The January 12 release Mukkabaaz is about a pugilist who has to take on a ruthless local boxing association member who is bent on destroying his career.
But director Anurag Kashyap says that Mukaabaaz, starring Vineet Kumar Singh, Jimmy Shergill and Zoya Hussain, is not a sports movie. “I would define the film as a socio-political love story about a sportsman in contemporary India,” Kashyap told Scroll.in after the movie’s trailer launch in Mumbai on Friday. “My process of making films is very simple. I am an extremely apolitical person. But being apolitical doesn’t mean that you don’t see or feel things. If the film was about cricket, it would be a different story. But the film is about boxing. And while making a film like this, the economic strata of people who get into boxing and why they get into boxing should come in.”
Also starring Ravi Kishan and Rajesh Tailang, Mukkabaaz has been produced by Aanand L Rai’s Colour Yellow Productions and Kashyap’s Phantom Films, marking the duo’s first collaboration. “What interested me about the script was Anurag Kashyap,” Rai said. “I was looking forward to getting an opportunity where I can stay close when he is making a film, and Mukkabaaz was that opportunity and I never wanted to miss that. A film, more than anything else is always about the maker and his intentions. Anurag always comes with pure intentions.”
Rai will also produce Kashyap’s next film, Manmarziyan.
Vineet Kumar Singh, who has worked with Kashyap in Gangs of Wasseypur (2012) and Ugly (2014), approached the filmmaker with an early draft of the script. Kashyap agreed, but made his own changes to the story idea, which was originally on the lines of Rocky (1981). Kashyap also cast Singh in the lead role as the doughty boxer Shravan.
“I didn’t see this as a big hero film,” Kashyap said. “It was not about the hero, but I needed a boxer in the film. He [Singh] gave me one and a half years of his life and put it in training.”
Mirroring Kashyap’s views, Aanand said that he did not believe in casting big names for the sake of it. “You cannot question passion,” Rai said. “There are actors who are really dying to work with him [Kashyap]. But him choosing an actor like Vineet shows the amount of confidence he has in his story. And for me very honestly, a film belongs to a director. With my productions, my director is my hero and then I leave everything on that hero.”
Through boxing, the film provides a commentary on the caste system, politics in sports associations in India and religious fanaticism. In the opening sequence in the version that was screened at the Mumbai Film Festival in October, a group of vigilantes attack cow traders. “It never starts with an agenda,” Kashyap said. “The only thing that the film speaks about is why there aren’t enough sportsmen in the country. But the rest of the film is what is out there and what we are dealing with on a daily basis and that is how films should be. Because the moment you get driven by an agenda or propaganda, you are over-saying and overdoing it. Then you become the same person that you are talking about. The filmmaker’s job is not to do propaganda.”
Kashyap faced the wrath of the Indian censor board ever since his first movie, Paanch (2003), which was denied certification on the ground that it glorified violence. Paanch has still not been unreleased. Phantom Films’ Udta Punjab (2016) was handed down numerous cuts by the Central Board of Film Certification, and was eventually released after the filmmakers approached the Bombay High Court.
“What gives me the power to fight a problem is the fact that I have no agenda,” Kashyap explained. “I don’t anticipate any problems in the film. I do not know how to do anything in secret. As it is, I am a loudmouth and say everything on Twitter.”
The love track between the characters played by Singh and Zoya Hussain owes its rhythms to Tamil cinema, Kashyap added. “A lot of Tamil films have broken the notion of the way we are used to telling love stories in Hindi cinema, much before Sairat did it in Marathi,” said the director of Dev.D and Gangs of Wasseypur. “The boy and the girl in my film are from a small town. They don’t know each other, but they look at each other and decide that they love each other. Their method of communication is very non-physical. It is very discreet and secretive. The consciousness about gender, sexuality and the status in society is a very small town idea. I saw that for the first time in Tamil film Kadhal (2004) and many more after that.”