In the arena of sports, it is important to create champions by supporting them, filmmaker Anurag Kashyap tells Shillpi A Singh, as he talks about his recent release, Mukkabaaz

Time and again, filmmaker Anurag Kashyap has managed to pack a punch with his signature style of storytelling, be it in his directorial debut Black Friday, or in his latest outing, Mukkabaaz, a boxing drama set in Uttar Pradesh. Through the years, he has been redefining the world of Hindi cinema, one film at a time.

In Mukkabaaz, starring Vineet Singh, Zoya Hussain (debutant), Ravi Kishen and Jimmy Shergill in leading roles, he reflects upon the state of sports in India, championing the cause of sportspersons and delving deeper into why champions are so difficult to create. He has incorporated elements of

romance and relevant social issues in a nuanced and hard-hitting narrative that outlines the difference between a brawler and a boxer, among other themes. And like all his films, this one has also been a favourite on the film festival circuit – it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and saw a sold-out Mumbai Academy of Moving Image (MAMI) screening. In a freewheeling chat, the filmmaker talks about the making of the movie and what it attempts to say.

How has your experience of filming Mukkabaaz been? Were there any challenges in particular that you worked hard to overcome during its making?

The script that was originally written, evolved during the process of researching and filming. As we researched the state of boxing in India, we found in a lot of places a deep-rooted apathy towards sports and sportspersons in general, running deeper than we had anticipated. Making a film with boxing as the backdrop was not an easy task, to begin with. We had to unlearn everything we knew about the sport, most of which was from Hollywood movies we had watched through the years. Our team went to record tournaments, and we found at one of them that the match had to be held in the tent outside the actual venue, which was being used to host a VIP wedding.

Then there were technical nuances we had to take care of while making the movie, including fundamentals such as the difference between pro and amateur boxing, a knockout and a technical knockout, and so on. It was a great learning experience, and the revelations we stumbled upon made us think about why things are the way they are in sports. Over time, it also became a personal film for all the people associated with boxing who came on board to help us. Mukkabaaz is an attempt to champion a cause, and emphasise that it is high time we created champions by supporting them the way they deserve to be supported.

Tell us about the storyline. What does it focus on?

This film comes from disappointment. As children, all of us engage in sports, but only a few take it up as a career. For the longest time, sports and arts have been the most neglected spheres as far as career choices are concerned Рthey are not considered serious options to eke out a living. We are often told, in fact, that they are a waste of time. I feel that we need to question this.

Sometimes, we fail to support a sportsperson and overlook his or her journey, but if he or she overcomes all odds and rises above the rest, we lap up all the success. If he or she fails, on the other hand, we rise up in arms to question his or her capabilities. Mukkabaaz is a film that cares about sports. It values the honour of a sportsperson, telling us that we need to take on the responsibility of creating a champion from his/her very first steps into the arena.

In what ways does the movie stand out among the other sports films being made in Bollywood today?

This is a love story set against the backdrop of sports. While the intention of the film is to show a mirror to society, it attempts to do so without becoming an advertisement for boxing or an NGO serving a charitable cause or giving out a social message. What you see in the film depends on how you want to perceive what is shown to you. You can see it as a boxing saga, a love story, or anything else.

How did you zero in on Vineet and Zoya as the leads for Mukkabaaz?

I decided to cast Vineet after I read the screenplay he had written for the film. For shooting it, all I told him was to focus on becoming a boxer. He took this advice seriously and really put his heart and soul into transforming himself from an actor into a boxer. He put in a lot of effort, both in terms of the story and his character. He toiled to learn the basics of boxing in Patiala and worked with actual boxers in the film. Zoya, on her part, underwent intensive training for six months to play a mute character under Sangeeta Gala, who has worked on several Bollywood films, including Black and Barfi. And I decided on Nawazuddin Siddiqui for the cameo the moment the song he features in was finalised.

Tell us something about your upcoming projects.

I am very excited about the three series I am helming with Vikramaditya Motwane for Netflix, called Sacred Games, Bombay Talkies, and Manmarziyan.


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