By Uttara Choudhury
New York: Every once in a while director Anurag Kashyap drops a little surprise on the movie going public: a modestly budgeted film about a subject that hardly fits the Bollywood mould. In 2004 there was “Black Friday,” about the 1993 Mumbai bombings; in 2009 there was “Dev D” which many critics termed a turning point for the way Bollywood makes films. Kashyap’s latest film, “That Girl in Yellow Boots,” ventures into unsettling territory taking on incest, drug addiction and withdrawal.
While introducing “That Girl in Yellow Boots” at its New York premiere at the Asia Society, Kashyap nervously said, “I hope you feel the film, because you will not enjoy it.” It was an apt disclaimer as the film is a dark and tragic story of a girl in search of her father in Mumbai’s underbelly.
In a raw, sensitive performance, Kashyap’s wife, Kalki Koechlin provides the movie’s guts as Ruth, a British woman combing India desperately looking for her father. Ruth struggles to survive in Mumbai, living as an illegal immigrant, working in a seedy massage parlour and dealing with a rogue’s gallery of bribe-taking policemen, postmen and visa officials.
Kashyap said he wanted to make the film to explore themes he had been struggling with for years. The film with its child abuse subtext is intensely personal as Kashyap himself was a victim of child abuse for 11 years.
“With every idea there comes a time when it just boils over. I think about my films for a long time, maybe years, but I write them in days,” said Kashyap who asked Koechlin to co-write the story. “I didn’t want a male perspective.”
The film is primarily framed in tight spaces — apartments, seedy massage parlors and auto rickshaws. Rajeev Ravi’s brilliant cinematography gives the film a gritty realism.“That Girl in Yellow Boots” was shot in thirteen days, in an industry where it takes longer to shoot a song sequence.
“It happened in thirteen days because I had no other choice,” Kashyap quipped.
He struggled to get funding for the film because it dealt with explosive themes and differed from his previous hits. “After Dev D became a big success people felt I had found my groove. I have seen a lot of film-makers falling into that trap. Once you succeed you make that a formula. The reason I did this film is because everyone told me ‘It’s a career suicide. Don’t do it!”
Potential funding partners also wanted more sex in the movie. “People wanted to fund the movie for all the wrong reasons. They felt it dealt with a lot of sex. I said ‘No, it will be largely off-screen.’ Finally, we chose to go out and do it on our own. I borrowed money from UTV to make the film,” said Kashyap.
Despite a small budget, Kashyap’s directing creed attracted classy actors like Naseeruddin Shah. “Naseeruddin did an interview with MTV in the US saying he wanted to do a film with me. I saw the interview and jumped. I asked him for a day. He came in the morning, shot all day and left after wrapping up all his scenes,” said Kashyap.
Kashyap was also able to shoot efficiently as his actors knew each other, having performed on stage in numerous productions. “I saw all these great actors in a play and they ended up being in the film. They have great chemistry and I tapped into that vibe to create a layered film.”
Kalki is excellent as Ruth, bringing the right amount of angst and vulnerability to her character. She also wrote full scenes and handed them to Kashyap. Kalki was born to French parents in Pondicherry. Her parents who still live in India came to the country some 38 years ago. Kalki doesn’t miss a beat in depicting the bureaucratic maze in India’s immigration and foreigner registration offices.
“I was born in India but I didn’t have my citizenship till much later so I have done many rounds of these offices,” said Kalki who speaks Tamil, English, French and Hindi.
“A lot of the characters like the Kannadiga gangster were based loosely on dadas that I had seen growing up in Bangalore,” Kalki added. “I can’t relate to what happened to Ruth because I have a wonderful family. But growing up as a white-skinned woman in India, I always stood out, the odd one out — there was a certain alienation that comes with that, and you end up alienating yourself because everyone looks at you as a foreigner, you are easy, the ‘Baywatch‘ loose-moraled white girl. I have always had men look at me differently, not like they would look at Indian girls. I guess that is something I could relate to in Ruth’s character.”
Ironically, the film’s working title was “Happy Ending” although it is anything but sunny. “If you have a happy conclusion then it sets your heart at rest,” says Kalki. “When it doesn’t it nags at you,” chimes in Kashyap finishing his wife’s sentence.
Audiences and critics in America were struck by Kalki’s performance and gave a thumbs-up to the indie film. “If you can stomach a film that churns your insides, “That Girl in Yellow Boots” is for you. And if you’re unsure if you can handle such an emotional, well-paced thriller, you might as well try — it’s an experience you won’t soon forget,” said The Huffington Post.