Last month, Gangs of Wasseypur became the first mainstream Bollywood film to play at the Directors' Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Anurag Kashyap, it was also the longest film at Cannes, its two parts adding up to a hefty five hours and 20 minutes. But every second is needed to recount an epic tale set against the backdrop of the rural coal communities in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, where a family feud spans 60 years. It starts with a Sultana Daku impersonator looting British trains at the end of colonial rule and ends in the present day. Kashyap, 39, is renowned for daring avant-garde work such as That Girl in Yellow Boots and Black Friday. He talks about his most mainstream film.
How is it best to view the two parts of Gangs of Wasseypur?
The right way is to watch them together.
It plays like a classic Indian television series.
It is done like that. The whole idea of the film is that as the action progresses in terms of the timeline, it also changes stylistically. At the start we shot everything classically with wide frames and as the film progresses it gets more intimate, more close, much more hand-held and more energetic.
Why make a film in two parts?
I wanted to tell the whole story. Indians have a tradition of long epics, and recently we seem to have stopped making those films. I remember when I was younger, and when we saw that a movie had 19 reels we knew it was more than three hours and we were so happy. Slowly, this tradition has gone away. Originally I had the idea for Part Two, which is the explosion and the climax, but I thought: "I need to know where these characters are coming from," and without Part One, the conclusion is just another action movie where people are killing each other, which I didn't want to do.
What influenced the backstory?
It is all based on two stories. Some elements could not be verified, like the Sultana Daku story. The people in Wasseypur believe Sultana was their ancestor and he escaped from the prison, whereas the facts say that he was hanged in a Calcutta jail, so I used these two different myths to create a guy who thinks he's Sultana Daku or pretends he's Sultana Daku and another guy who believes he's Sultana Daku, so I could tell both versions. I just played on the myth because everybody seems to have a different sense of history.
You have been called an Indian Martin Scorsese because of the way you make one big film and one experimental film. Is that a fair description?
No. I just want to make films. I want to continue to have the freedom to make whatever I want, and that freedom can only come if there are no expectations. That is what I've been striving for. I try to do something no one expects. After I did Dev D, which was a success, I made That Girl in Yellow Boots and I knew that everybody would hate it, but they would leave me alone. It's better that people think you are mad.
Gangs of Wasseypur is due to open in UAE cinemas this week.