One Shot is a series that seeks to find an essence of cinema history in one single image of a movie.
In Anurag Kashyap's socio-political drama Gulaal (2009), the stirring climactic lament "Duniya" encapsulates the filmmaker's disillusionment with the world: a world mired in deceit, greed, sectarianism, and megalomania; a world where goodness succumbs to the brute force of evil. This song sequence sees the naïve protagonist Dilip Singh (Raj Singh Chaudhary) slowly dying of his gunshot wound, culminating in the antagonist Karan (Aditya Srivastava) being declared the head of the secessionist Rajputana movement. The haunting crescendo by music composer-lyricist-singer Piyush Mishra underscores the close-up framing of Karan, whose devilish stare into the camera has been etched in the collective memory of Kashyap's admirers. Throughout his career, the rebellious auteur has had to bear criticism for exploring dark themes in his films, propagating cynicism, and indulging in downbeat endings. Like Dilip, his protagonists in the psychological thriller No Smoking (2007) and the boxing drama Mukkabaaz (The Brawler, 2017) also find themselves ensnared by the monolithic system, which eventually overpowers them. This defeatist attitude of Kashyap has its genesis in his struggle against the censor authorities during his formative years as an indie filmmaker. His directorial feature debut, Paanch (Five, 2003), never received a theatrical or home-video release as the Indian censor board objected to the film's depiction of violence and drug abuse, in addition to its foul language. The release of his next film Black Friday (2004)—on the 1993 Bombay bombings—was held up for more than two years until the Supreme Court in 2007 lifted the Bombay High Court's stay after the verdict on the bomb blast case was announced. For Kashyap, the needling by critics and the state machinery is a minor battle he has been waging compared to being scorned by the mainstream Hindi film industry (also known as Bollywood). For them, he is an outsider who threatens to challenge their established notions of storytelling with his unique, non-conformist work. But despite the Bollywood heavyweights monopolizing the distribution and exhibition channels, the likes of Kashyap have succeeded in cultivating a devoted audience seeking unconventional films on the internet and OTT platforms. Unlike Dilip, who is made a sacrificial lamb by the power mongers in Gulaal, Kashyap refuses to bow down to his detractors and continues to exercise his maverick brand of storytelling that has led him to become one of the most respected contemporary voices of Indian cinema.