Perched on a swinging chair at a sun micatopped table in his Aram Nagar office at Versova, Anurag Kashyap is beaming. The director of Dev.D is evading a pesky relative from Benares, a person who has chosen to remember the director after what seems like a sizeable hiatus. The phone call ends, Kashyap flashes a wide smile. “You’ve got an hour, then I have the BBC to attend to. Can you believe that? Who would have imagined?” Excerpts from an interview:

• Your take on female sexuality is a quantum leap for Bollywood. You’ve subverted the idea of the Punjabi lassie running in a mustard field, the stock-in-trade of Yashraj Studios from its better days. Here a woman herself is taking a mattress to the field, expecting to make out with a lover she has invited.
I always fell in love with sexually and culturally liberated women. I automatically connected with them. It is my intrinsic proclivity towards what Indians call ‘sluts’. The word ‘slut’ always bothered me. I find the word horrible. In fact, the seeds of the sexual liberalism that you see in Dev.D were sown in an earlier, albeit unrealised, screenplay of mine called The Girl Who’d Sleep with Anyone. That title though is from Haruki Murakami.

• The insecurities of the urban Indian male in the sexual hemisphere are well-documented in your film. Dev literally comes full circle from ditching Paro for perhaps ‘not being a virgin’ to ending up in a deeper, more meaningful equation with a hooker.
Two things worked in this narrative arc: a) I wanted to reveal the tragic consequences of always expecting a ‘virgin’ to be your girl; it remains sadly a very Indian male trait. Indian men like their women to be ‘virgins’. And b) Historically, my heart has always reached out to Chandramukhi, the courtesan prototype in Devdas.

• To reinvent Chandramukhi in the Russian hooker mould gives contemporary Delhi a classic edge, an Indo-Russian dosti of the ilk that Nehru might never have imagined. What sort of research did this require?
Well, the Russian hooker scene is certainly a sign of our times, and one merely needs to read the newspapers to know what’s going on. There was a Regent Hotel scandal in which Russian hookers were caught. That was in Karol Bagh. For the film, I used Paharganj and Dariaganj areas in New Delhi. These areas are so quintessential to the lostin-hell hippie trail that they automatically get a cinematic tinge. There are pimps waiting to find the next junkie, a gori junkie, so that she can be cajoled into the flesh trade. It’s really a very disturbing milieu, but one can’t deny the macabre, brutal fascination that it instigates in a filmmaker. It’s a cultural exchange of the most skewed sort: it’s lost foreigners seeking India, and lost rich Indians seeking white flesh.

• Yes. For instance, Chunni, the local pimp, when finally revealed in his home, has a white wife wearing a sari.
Exactly, it’s like he’s made his peace with the twisted milieu he inhabits, its intricate functionings and its rules. And that does exist all over. I know of a camel rider in Rajasthan who has four white wives, and one of them is from Sweden.

• It was refreshing to see Abhay Deol just being himself and yet being able to seamlessly pull off Dev the character, minus props like a rock band or a waxed chest. How did you cast him?
I’ve known Abhay for the last 12 years. He is genuinely very cool. For instance, this is a big one for him. The film has released, he should be hanging out in Mumbai, basking in the glory. But instead he’s in New York learning wood carving. Earlier he was in Barcelona doing a course in bartending. Abhay’s cut from a different cloth. He has the capacity to be himself, and yet he goes to great lengths to fit into a role. Like he lost 10 kgs for this role. That’s a lot of weight. In fact, the halfeaten burgers and pizzas become a motif for the alcoholic, anorexic nightmare that Dev the character represents.

• And yet the film exhilarates for the risks it takes within the mainstream. Were you not apprehensive about the Censor Board having issues?
No, I make films close to my heart. I make films without fear. With Dev.D, since it was diving into the terrain of a liberated female sexuality, I made one small request to the Censor Board. I requested that more women be on the panel than men. When a man is there, he ends up thinking for the woman, which is where the trouble begins. With women watching themselves in newer avatars, issues of representation become less problematic.

• It’s been a long journey coming into your own, becoming Anurag Kashyap, if that’s a phrase. You started out illustriously with Satya, but your directorial trajectory has been a checkered, jinxed one. There is almost a collective sense of relief among many at the success of Dev.D. How did you cope with the long, gloomy innings before the tunnel gave way to light?
I lost a lot of friends. I lost my family. It was a nightmarish cocktail of booze, drug abuse, failed relationships, and being broke all the time. It altered me irreparably. That said, there were always some folks from the industry who have always been there for me. I will remember them. And then it always helps to have successful friends. I borrowed copiously from John Abraham, all my rich buddies! And now that I am successful, I am also noticing that suddenly everyone outside this hemisphere is also my friend. And relatives are choosing to call me and play the ‘don’t you recognise my voice’ number. I hate that shit. Some things never change.

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