead actor Rahul Bhatt joined journalist and festival programmer Aseem Chhabra on stage at the NYU Skirball Center to discuss the film. Both the director and actor have been nominated for NYIFF awards.
Here’s a summary of that talk:
Aseem Chhabra: Anurag, I thought you could not go any darker than Yellow Boots. You say it’s inspired by true events, but these characters, they all have so much darkness. Where does this come from?
Anurag Kashyap: I think they’re vulnerable there’s a bit of darkness in all of us. They’re desperate people. Look at the wife, for example, she’s looking for an escape, she’s made bad choices and she doesn’t want to deal with the consequences in a mature way, she wants to escape. And every character is like that. This character (Rahul’s), for 20 years he’s been wanting to be a star, and not an actor. And he won’t go and audition for a bit role. He’ll only audition for a star role. I see them as desperate people.
The thing at the t op of his head is not his daughter any more, it’s become the humiliation he’s gone through, how much he’s been humiliated by this other man. It’s man-versus-man in a patriarchal society.
I think they have a lot of ugliness inside which lot of us have, and it comes out at one time or another.
AC: It says onscreen that this was inspired by true events. Was there a particular kidnapping case in Bombay ?
AK: A friend of mine who I thanked at the beginning of the film, he was the head of a special task force, he’s been transferred now. There’s a very famous case in the papers where an IS officer’s wife filed a case against him in the courts. The man married her and did not consummate the marriage and keep her locked in the house under house arrest and spy on her and she filed a case of cruelty against him.
The data is that 3,000 children disappeared in the state of Maharashtra in one calendar year. Most of the cases, 90% of them, based on investigation, it’s the family members or the extended family members who are involved. The first people who take advantage of a situation are desperate family members, and that’s uniformly the case. If somebody disappears, some family member who knows the father-in-law or somebody has the money will take advantage and take the money whether or not they’ve done the kidnapping.
AC: What did you see in Rahul as the actor for this character?
AK: I’ve had this story in the back of my head for a long, long time. And Rahul, you saw the flashbacks, the houses where they lived, that’s where Rahul live and I lived back in 1999. I had known him since when he had come to become an actor. That’s where all the struggling actors and directors stayed. It’s in Andheri East. And I wanted to shoot at the actual location and the actual houses we actually lived in, and Rahul understood that. What happened was Rahul had quit acting some eight years back, he had become a producer and he really wanted to do that one last thing, so he came to me, for God knows what reason, but the moment he came in the door I saw him and I remembered the script and before he could pitch himself to me as an actor, I pitched him the script!
AC: Rahul, you became a successful producer, but there was always this thing of wanting to be an actor.
Rahul Bhatt: Yeah, I came to Bombay to be an actor. Now things are changing in the film industry in India, and you’ve got filmmakers like Kashyap who’s doing such a brilliant job and I needed a good script to work in and not like any film I could do. I’d rather produce television and make some money there than doing some stupid film. So now, it’s a good time now to be an actor in India.
AC: So you got the role of this complex, torn apart character….
Rahul: When I look back it was a very difficult role to play, very heavy, emotionally taxing. While filming this movie the one thing he told me was “Don’t sleep.” Every night I only slept three hours.
AK: I love actors because they surrender. I would keep him drunk all the time and I would not let him sleep.
AC: Anurag, what’s the story with the Censor Board, you have a case in the courts right now?
AK: They wanted me to put a “Smoking is injurious to your health” sign (in a crucial moment at the conclusion of the film) and I refuse – that kills the film.
AC: It’s still in the court? Are you just fighting it yourself?
AK: Mahesh Bhatt has also been fighting a case, for a long time. It’s in the Supreme Court and a decision is pending. In our country people don’t take films and filmmakers seriously. In the eyes of the government, all we are doing is nautanki.
AC: So for now, Ugly’s not going to open in India?
AK: The hearing’s done, now we’re waiting on the judgement to come out this month. The film is releasing in Europe this month, before India. I can’t postpone that date.
AC: Where are you with Bombay Velvet?
AK: We’re just finished shooting. We’re releasing on the Thanksgiving weekend in November, worldwide.
AC: And what about you, Rahul, what’s next?
Rahul: I’ve another film with another very good director, Sudhir Mishra.