Anurag Kashyap Motivational Speech: How An Outsider Broke Into Bollywood20 min read

: How An Outsider Broke Into Bollywood

Here is the full speech (transcript) of in which he talks about his journey.

I’ll come straight to the point…

My films don’t touch anybody’s hearts,  I like to stab people’s hearts.

 In the sense, I like to make people uncomfortable.  That’s the reason why I wanted to make movies.

So, I’ll start from the beginning..

I studied at Hansraj College, Delhi.  I did my graduation,  and, I had no idea I wanted to be in movies.

And, that was back in 1992.  I had no idea I will go and join the movies.  It was the gap year that I took in 1993,  that, I discovered theatre and I discovered cinema. nd, for the first time I realized, this is what I wanted to do.

And, I was studying to be a scientist before that..  and we did not have as many options as you have today.  Our options were, medicine.. a scientist.  Eventually, go and appear for the UPSC exams.  That’s all we had. MBA was like, okay, a far shot.

So,  I went to Bombay,  I decided I wanted to make movies.  My parents were very shocked.  My father is an engineer in a small town and he..  ..had dreams from me.  He was like, mera beta kuch karega. (My son will accomplish something)  Aur..isko film main jaana hai. (Now, he wants to join the movies)

So, I wanted to join movies and..  I went to Bombay, and I went to Bombay with a bag..  full of books and clothes, and..  I knew nothing and I knew nobody.  I decided the next moment I was in Bombay,  ..and, when I reached Bombay I realized  ..1993, I remember 3rd of June, I reached Bombay.  It was raining, the rains that did not stop for 3 months.  I had no idea, in Bombay rains can go on for so long. 

So, I reached Bombay..  And, the only place I knew was Prithvi Theatre.  ..and I went to Prithvi Theatre.  And,  there at Prithvi Theatre,  everything was very controlled.  There are lot of people who go to Bombay to become actors,  there are a lot of people who go to Bombay to do things..  And, everybody goes to Prithvi Theatre.  Those times they used to go to Prithvi Theatre..  And, it would get so crowded..  So, they made a rule that anybody who’s not performing,  or is not part of it, is not allowed in.

So, people would hang outside..  It was also the time when there were no studios,  so, cinema was controlled mostly by few film families..  And, if you’re not one of the film families, you could not get in. 

And, slowly slowly walking around..  ..the first thing, being a scientific mind, I realised  ..the problem everybody has is, they are very insecure.  Nobody wants an outsider.

Everybody thinks someone will come and take what they have..  And, that’s the reason people don’t want people coming in..  And, that’s the reason people blocked people out..  Outsiders were not welcome.  And, that was the first battle that I had to fight..  ..which was pretty big, and I realized,  In India, we’re a country of people..  ..who like anything that’s given to them free.  We don’t like to pay for anything.  We like anything free, and that’s how it all started..

 I went to Prithvi, and I realized Prithvi has a cafe..  And, I volunteered to be a waiter,  I walked up to the cafe owner,  and said, “I’m educated, I’m a graduate..  ..and I want to work for you as a waiter.”

Then, he said, “Why would you want that..  ..we don’t have a vacancy.”

I said, “I’ll work for free.”

 And, he said “But, why would you work for free?” I said, “I’ll work for free. Lunchtime, I’ll serve..  ..dinner, you let me be. I can at least get into Prithvi.”  And, I talked to him..  And, because he liked talking to me  he allowed me to do that.

On the very 3rd day, I served a classmate of mine.  So, I started working at Prithvi..  I got into Prithvi..  ..and slowly, when I got into Prithvi, I realized  I have to move faster and faster in life.  And, there were people who’d do rehearsals there..  I would go and volunteer to read for anyone and anybody.  So, there were always readings going on..  ..and there would always be a need for someone to do reading,  who would not expect much.  They don’t allow people because, they think..  Woh aayega, phir role maangega, phir kuch karega. (Someone would come in and ask for a role.)

So, I started doing everything..  I would sweep the stage,  I started reading for people,  I would write very fast..  My biggest skill was, I could write a lot of pages a day.  Then, I could write 100 pages a day, with hand.  But, now I can’t.  So, I could write so much..  I started writing stuff, for free.

