Director’s Cut: Anurag Kashyap on Raman Raghav, violence & Tarun Tejpal
In an extensive Q&A Anurag Kashyap discusses 'Raman Raghav 2.0' and an unspoken “hierarchy” in violence against women.
Actors and directors in India tend to surface for media interactions before a film’s release, usually issuing well-rehearsed promotional banalities and doing their best to circumvent critical questions. As a practice, press previews are not held prior to pre-release interviews in this country, making it impossible for even well-intentioned journalists to raise pointed questions about the content of the film in such conversations.
Audiences deserve better than that. So this week on Firstpost we are launching “Director’s Cut”, a section that will feature post-release interviews of directors after we have reviewed their films. Since generalisations are easier to handle than specifics, since criticism stings most when a film is just out, not everyone will make themselves available, but we will not stop trying.
Today we bring you Anurag Kashyap. In an extensive Q&A with contributing editor Anna M.M. Vetticad, Kashyap discusses Raman Raghav 2.0 and an unspoken “hierarchy” in violence against women, while denying any double standards in his stand on the Tehelka rape case. Excerpts:
(SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SEEN RAMAN RAGHAV 2.0)
You wanted to make a biopic of the real-life serial killer Raman Raghav from 1960s Mumbai. How did you end up with a film on two violent men in contemporary Mumbai?
I had the script for the biopic but couldn’t get the funding. I was really upset about that. At the same time, lots of incidents were going on everywhere. A man was lynched because he was rumoured to be carrying beef. For the first time I realised Moharram and Dussehra are simultaneous. I had never seen such a big turnout for each festival and each religion. For the first time I saw the Sikh community coming out on the streets of Bombay for a festival. This is becoming a show of force, and it was happening so much last year because of fear, insecurity and all that was going on.
Somehow, na, all that seeped into the script and it became about how we’re just finding any excuse. An absolutely normal person gets into a crowd and lets it out, randomly mercilessly killing someone because they think they have a reason to kill whereas the fact is they had that animal in them and they wanted to just let it out.
For me this film became like that. There are two sides to a coin, there’s a cop who we justify and let his actions be investigated, but somebody who is poor, we all immediately decide who he is, what his punishment must be and we are horrified.
All this was happening around the time Bombay Velvet bombed and the studio told me I can’t do Raman Raghav, so I was trying to explore some parts of what was in the biopic.
You mean the studio that produced Bombay Velvet wouldn’t back a Raman Raghav biopic?
Not the same studio. No studio. No one wanted me to do another period film, that too so dark.
All that was going on, and when I sat down to write, the film just poured out of me in three days.
It all emerged from the opening sequence where Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s character Ramanna talks of how when he’s walking down a road he sees black lines and white lines and walks only on the black spaces. That scene was from a play I wrote in 1993 called Faisla, which was performed at a one-act play contest by the comedian Kiku Sharda playing a judge and a woman playing a criminal. It is about how we all see the black and white, but completely skip the grays.
So from that play and everything playing on your mind came this scene with Nawaz?
Ya. And in the last scene when Ramanna talks to Vicky Kaushal’s character Raghavendra, I was seeing it as Raavan being in love with Ram and as a consequence, Sita being sacrificed. You see hints across the film, when the cop tells him, kabhi apne aap ko Ram bolta hai, kabhi Ramanna, kabhi Raavan (sometimes you call yourself Ram, sometimes Ramanna, sometimes Raavan). If you look at it, Nawaz’s character sees himself as Raavan who is seeking Ram, Sita is between and she is sacrificed.
Faisla featured a male judge and female criminal, but the film’s cop and criminal are both male. How would it have been different if either or both were women?
What you’re saying occurred to me mid-way through the film: what if it was the story of two women? But policewomen especially in India are not often given investigative duties. And the whole scenario changes with a woman serial killer. I’ve studied a lot of women criminals. The stalking on the streets would have become more like luring. The whole dynamics of this film would have changed if both characters were women. Then it’s more of an internal world. On a hypothetical level you can do a Raman Raghav kind of film with women protagonists but it would not have been realistic.
