There is real life and then there are the realities of other lives that run parallel. Once in a while an event occurs when these realities meet at a crossroad. What happens then? Most of the time we choose what we want to see, we believe in what suits us.
I am at one such event when I am invited to a parallel reality. The evening is a celebration of the hard work put in by a group of talented artistes in their particular fields of creativity. There are champagne, designer clothes, baubles and etiquette on display.
Amidst the bright lights I am asked, “Aaj Ugly ka screening hai, dekhna hai tum ko?” That day was 9 May 2013 and the movie is to be soon screened at the Director’s Fortnight Section at the Cannes Film Festival ’13.
The first sight of Ugly was of its script lying across the desk in Anurag Kashyap’s cabin – a newly made space at the Aaram Nagar 2 office at Versova. Kashyap was happy; we had just assured him that his part for the book – Gangs of Wasseypur: The Making of a Modern Classic – was done. Mera kaam ho gaya na?
I intend to ask him about his next movie and maybe if I was lucky, I could get to read the script. “I haven’t showed the script to anybody,” he says gleefully. Neither the producer nor even the actors (save for one co producer who had promised not to interfere till the movie was done). The actors would get the scene and dialogues at the set. He wanted his cast to come on the sets totally unprepared.
A complete contrast to the experience the cast had for Gangs of Wasseypur with the actors undergoing an intense workshop prior to shooting. The workshop was to bring the ensemble cast of (GoW) together, to strip them of inhibitions and restraints so as to create a sense of comfort and familiarity which would reflect on the screen. Kashyap wanted the artists to talk about their innermost secrets, the not so pleasant episodes of their lives that were shut in some part of their memory. Some of the confessions were his too. A few of these memories found their way into the script.
The next glimpse of Ugly is at its shoot. “Come to the set na, will write it right there”, assures Anurag when reminded of his promised foreword for the book. He writes it at one go during his lunch break even so I stay back for a while. The cinematographer wants another take for a particular shot. As I watch the process from the monitor, I glimpse a bound set of papers with the legend ‘Complete Screenplay” written on. I do a double-take, for someone and I assume Anurag himself, has cut across the word ‘complete’ and added a subscript – ‘A script is never complete, not till the movie is out for release’.
Kashyap is known for his penchant to improvise and rewrite on the sets – in fact for GoW Part II, the entire second half of the screenplay was written on location.
The film holds out tendrils of hope you hold on desperately to till you reach the end and then you too become Ugly.
The reply to the invitation to see the film was a no-brainer. It’s nearly eleven at night when the film begin. I take my seat for what turns out to be an Ugly ride. A vague sense of unease usually permeates the beginning of every Kashyap film and by the time we walk out of the theatre, we are intimately introduced to ugly side of life, of man’s frailties, vulnerabilities, weaknesses and the violence that comes from these. There is gore and gross in his films, captured raw – “The more real or actual dikhaoge, the more the act of violence puts you off, there is more impact and it’s less gratuitous,” Kashyap comments during a conversation for the GoW book. However, Kashyap’s violence is more psychological than physiological, the evil done by man to man and the loss of innocence is a poignant text in all of his films.
Be it the violent self-destructive lives in Dev D, the naivety and the brutality of the power play in Gulaal, the young girl discovering the pedophile in her father in Girl In Yellow Boots. The aftertaste of this ugliness lingers on in our mind even when we realize that the films are also in a way about the survival of the human spirit.
In the context of this reading, Gangs of Wasseypur, his most commercial venture is the least violent of his films. The film was about the absurdities of men who fought, killed and died to gain control over two bits of land – each generation repeating history in vain.
Ugly stands at other end of the spectrum of the violence scale. The film is Anurag at his most honest – it stabs at your heart and keeps churning your stomach, till you want to vomit. An alcoholic mother, a wannabe actor who fails at being a father and a stepfather who wants to set past records straight by controlling the present. A daughter is lost in the midst of self serving adults.
At MAMI (Mumbai Film Festival) this year, a senior citizen in the seat next to me flinches and shakes her head when I suggest she see Black Friday. It’s one of Kashyap’s best films, I say, its damning in its honesty. “No,” she replies. “I used to work in a building next to one of the blast sites.” The tragedy took place two decades ago, but for her it’s still yesterday. Watching the film would be scratching the scab of a wound. Ugly does that. It uncovers the memories that are hidden in the past and it forces you to look at the brutality. Sitting in that darkened theatre you want to cower, you know the inevitability of the fate of the child. The film holds out tendrils of hope you hold on desperately to till you reach the end and then you too become Ugly.