 The satellite television had just come in,  and, they were doing daily soaps..  But, the problem with daily soaps was,  they did not know how to generate so many episodes..  And, I was the only guy who could do that.  I did not ask for credit and I did not ask for money.  So, all the daily soaps that started, starting from ‘Shanti’  ‘Swabhiman’, ‘Trikaal’..  I was a part of everything.  You would not see my name.  My name first appeared on ‘Trikaal’, as a..  ..kind of a dialogue writer at the end of it.

 So, I started doing that..  ..and I became that guy who,  “Yaar woh ladka hai, turant likh ke deta hai.. (There’s that boy, he writes really fast)  ..Naa paise maangta hai na naam maangta hai.” (He doesn’t ask for any money or credits).

 That is how it went on for more than a year and a half.  And, slowly, people start giving you money..  Slowly, what happens is..I never asked for it, people started giving me money.  Then, somebody gave me a credit.  Then, somebody stood up for me..  And, then, finally I met a guy who..  ..gave me credit for the entire film I wrote, which was ‘Satya’.

So, you know, it was a journey of 4-5 years.  And, in all these 3-4 years..  The choices..every time, you’re faced with choices.  When my daily soap started giving me credit and started giving me money,

I was 22 years old,  and, I signed a contract with Mahesh Bhatt. Bhatt sahab..  Who’s contract for writing a daily soap, which was called  ‘Kabhi Kabhi’ and three films,  would give me 2.5 lacs a month..  This is, back in 1995.  I was 22.

 And, at the same time, I was approached for Satya..  ..where, the deal was that  “We cannot pay you more than Rs.10,000 a month,  and, not more than 10 months..  Because, the entire budget was a lakh;  ..for the entire film.

And, that was the hard choice..  That was the choice, and..  Mahesh Bhatt’s contract was one month old..  I’d just started to make money and started getting credit  ..and I got a film which had no certainty,  which would not pay me more than Rs.10,000 a month,  ..not for more than 10 months..  ..and that film took three years of my life..  ..and I got paid a lac,  ..and I chose that over Kabhi Kabhi…

So, those are the choices that somehow, in life take you along.  And for those three years,  everytime I met someone..  .my own family would say, “what’s wrong with you?”  “Finally, you wanted to do something, and you are making money”  But, sometimes you feel like ‘this is not it’  ..that is not what you want in life.. 

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I don’t want to be one of those coxes in a wheel..  ..that moves as things move..  You want to do something.

 I had a certain Idea..  ..that the cinema that inspired me, that I saw in 1993.. the kind of cinema I wanted to create.  And that cinema was not being made.  If I would have stuck to making money..  ..doing Kabhi Kabhi and all that..  I would never do that.  I would be a part of the same system.  And, I wanted to go out and change things..  and, we wanted to disrupt systems. 

And I found a Ram Gopal Verma, who was disrupting the system.  He was an outsider..  ..who came in, who did not give a damn, whose whole life was about movies.

And, while working with him for three years..  I learned how he made films.. he made a movie like Satya.  Nobody wanted to make Satya. 

Things and choices that I face today, he was facing then.  Nobody wanted to make Satya.  Maniratnam was the biggest director..  ..he was making a film called Dil Se.  ..there was a big financer.  Maniratnam told Ram Gopal Verma, that you get me the film I have been wanting to make with Shah Rukh Khan..  ..and I will let you make Satya.  So, how he worked on the whole system to get Dil Se moved.. get the guy who produced Satya, to produce Dil Se.

He was the same guy who produced Satya. Satya was like his way to make an easy barter.  I have seen him do all those things to get a film made.  Because what I learnt was that nobody really knows anything.  Nobody really knows how to judge a script..  Nobody really knows how to make a film..  It’s only you, who knows what you want to do.  And nobody owes it to you.  Not one person owes it to you. 

You want to make a film, it’s your dream.. have to pursue it. The world doesn’t owe it to you..  ..your system doesn’t owe it to you…

Your family doesn’t owe it to you…

You owe it to yourself…

And, when you know that, it makes things easier.. 

