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A Minute With: India director Anurag Kashyap on "Bombay Talkies"

India's movie director Anurag Kashyap poses during a photo call to present his latest movie "No Smoking" at the Rome International Film Fest
India's movie director Anurag Kashyap poses during a photo call to present his latest movie "No Smoking" at the Rome International Film Fest

By Shilpa Jamkhandikar

MUMBAI (Reuters) - As India celebrates 100 years of cinema, Anurag Kashyap is one of four leading filmmakers collaborating on a Bollywood project that shows what the movies have meant to them.

"Bombay Talkies", which opens in cinemas on Friday, also features the work of Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar. It will be shown at the Cannes Film Festival this month.

Kashyap's segment focuses on fan adoration for Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan whose house is often surrounded by crowds waiting for a glimpse of the 70-year-old actor.

Bachchan first became popular in the 1970s as the "angry young man" of Hindi cinema and has since appeared in more than 180 films, becoming one of the most influential actors in India.

Kashyap, known for films such as "Black Friday" about the 1993 Bombay bombings, "Gulaal", and recently "Gangs of Wasseypur", spoke to Reuters about "Bombay Talkies", his awkward relationship with Indian cinema's most famous actor, and why he wanted to tell this story.

Q: Is your film a tribute to Indian cinema?

A: Four filmmakers have made a film about what they think cinema is in their lives. My impact is about the impact of cinema when I was growing up in Benares and when I came here (Mumbai) and saw people standing outside Mr Bachchan's house. So it's about Indian cinema and (how) the stardom of certain heroes affects the north Indian middle-class boy. That was what Amitabh Bachchan did to them and that is what Salman Khan does to them now.

Q: How does this stardom affect these boys?

A: When we were growing up, Amitabh Bachchan brought us out of our small-town existence. Bachchan gave us a lot more options in life - he showed us you can be a cop, you can be this, you can be that. He was an embodiment of middle-class aspirations in tandem with (writers) Salim-Javed. He taught us to fight against injustice, which we took so seriously. All the fights I have had in the industry, you can blame it on him. He taught us to stand up against the system and be a rebel. He wasn't called the angry young man for nothing.

Q: What is it that has made his star appeal last?

A: It's the aura of the man. A man is endured by people who adore him, admire him, love him and worship him. He's endured so long because of his hardcore fans. For me "Bombay Talkies" is a film about fans and audiences. It's about what has endured our cinema for long - it's the audiences.

Q: We have a lot of stars in Indian cinema but you don't see crowds outside their houses, do we? What is different about Amitabh Bachchan?

A: The people who come to his house come from small towns all over India. They stand outside, hoping that they will catch a glimpse of something. Even if a shadow moves, they think ‘Oh, he's standing there'. That's what my film tries to capture. I don't know, it's an unspoken thing, but he gives me a lot more without physically giving it to me.

Q: There was a tiff between you and Amitabh Bachchan. Did you speak to him before you made this film?

A: It wasn't a fight, it was a silence. A 14-year long silence. It started a long time back … We never spoke but it is all those people in the middle who tell you that he is upset. It was just a lot of silence. But you start to hesitate and that silence becomes so much larger. At the end of it, you realize it was just a bubble which nobody tried to burst. The smaller man always has the larger ego. I never made an attempt to reach out to him. It was his magnanimity that this film was made. He saw "Udaan", then he saw "Gangs of Wasseypur" and praised it. I didn't respond the first time.

Q: Why not?

A: I was just awkward. I didn't know how to begin. How do you begin to say anything?

Q: How did you begin then?

A: I got drunk. And I sent him a message. I kept checking my phone every second to see if he had replied. And the reply came. Then it all changed.

Q: What does 100 years of cinema mean to you?

A: It is going to survive much longer than we think it is. Where you are watching may change, the form of cinema might change, but cinema will stay. One hundred years means it's a healthy industry and that's something to celebrate. That's what we live for.

(Editing by Tony Tharakan and Belinda Goldsmith)

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