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On Anurag Kashyap’s birthday, revisiting Black Friday: When the film got banned, director didn’t change his ‘suit for a month’

On Anurag Kashyap's birthday, we revisit his then-controversial and now-iconic movie Black Friday.

At the cost of using a cliche, one can say that Anurag Kashyap has come a long way from the time he assisted Ram Gopal Varma. The journey has not been smooth but after seeing Anurag’s oeuvre and his thought process, he would not have it any other way. His directorial debut Paanch never saw the light of the day, and then came the controversial 2004 movie Black Friday, made on the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts. This again created quite the stir, and as Kashyap himself revealed in interview with Film Companion, the announcement that the movie was banned came to him after he had reached the venue for its grand premiere at Eros.

Dressed in his best suit, Anurag received possibly one of the worst news of his life. Self admittedly, Anurag Kashyap did not get out of that suit for a month. “Paanch was already banned, Gulaal was stopped after its first schedule. I just went in to my room and started drinking. And I stayed in my suit for a month,” Anurag Kashyap had said.

Surrounded with this kind of heavy-duty backstories, Black Friday is today regarded as one of the finest films of not only Anurag’s career, but of Hindi cinema too. I remember director Shoojit Sircar talking in an interview with Anupama Chopra about how he wants to make a political film in his lifetime, a ‘proper political film’ he had said, while taking all the political and historical figures’ actual names in the feature. Anurag Kashyap had done this very thing more than 15 years ago and paid the price for it for three years. Yes, it was three years before Black Friday was allowed to have a wide release in the country.

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More than a decade-and-a-half later, it is safe to say that nothing about Black Friday was conventional. Kashyap broke boundaries, pushed the metaphorical envelope again and again both on and off screen while making this crime-procedural drama. First, by having dons and wanted criminals like Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim show up on celluloid (played fantastically by the underrated Pawan Malhotra and Vijay Maurya, respectively). And then having those characters take names of our then political leaders like Balasaheb Thackeray and LK Advani. And that too, not in jest. Tiger Memon is heard plotting how to blast these politicians’ buildings and how best to damage Bombay, the beating heart of India, its economic centre, as Memon says in the film. Calling a thing by its name takes guts, and in today’s time, it is certainly unthinkable, what with social media trials and strict censorship in place.

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Based on the book Black Friday: The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts by Hussain Zaidi, the film has been lauded for its terrific performances, its unflinching honesty to its script, and its guerilla filming style. The famous, longish chase sequence comes to mind, when the tired but brave officers are trying to pin down a suspect. Running on the pipes, walking through narrow crowded gullies, all the while keeping track of performance; following all these details with precision must have been no easy task. But Kashyap and his team did it, and on a shoestring budget! In fact, it was this very chase sequence that inspired British filmmaker Danny Boyle to have his own chase scene around Dharavi in his film Slumdog Millionaire. A shout out to Natrajan Subramaniam for his exquisite camera work.

Black Friday, running at 2.5 hours, can sometimes prove to be exhausting with its detailing. But it is also this very detailing that sets it apart. The makers wanted a sense of realness, and not just some run-of-the-mill gangster drama. Its dialogues are sparkling. The police custody scene featuring Aditya Srivastava and Kay Kay Menon is a fine example of that balance of realism and engaging entertainment. And it also has to do in large parts with the actors’ talent. The same lines about religion divide could have sounded preachy, even boastful if someone else were speaking it. But with these actors, the lines evoked the right kind of emotion in the audience.

It is these elements of cinema-making that make Black Friday what it is — a cult classic. If you have not seen it, experience the rush firsthand on Netflix.

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