When you know that, you can go out there and make those choices.  And, choices are tough. 

In the sense..  ..I made choices in life, and..  I know when I make those choices..  I also know I am going to have to face consequences.  Every choice has a consequence.  You can’t go and say..  “You don’t know my intention, I was trying to..  ..make this film with such a great intention, the world doesn’t get it.”

 I make a Bombay Velvet, there is a consequence  I live with that consequence.  That consequence will be the choices that I will make in the future..  That consequence will be the things that I  will face.  I put out a tweet, I will have a consequence.  I know there will be a consequence..  I know there will be things. 

But, we have to deal with those consequences..  ..because we have to stand up for something.  We have to go out and make a choice.  And, you know in your heart, why you are doing certain things.  So, those are choices that we always make.

 ‘Satya’ kick-started things, and..  ..we started making films.  And, I realized after a while, that Satya was the high point.  But, after Satya, everything was going down again.  You know, that spirit, somehow..  ..if you see the whole cycle of things,  everybody has this phase..  ..where things become easier for them.  If things become easier for them, they also become easy.  They start doing and churning out things..  ..without a drive.  It has happened a lot of times in my life.

 At Prithvi theatre..  I realised that Prithvi had kind of opened up things, and..  ..all the strugglers and people started coming in and hanging out at Prithvi.  All they would talk about is..what they could not get. 

All the actors from Delhi would talk about.. can Shah Rukh Khan make it and we can’t.  We are better than him, on stage.  There was only resentment, there was only bitterness.  Every time the atmosphere became like that..  I chose to step out of that atmosphere. 

The next spot in Bombay became Baristas..  ..where everybody will sit and talk about  resenting other people, who are doing things.  And, it was only conversations..  There were people in the group..  ..who would sit there, who were very sharp and very well-read..  ..I used to call them the intellectual terrorists.  Who would put so much peer pressure on others..  ..and nobody would do things because they thought that they were not great enough.  The idea was to keep doing things.  So, I would step out of that zone..  ..and that started happening around me. 

After a while, I realised that..  I will always disagree with the final film that came out.  It doesn’t matter how I write it..  Sometimes, you realize later on..  ..that you are writing a script thinking  ..its an original script and somebody is borrowing it from somewhere.  You know, you have no idea..  So, I decided..that I’ll only do dialogues.  I will not take credit for story/screenplay.  I’ll only do dialogues, which will fund.. dream of making my movies. 

And, I was ready to make a movie at any cost..  ..and, when I started making movies  I realized, that, it is a system so driven by stars..  ..that, nothing will move until a star says ‘yes’.

 In a system like that..  A system like that exists, also..because people are very insecure.  They don’t want to make a movie,  ..they’re doing business, they are businessmen.  They want to make sure their money is safe, before they put it in there.

 Plus, the fame and glamour that comes with it.  That’s why they make movies.  Very few people will put in their heart and soul,  and sell their houses to make a movie..  ..because, that is what they want to do.

  And, those people are often directors themselves.  So, they are not looking for other people.  When you go in the industry, wanting to make movies..  I realised at a time that, because they don’t know what you are trying to do. have to make it happen in a way, it works for them.

 I decided I will make my first movie..  ..this was ‘Paanch’.  And, I was ready to make it at any price.  And, when you say, how do make a film possible in that kind of money.. 

Where do you spend money? 

We start with the basic question..where do you spend money?

 You spend money on locations, you spend money on equipment.  You spend money on things..

  So, I decided I want to shoot the film..  But, I want to figure to go about minimizing cost.  I decided to do an episode,  which was called ‘Last Train to Mahakali’.

  And, I realized.. camera was very new, and only MTV had a digital camera.

  And, because they were new..they were very costly..  ..and, I could not afford it.

  So, the guy who was the incharge of the camera in MTV..  Everybody, somewhere deep down, wants to be an actor. 

So, I went up to him and I said, you know..  ..I have written this short film, I want to cast you for it. 

But, I have a condition.

He said, “What condition?”

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 I said..  When the office shuts down..I want you to bring the camera,  ..we’ll shoot with it, we’ll put it back in the morning.

