A decades-old rivalry between a Bollywood wannabe and a brutal police chief shines a light on Mumbai’s dark side, in Indian director Anurag Kashyap’s fast-moving psychological thriller “Ugly” about the kidnapping of a young girl.
Enthusiastically received at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday, the aptly titled film was inspired by real events in a city blighted by child trafficking and prostitution.
A suicidal woman sets the scene in an upmarket apartment as she contemplates a concoction of pills and alcohol; she eyes a scarf hanging from a ceiling fan before putting a gun in her month.
About to pull the trigger, she is interrupted by her young daughter, full of life.
Fast forward and a police inspector mocks and toys with the girl’s father and his producer friend as they try to report her abduction from his car.
“They are divorced, that’s the problem — divorce,” he tells the actor. Turning to the producer, he reels off the names of some of Bollywood’s biggest stars.
“I suppose it’s you who decides (to cast them),” he sneers, surrounded by sniggering subordinates.
But his menacing tone turns to panic when he realises that the girl is the step-daughter of his police commissioner.
Kashyap says he drew on the “insecurity” he experienced after he separated from his first wife and daughter to write the film.
For years he discussed the script with anyone who would listen but was constantly told it could never be made.
When he finally got the go-ahead, Kashyap was wary of showing the screenplay to anyone.
As a result all the actors had to sign up blind for the film.
“I refused to share the script with anyone. I said I’m making the film and if you want to come with me and do it….
“I had this feeling that if they read the script they would not allow me to make it so for the first time I reached out to my actors, friends and said ‘you trust me’ and everyone came on board.”
It is the second consecutive visit to Cannes for the 40-year-old director.
His five-hour gangster epic “Gangs Of Wasseypur” was warmly received at Cannes last year.
“Ugly” is being screened this year as part of the Directors Fortnight, a sidebar to the main competition.
He is also known for his 2004 Hindi-language film “Black Friday” about the 1993 Bombay bombings.
In addition to “Ugly”, Kashyap is one of four up-and-coming Indian directors whose work will be showcased in Cannes on Sunday.
“Bombay Talkies”, one film comprising four short stories by the four directors, will be shown at a gala screening on Sunday to celebrate a century of Indian cinema.
India is Cannes’ third guest country following Egypt and Brazil.
The other directors whose short films are to be shown on Sunday are Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar.
Amit Kumar’s “Monsoon Shootout” will also be shown out of competition and Ritesh Batra’s “The Lunchbox” as part of the Critics Week.