Anurag Kashyap has successfully built an image of being a maverick filmmaker taking on the might of the established and 'set' lot of mainstream Indian filmmakers. But the danger of this is that in spite of some truly innovative work (Black Friday (2007)), more often than not Anurag's films attract their share of controversy, do not connect at all with audiences thus either leaving them unreleased (Paanch (2003)) or go entirely over his audiences' heads (No Smoking (2007)).
Anurag first made a mark as a writer of note with films like Satya (1998) and Kaun (1999) for Ram Gopal Varma. Co-written with Saurabh Shukla, Satya was a fine and realistic take off on the Bombay underworld spewing a spate of imitators but none matching the searing intensity of Satya. As he wrote and re-wrote the film, Anurag acknowledges that his biggest learning experiance as a writer was Satya, Satya and Satya.
Moving away from Ram Gopal Varma, Anurag moved into more mainstream territory writing Jung (2000) for Sanjay Gupta and Nayak: The Real Hero (2001) for Shankar. But by now, the desire to make his own films had firmly taken root and Anurag made his first film for producer Tutu Sharma, Paanch.
Paanch is a dark film looking at a group of wannabe musicians who find themselves caught up in a web of crime, murder and betrayal. While Anurag successfully made the switch to direction, what followed was perhaps the bleakest period of his filmmaking life. The film got stuck at the censors for quite a while. Anurag then began Gulaal which remained incomplete till 2009. Black Friday, a brilliant exploration of the investigations into the 1993 serial Bomb Blasts in Mumbai, also got tangled up in a long winding court case, its release being delayed for a long, long time. Besides, there were several projects which were announced but never took off like the futuristic thriller Allwyn Kalicharan starring Anil Kapoor. Anurag was labelled a jinxed filmmaker by the ever superstitious film industry with no one wanting to take risks on him as a director.
Thankfully for Anurag, the release of Black Friday changed all that. Though made in 2004, the film finally released in February 2007. Based on Hussain Zaidi's book, the film is a wonderful cinematic journey into the investigations of what happened on March 12, 1993. Anurag expertly interprets the book filmically as he manages to convert the film having a huge cast and following a complex structure, criss-crossing between the past and present, into an extremely engrossing piece of filmmaking. Black Friday has been praised the world over. Quoting Kirk Honeycutt in the Hollywood Reporter, "Anurag Kashyap's "Black Friday" is a superb and devastating piece of cinema that with justification can be compared favorably to Gillo Pontocorvo's classic "The Battle of Algiers" in its dispassionate yet sweeping journalistic inquiry into cataclysmic social and political events." After years of struggle Anurag had finally arrived.
No Smoking, however, was not the ideal follow up. The film starring John Abraham proved to be a self-indulgent and incomprehensive exercise that failed both critically and commercially seriously denting Anurag's credentials in the industry that had just begun accepting him. Most people just did not know what to make of the film as it sailed way, way over their heads. And not just in India. Quoting Jay Weissberg in Variety, "Tonally confused and self-important, "No Smoking" is a tedious mind-screw from helmer-scripter Anurag Kashyap that tries to be tongue-in-cheek but winds up just plain toothless. Outlandish fantasy of an egotist drawn into a no-smoking rehab cult plays all over the map in a bid for artsy self-expression within the normally constrained Bollywood field, but results, like reviews, point thumbs down."
Meanwhile Anurag continued as a writer, associated with films such as Mani Rathnam's Yuva (2004), Main Aisa Hi Hoon (2005) - a disastrous 'remake' of I am Sam, Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd (2006) and Guru (2007) though it is said he had a fallout with Mani Rathnam over the last named film.
Anurag's biggest success, box office wise, has been Dev. D (2009), his take off on the Devdas tale. Considering the novel has been filmed so many times and is so well-known, Anurag manages to give his unique take on it, one that is highly original and inventive and not afraid to turn the known story on its head if need be. Even as the film has its dark moments, Anurag laces the film beautifully with irony, irreverence and humour with some extremely well-written dialogue, but you cannot help but feel he is a little out of depth in the more conventional emotional parts of the film or wants to get them out of the way as soon as he can and as simply as he can. 2009 has also seen the release of Gulaal almost 6 years after it was started.
Anurag has also tried his hands at animation directing Hanuman Returns (2007) which had middling succes He has, meanwhile, also acted as Creative Producer on Aamir (2008) and is currently associated as creative supervisor of a mini-series on television, Rajuben (2009).