 We shot for 4 days, and that’s how we made ‘Last Train to Mahakali’.

 I had no understanding of digital camera,  ..the only thing I realized was, you don’t need to use lights.  My cameraman..had only done news, till then.

 And, one or two videos..  ..and that’s how we discovered the process of film-making.

We decided to shoot in minimal possible conditions..  ..then, everybody also sees the effort.  Plus, I have to make it look big.  I can’t go out and put a film there..  ..and I’m not going to stand outside every show,  ..and tell people, that it’s a low-budget film.  When they go and pay the same amount of money,  ..for every movie they buy,  ..they want the movies to look good.  They want the movies to look big.  It is not their fault if you did not have money to make it. 

And, in a country like ours, where we love cinema..  I decided, who’s going to stop me if I shoot anywhere..  As long as I don’t disturb them..  So, we devised a process of shooting, where..  I said that entire Bombay is my set,  my film is as big as the city is.  I’ll shoot anywhere, I’ll shoot in the train..I won’t disturb anyone.  We would sneak the running trains. 

At times, where people did not need it..  ..we would stage our scenes, shoot it and get out.

We never came in the way of anything.  We started..shooting in a very non disruptive way.

 We started shooting with long lenses,  like, how wildlife photographers shoot wildlife. 

They are not in the face of the animals.  They are not in the face of tigers..’..  ..they go away to a distance, they find them…  They use long lenses.  They have steady hands,  they have very steady hands.  And, they observe them , and let them be.  And they don’t disturb it, otherwise you can’t do it.  You can’t direct an animal, that okay now eat, now attack.  You can’t do that.  They live their life, while you watch them from a distance. 

That is how we started shooting. 

When we were shooting ‘Black Friday’..  ..I did not have money to recreate Bombay of ’93  ..but, Bombay in 2003, when we were shooting ‘Black Friday’ had changed.  It had hoardings of satellite TVs,  it had people carrying mobile phones.  I realised that if you go too high to look down, it looks like a top angle shot.  You can’t have a whole film shot like that.  So, we would go and find a location a little higher..  just over people’s heads.  And shoot them from a distance.  ..never tell the actor where the camera is,  ..never tell people, there is a shoot going on.  We would interact with hand gestures.  ..and nobody would come to know, we’d shoot and get out.  We devised a method like that. 

Our films started looking big.  When we went to shoot ‘Paanch’, I wanted..  ..they said in this budget, you’d rather shoot in the suburbs.  I siad no, I want to shoot in the heart of Bombay.  ..because, the film is about the city.  We shot at Kaala Ghoda.  I said we’ll look for a place, we found an old dilapidated building..  ..and a house that was shut for many years.  We went into the house,  ..and, we said we want to shoot here. It was in a very bad condition.  I said, I’ll clean up and I’ll give you a house you can live in, again.  And, you give it to me for free.

We went in there and cleaned up 28 bags of pigeon shit…

 We scraped the place, we painted the place…

We made, now its a hotel.  We made it like that, we got it for free.

 So, you know..things you do to get your film made.  And, that’s why our films cost so less.  ..and, when our costs were low, people were allowing us to make films.  When my cost was so minimized,  That would be less than the cost of a song that would be cast.. a big budget film.

  ..that was the time Boney Kapoor shot a song for ‘Shakti’  ..which cost 3 crores.  My entire film was..1 crore.  Those were the things that we started doing. 

And now, its actually much more easier than that.  We had big cameras, we had big equipments.  And we would shoot like that.  We started making movies..  And I was like, when Paanch comes out, I will show the world..  ..that you can make a film without a star. 

But, paanch never came out. 

I never got to show the world.

 And, then we started to make Black Friday..  ..Black Friday got stuck.  After a while, everything that you are trying to do, starts to go wrong..  ..and it is very easy to blame. is very easy to stand up and say that the system doesn’t respect the artist in me.  The system doesn’t respect my intention of making a film.  And, which I did after Paanch.

 After Paanch, I sat in a room and I blamed everyone..  ..and I abused everyone.  ..and I did everything that was wrong.

 But, then, I learned..

