One of the very few in contemporary Indian cinema, to carve out his distinct niche, Vishal Bharadwaj opens up on influences, critics, piracy and more.
How is ‘Matru ki Bijlee ka Mandola’ shaping up?
You know, the title is not yet finalised… I have never announced it. The working title has been leaked, and it might change.
So, is this an original script or based on some text?
I don’t want to talk about it because it is too early.
Ok, then Iet’s talk about your last release, ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’. Now that it’s a year since its release, what do you think went wrong? Both the box office and critics were cold…
That I actually don’t know. Because for me, the film still works. I can’t analyse critics. I think the one basic thing which didn’t work with them was, they didn’t buy the character. They took it too seriously, and maybe I made it too seriously. Because it was supposed to be a black comedy. And they were looking for a justification… why is she killing the husbands? There is an explanation towards the interval where the butler explains – ki woh, jab bachpan mein school jaati thi, to ek kutta raaste mein padta tha. Woh chahti to raasta badal leti, par woh raasta nahin badli, usne kutte go goli se uda diya – she doesn’t change her ways. So I thought it was subtle, but it was there. The critics didn’t get emotionally invested into the character. Maybe, as director, I could not achieve that comic tone.
I think, all your films, apart from ‘Blue Umbrella’, have this dark undertone. You explore the underbelly of society, there is this noir-ish feel. And then you also punctuate these dark moments with a lot of beautiful romantic moments. Take us through this recurring motif.
Maybe that has got something to do with my own character, with my own texture because I must be having that darkness within me, and that romance within me. Actually onscreen, the filmmaker becomes naked emotionally. So, other people can hide their emotions but a filmmaker cannot…
So, then, when you are making a children’s film – I won’t talk about ‘Makdee’, because even within the parameters of a children’s film, it was dark- but if you talk of ‘Blue Umbrella’, , how does Vishal Bharadwaj curb his dark side and make an innocent fable?
But even ‘Blue Umbrella’ had dark elements (laughs).Pankaj Kapur’s character, when he becomes completely lonely and, he is not able to light the fire, the kids are calling him names, you know, that he is a thief and all – I think there was a little darkness in that. And the way that girl leaves – I made that film for the climax, because the girl said, “This doesn’t belong to me anymore”. That really hit me in the heart.
What have been your cinematic influences from world cinema, from Indian cinema?
I think the works of Kieslowski, he is my favourite. I want to achieve that kind of…I haven’t been able to reach that.
What aspect of Kieslowski draws you?
Two things. Finding conflict and drama in very normal lives – extraordinary conflict in ordinary lives. That was his mastery because if you want to create extraordinary drama and conflict between characters, we turn to the underworld; we turn to politics, or the underbelly, like the Westerns. But there, he would have an extraordinary conflict in a doctor’s life or a normal middle-class husband and wife, and that is so engrossing, it hits you in the gut. So the treatment; the violence of his emotions is conveyed so subtly. The approach. The attitude. It’s so subtle, it’s so spaced out, I mean, you know the character is going to jump off the bridge, but she is so slow, she is walking there, and you are hooked to that. You don’t need to have a background score. That is the mastery of Kieslowski.
And apart from Kieslowski?
The pop-cultural pastiche that he creates…
The characters that he creates, the maddening characters – I love that. And the way he writes his dialogues – he will start with a burger and they are talking about sauce, they’re talking about the cheese. And, oh God, I mean he is a master, he gets Hitler killed! He changed history! And his violence is so romantic. I love that.
The last year saw a number of small films, independent cinema, that is, not doing well- say a film like ‘Mirch’, or ‘I Am’, as opposed to a big film like ‘Bodyguard’. So what’s your take on the direction that our Hindi film industry is taking?
I think we are in the best of times right now, as far as the history of the Indian film industry is concerned, because there is a space for ‘Bodyguard’ and ‘Dabangg’ and there is space for films like ‘Udaan’, or ‘I Am’ can be released, or ‘Mirch’ can be released. And you have an audience for any kind of film. You can express yourself. It was not possible when I started out. It took me so long to make and then release ‘Maqbool’ . Now, anybody can make anything – ‘Sahib Biwi aur Gangster’ would not be possible in 2003-04, there were hardly any multiplexes, people didn’t believe in that kind of cinema.
We keep hearing about a lot of projects that you are supposed to start like ‘Two States’, and then t of course the ‘Hamlet’ adaptation, so what’s happening on those fronts?
I have to do ‘Hamlet’, that I am sure of. ‘Two States’ though… you know, you come across so many works – so many stories and novels that for some time you consider and they don’t work out, you move on.
I was wondering – Chetan Bhagat and Vishal Bharadwaj is sort of a paradox…
Yes, I was also told, but I didn’t see it from that point of view that I am taken so seriously by my fans and my critics. They think of me as a high-class intellectual, which I am not. I love ‘Amar, Akbar, Anthony’and those kinds of films, which I have grown up watching. And there is some really nice detailing about the South Indian community, which actually attracted me. And then my take on the love story would have been different.
Are you aware that Suman Mukherjee, the Bengali filmmaker, is working on ‘Hamlet’? His working title of the film is ‘Prince of Metiabruz’ and he’s casting Arunoday Singh.
No, I don’t know. But there was a ‘Hamlet’ made in Kerala also, recently. Every take will be different.
Is the sequel of Ishqiya on the cards?
Yes. It’s called ‘Dedh Ishqiya’.
And the casting, we keep hearing about Madhuri and Kangna being cast…
Naseer and Arshad are there. We have approached Madhuri, she has agreed in principle but we have to give her the final script, and based on that, she will decide.
And will you be doing the music for the sequel as well?
Yes. That is why I began as a director, so I can employ myself as a music composer (laughs)!
As a producer, what kind of films do you really feel kicked about – the films that you want to back?
I don’t want to back anything now. I want to back the films I want to make. For Abhishek Chaubey (of ‘Ishqiya’), I will keep producing, because he is like my younger brother, but I am producing one more film called ‘Dayan’ by an old friend, Kanan Iyer. That is my last film as producer- after that I will be just producing films for myself and Abhishek Chaubey.
What’s your take on piracy? There is this idea that piracy supports small cinema, the ones that do not get distributors…
That is absolute rubbish. Without piracy, you could make small films with a better budget. Piracy of your own films in your own country- it’s criminal. I mean, we are suffering because of that. If piracy is stopped, the revenues will go to some other level!