(From L to R) Rajshri Deshpande, Anurag Kashyap and Aasmaan V Bhardwaj
Much before Netflix’s 2022 film Darlings premised its story on the fable of the scorpion and the frog, Nicolas Winding Refn used it in Ryan Gosling’s 2011 film, Drive, with Gosling even sporting an iconic white jacket with a scorpion on it. That is where he got the idea for the film Kuttey from, says Aasmaan V Bhardwaj, who twinned it with the Faiz Ahmad Faiz poem, ‘Bekaar Kutte’. It is a sharply political film, where the state is the eventual scorpion which stings because it is in its nature, killing the frog, and leaving the poor dog, that is the common man, wagging his tail. Aasmaan, who was educated at the School of Visual Arts, New York City, wrote and directed Kuttey, which released last week with a stellar cast. All of 27, he seems to have a fine understanding of the purpose of art, and has been told by his wise father, Vishal Bhardwaj, not to worry about the box-office revenue his films make. “Regardless of how the film fares on Friday, he told me, by Monday you should be back to writing a new script,” says Aasmaan. That is exactly what he is doing. Ostensibly, the movie is a caper with seven characters in search of a pay-off but it is about oppression by powerful forces, a mixture of politics and capitalism, that divides society into three kinds—the lion who hunts, the lamb who is sacrificed, and the dog who is forever loyal. Its various characters exemplify each kind, but the state remains the one that has the last cruel laugh. “The movie shows what greed can do to people,” he says. Of the larger message, he says, “As filmmakers, we have to say what we want to as the people in power don’t understand.”
The Manthan Effect
Twenty-five years ago, Rajshri Deshpande saw Manthan, which was made in 1976. The Shyam Benegal movie chronicled the real life efforts of Verghese Kurien to spark the dairy revolution beginning in Gujarat. ‘Apni ladai khud hi ladni hogi’: Girish Karnad who plays the character Dr Rao, based on Kurien, gives the villagers led by Naseeruddin Shah a lesson—you have to fight your own battles. That’s the lesson Deshpande learnt in her acting and her activism. Now receiving plaudits for her restrained but real performance in the Netflix miniseries Trial by Fire, she plays Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who has been battling the system since 1997 to provide justice to her two children who lost their lives in the Uphaar fire tragedy. Deshpande lived with the character for a year with series director Prashant Nair holding her hand at every point, guiding her through the process of projecting grief, courage and perseverance. Her Bible was the book by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, which chronicled their struggle. “I want to carry her spirit, her never-say-die attitude, her humility and passion,” says Deshpande. Just like the Krishnamoorthys and Dr Kurien, she has decided to provide solutions, and not merely highlight problems. In 2018, she created the Nabhangan Foundation to broaden her efforts towards sustainable village development. Deshpande left her home in Aurangabad when she was 16, studied law, worked in advertising in Pune, and then sustained herself through theatre in Mumbai to find herself. In her 11-year career so far, she has tried to play roles with meaning, whether it is Laxmi in Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Goddesses (2015) or Ismat Chughtai in Nandita Das’ Manto (2018). She is delighted that the OTT space is giving birth to stories that reflect what is happening in society. And that she can make entertainment like Manthan, which is still part of who she is as she continues to hustle and struggle.
Scene and Heard
When the final cut of Maqbool (2003) was released, it didn’t have the opening sequence critical to the writer-director featured in it. It had Maqbool, the hitman, murdering the writer of the 1998 underworld classic, Satya, as an inside joke. So when Anurag Kashyap, the writer of Satya, got to know that Aasmaan Bhardwaj, son of Maqbool director Vishal, had written a caper film, he insisted on a bit part that required him to be murdered. Aasmaan obliged and in Kuttey there’s an iconic scene in which Kashyap, playing a corrupt politician, is beheaded by those he oppresses. For the record, Kashyap is developing a show reel of cameos where he gets killed. It’s a work-in-progress.