 After Black Friday, when I finished the film, I did not stop.  I started on my next.  We were making ‘Gulaal’,  nobody wanted us to make ‘Gulaal’.  It was for us to make ‘Gulaal’.  And I realized that I had to shoot the city. 

The next lesson I learnt was about shooting in the night. 

Now, Jaipur is a city, which lit up for 10 days, during Diwali..  We traveled six Diwalis, year after year.  And, those 10 days we shot Gulaal.  And we traveled in trains..  It’s all management.  It’s also all management.

 We were shooting ‘Black Friday’,  ..and, we had a massive cast, we had 300 people,  ..and we were shooting in areas where there were no hotels.  We could not get great food.  So, we had biryanis packed.

 Everywhere we’d go, we found the guy who made the best biryani.  And get biryani packed.  We devised our schedule in a way,  where we were shooting in the day, and traveling during night.  And, we had luxury buses. So, we never had to pay for a hotel. 

We planned like that for 15 days and we traveled across..  Rajasthan and Maharashtra, shooting like that.  So that nobody would ever miss a hotel.  And it always stems from you. 

If you stay like that, everybody stays like that. 

While shooting ‘’, we knew we wanted a bigger shot.

 That whole shot of a mountain blowing up.  We had a found a area with a big mountain.  We had to find a time, what time it was going to blow up.  And the cost of that shot is.. I don’t know..  ..probably, 5 crores, 6 crores Whatever that mountain would cost.  Which we got for 5000 bucks.

 So, we sat there and we waited..  ..for the mountain to blow up, and take that shot.

  Sometimes, you need that kind of patience to go and do things, live your dreams.

 Which is why I always say that, I want to make that film..  ..the world doesn’t owe it to me. 

I want to do something, nobody owes it to me.

 And, when I do something I believe in, I have to stand up and fight for it as well.

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 Because, I can’t let somebody’s insecurities seep in..  ..and stop me from doing something,  which I know I’m responsible enough to do it, 

..if I can go through that much exercise,  and put myself through all those journeys.. make that film and put it out there.

 I’m also not going to let other people accuse me or stop me from doing it.  Those are the responsibilities everybody has to take. 

And today, iPhone 7 has 4k camera. 

There are so many people who walk up to me and say..  ..I want to make a movie.

 I say, who’s stopping you?  Who’s stopping you?  You have an iPhone 7. 

You see those amazing sequences, Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky shot it on iPhone 4.  ..or 3, I don’t know which one.  Which ever was then. 

So, I’m saying, there is nothing you can’t do.

 If there is a problem, it will have a solution. You have to find it..

 Identify it, and know what you want…

 And, that’s how, we’ve probably gone on living our lives.  Then, a point came, when my films were not released in India.  I had distributors telling me, nobody wants to see your film abroad.  But, I said, it isn’t releasing here. It can release abroad.  My films are traveling to the festivals, why are they not releasing outside.  And, they told me that nobody wants to watch your films outside.  I had been to 2-3 places, and I saw an audience appreciating the film.  And, I would not believe them.

  It took me years to figure out that, our distributors only..  ..sell to the Indian diaspora.  They only sell our movies to Indians living abroad.  They don’t know how to sell to a non-Indian.

 And, they would not admit to it.  Because of which they say, nobody wants to watch your film. 

Then, I knew there was a gap to be filled.  I started traveling, I must have been the biggest buyer of my own DVDs. 

I bought my DVDs.

  I would take suitcases full of ‘Black Friday’ DVDs,  ..and, I would go the biggest DVD shops in LA, New York,  ..and I’d give it to them for free. I said, whatever money you earn, you keep it.  But, sell these movies.

And, those movies were on display.  I started pitching my films like that.

  Because I knew that my films would get into trouble,  I would smuggle my own prints and put them in Princeton University with a friend who was a professor..  ..or somewhere else.

 To save all my films, put it outside.  And I started doing that..  ..and then, finally in India also, films started releasing.

  And then, we had ‘Udaan.’  Then, we went to the Venice Film Festival with DevD and Gulaal.

 I realized, there is a big market of buyers who come to these festivals.  The buyers that I had not seen at the smaller festivals earlier on.