You are often praised for your strong women characters, but your stories are primarily about men or told from the point of view of men. How come?
My films are about a patriarchal world.
Maybe so, but why do more of your films not have central female characters?
My next film, Giddy, is a psychological horror film about two women. My biggest problem is, do I get them right? I have always looked for a woman writer I could connect with and I have found her in Aparna Nadig who is rewriting a script by Avinash Gautam. I saw Aparna at a bar and this guy kept slapping her thighs at every joke. She looked at him and says, “Don’t do this again because I’ve started to enjoy it, I don’t know what will I do to you after that.” (laughs) The way she said it, he got so scared. Then I found out she was a writer so I said, please write for me.
I needed someone who can bring in a woman’s perspective because I don’t want to write on behalf of a woman. I find that like cheating. Even while writing Dev.D I was constantly bouncing things off my mother in a subtle way. So I have seen the patriarchal world and within that I’ve seen women who hold a very strong position. That kind of comes through in my films.
There are also women – critics and others – who feel that while the women in your films are apparently strong, their strength is very much a man’s notion of female strength.
I would not deny that. Only a woman can judge that. When I write these characters, I write from the point of view of the stronger women I see and obviously I’m seeing them from outside. It’s always a man’s point of view maybe. I don’t have objectivity on that.
Raghavendra assaults his girlfriend in Raman Raghav 2.0 while the policemen who are watching over her turn away. They are there to protect her from Ramanna. Was that your comment on an acceptance of violence against women within the home versus violence from outside, violence from an upper-class man versus a man from the lower classes?
I wrote these characters as immigrants to a city. Raghavendra is from Punjab, he carries his drug habit from childhood. The girl is from say, Andhra Pradesh. Two years back when we see her, she’s a dressed-up party girl, she looks like the world is in the palm of her hands. It kind of fades away over the years. She’s a strong woman, but the way she sits down and takes off his shoes was a very important scene for me. She takes off his shoes while trying to participate in his world, at the same time she knows him inside out, she knows his binges and she thinks maybe she could control it. Because she’s losing her spirit slowly. She’s so oppressed by that world.
Even Raman is a slumdweller. Slumdwellers are mostly immigrants. So even though it’s a city, I was trying to create a world of people who are coming from outside and they carry the outsides with them. Raghav might go to a nightclub or anywhere, but he carries that patriarchy with him.
And I wanted to bring in the idea of hierarchy in any kind of force. When he threatens the girl, is about to hit her, manhandles her, for him slapping would amount to hitting but manhandling does not. In his head, humiliating her is fine but he will consider it assault only if he actually hits her.
Also, every time she stands up to him he gets tamed. Like in the car when he slaps her and she abuses him, suddenly he becomes tame. He wants the woman to just take it from him, but he’s also there because she doesn’t always. It’s like an ego game of acceptance.
She is a model and aspiring actress. Why has she latched on to him when he’s so charmless and it’s not even like he can help her professionally?
I don’t know. That’s exactly my explanation when Sobhita (actress Sobhita Dhulipala who plays Raghavendra’s girlfriend Simmy Naidu) asked me, why is she with this man? I said I don’t know. I’m only going by the fact that I see a lot of this happening and I always question, why is this woman still latching on to this guy? Why does a woman defend a guy who beats her up? I don’t know, I want to explore that and maybe find something out of it.
Now a point raised in my review: As someone who thinks so much about the body language of assault victims, why did you defend Tarun Tejpal in the Tehelka rape case? Your exact words on Facebook were, “And I have seen the CCTV footage and none of what the girl says about Tarun Tejpal is true.” (The reference is to footage of Tejpal and the woman entering and exiting the hotel elevator where the alleged crime took place.)
I know both parties. I’ve no love for Tarun Tejpal. I know he’s arrogant. I’ve never liked him as a person, which is why after the first Thinkfest I stopped attending and because there was also this protest going on about illegal land. Just because a lot of people don’t like a person, it’s easy to believe, but I saw the footage and the body language throughout, there’s not a single ounce of tension. If I’m trying to force myself on a person in an elevator and the door opens, you know there’s this kind of protest. But they’re both together on one side, the way they walk out, the way they both look. Or the way they both go into the elevator.
You expect an extremely powerful man’s subordinate to reveal her tension with him in a public place? Have you spoken to women who have been sexually targeted by bosses?
There’s a lot of reasons for me to say that. Some reasons I can never state on record. A lot of people who were there that night who I know closely, most of them women, not one person believes it to be true. If somebody proves me wrong, I would happily apologise. My whole thing was, before the court case the world has deemed him a rapist. I’m saying, let the courts prove it.
What made you see that footage? Who showed you that footage?
I can’t say. But anyone who was shown that footage would see it. I had no idea that it was not in the public domain. I saw it out of curiosity.
I read that you defended Tejpal because you are his daughter’s friend. Is that true?
No. Tarun’s daughter has worked on my film, but Tarun’s daughter is not my friend. I don’t hang out with Tarun’s daughter. She’s worked on Raman Raghav. She’s a production designer in the industry. She works on a lot of movies.
If it is not okay for people to assume before the trial that Tejpal is guilty, why is it okay for you to assume that the woman is lying?
I made the statement on the basis of what I saw. Everybody else has already deemed him a rapist.
That is based on things he himself said, based on letters he wrote to his staff and others.
Ya, but I also am telling you, I know a whole lot of stories. If I was wrong, somebody would sit across from me and tell me how I’m wrong. She (the complainant) knows me, whole lot of other people know me.
If you know her, why didn’t you call her?
It doesn’t work like that. She had done interviews with me, talked to me for professional reasons. I’m not a personal friend of hers that I would call her. I formed an opinion and I put it out there.
This can be a very long discussion, but we have to move on. Why did you not actually show the killings in Raman Raghav 2.0? We’ve seen extreme violence in your earlier films.
But I’ve not done that. Barring Gangs of Wasseypur, in none of my films do you actually see any kind of… Even in Wasseypur, when it’s very gruesome like the head being cut off, I shot it from the back. I never show it. In Wasseypur I was trying to explore violence in a different way. I said I want people to feel violated, I don’t want to cut to make them comfortable, I will have longer shots of violence which are uncut. Even the beheading thing from behind, you just stay on one shot. The idea is, when people want you to cut away you don’t cut away.
And in this film?
The idea is that there’s much more violence in people’s heads than on screen, so even if you don’t do anything they imagine it and it’s far worse. Matlab, if I show it on screen it will only repel you. But if it’s off screen, it violates you and that’s what I wanted to do.
Is Raman Raghav 2.0 your rebellion against the government, whether present or past?
I wasn’t consciously thinking of any government. My biggest problem was how conveniently we define violence depending on the perpetrator. One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist – if you interpret that line in various ways, the definition keeps changing. But violence is violence. The perpetrator doesn’t matter. By giving it a reason, you cannot justify it. If I have killed 50,000 people in a war because I’m a soldier, it’s still violence.
The film came from there, and from everything going on around us. I saw those videos of the Gau Raksha Samiti randomly picking up a boy and hanging him because he was carrying cows. They put up the videos on Youtube. The comments below are more sickening than the video. It was justified in the name of a high moral position.
(For Raman Raghav 2.0 review, click here.)
Aamir Khan’s words in 2015 about the safety of his children now reverberate across the entertainment industry, thanks to the Aryan Khan case.
The acquittal of Tejpal, former editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine by a sessions court in May 2021 was challenged in the Goa bench of the high court by the state government