 Next year, Udaan became the first film in years to go to Cannes.

 For us, it was, finally we can crack this market and go and sell our films.  Nobody believed in Udaan, we made Udaan borrowing money from people.  But, when Udaan got into Cannes..  UTV came on board, picked up the film and distributed it.  When we went to Cannes, the worldwide market was interested in buying Udaan.

 UTV could not sell it because,  UTV’s method of selling was the way they sell in,  UP, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana…  That’s not how you sell France, Japan and Germany or whatever..  Because there is no market that exists there.  They don’t watch Indian films.  So, we have to first create a market before we start selling there.  They did not understand that. 

Udaan, a movie, that won so many audiences’ awards, remains unsold..  ..across the world.  And, that became such a big setback and lesson for us.  We did not know how to go about it, or go beyond that.  If we can’t sell Udaan, which has won so many audiences’ awards..  ..across the world, then what will we sell.

 And, then we counted our resources. We had very little money.  I did 2-3 more ads. And I had a partner, Guneet Monga.  I told Guneet that we had to make a film.. this less money, and that much budget. 

So, whole yellow boots was written for that purpose.  We wrote ‘That Girl in Yellow Boots’.  The film that could be shot in 13 days,  we shot it in 13 days..

 Again, we used the same method. We shot it during Diwali.  We had a lot of light, we saved as much money as we could.  And, when we went outside India,  We gave the film, to every buyer and seller for free.  Because we own the film, and nobody else owns it.  The idea was to own the film.  We owned the film, we gave it to everyone.  I said, you take the film, release it. If you earn money, keep it.  And, that remains the highest seen Indian Film on television, across the world.  And, that film started to open our world market.  We did not release that film.  For most of my films, after going for festivals, we don’t release it for 2-3 years. We sit on it.  That film became the highest seen film on television, worldwide.  And, that led to a lot of funding and marketing, and investments from abroad.  Then, we made ‘Lunchbox’ and ‘Monsoon Shootout’ and.. was given to us,  ..from French government, from German government.  And, we started to bridge that gap and sell our films outside. 

That’s how we overcame that area, and then made another mistake.  There came year 2013, we made far too many films.  It is a cycle with everyone, you’re on a high and you make a mistake.  Then, you correct yourself again. This always happens. 

So, 2010 Udaan went to Cannes, and 2013 we make our next big mistake.  We made too many films, 5 of them in Cannes, 2 of which still remain unreleased.  Then you realize that you are making a  film, and you have not seen it through.  It’s far too exposed.  ..we have overpriced it, because, by then people wanted to buy our movies.  We made our films at a very low cost.  But, we started adding a margin to it, because..lets finally make money.  Without understanding that the market has still not become that.

  Everybody loves Udaan. But, the people who have watched it, have watched it on their laptops.  People who love my films are the people who watch it on their laptop.  We’re still not generating revenue.  When the films are not generating revenue, the market is not going to give me money. 

So, for that we have to figure out another way.  Two of our films remain unreleased.  The pressure started to pile up and our company started to crumble.

 Then, we started Phantom. 

We decided we will not do all those mistakes.  We started very well, then we again became ambitious. 

We made ‘Bombay Velvet’ and ‘Shaandaar’ in one year.  We collectively lost the highest amount of money anybody lost in one year, without having that money.

 And, then again, we had to go back to the table.  We had spent this last one year sitting on the table..  ..and writing, and writing, and writing.  Cutting down our costs.  If you look in ‘Udta Punjab’, it is made at such low cost.  I said I want to make a dark movie, my studio tells me you can’t spend more than 3 crores.  I said, I can’t make my movie look small.  I’ll shoot in 20 days, and we made Raman Raghav 2.0. 

We made a dark movie, but we made it at such low cost that it can’t lose money.  We again went to the table, my whole life journey has been like that.  There is a problem, you find a solution. It works.. becomes effective, you become ambitious and push little more, it fails.  You come back to the table and start again.  The world doesn’t owe it to you, you owe it to yourself.

  And, that’s all I want to tell you here.  Thank you so much! 


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