Mar 28, 2009

How to ask Vishal Bhardwaj a question

Why, you stand up abruptly and shout out in garbled English before he can get away!

Last week, I attended a seminar on Cinema and Literature jointly organised by the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII) in Pune and the Film Writers Association. Here's the precursor post about that.

Which brings us back to the titular figure of this post. The last time I'd seen Vishal, he was much less celebrated as a film-maker and chose to remain silent. Here, he began with expressing his trepidation at speaking in front of legends such as Mani Kaul and Prof. U.R.Ananthamurthy, and didn't even want to look in the direction of his 'gardener' Gulzar. He then proceeded to shake off his nervousness with a couple of 'shers' and spoke of how Maqbool came about. He began by describing the days before Maachis in the land where 'mediocrity is worshipped', and how he tried gaining producers' attention by trying to pass of his original songs as copies of Pakistani songs (incredulous laughter sweeps the auditorium).

Heeding Gulzar's prophesy that Vishal would be a film-maker someday, he decided to try his hand at making films, partly with a view to employing himself as a music director (since his career seemed to be ending!). After Makdee (a story that was partly inspired from childhood memories of Enid Blyton), he wanted to make a film on the underworld ("because I like guns, crimes, and chases"), but felt most films ended in a gangwar, and lacked depth. Plus, what do you do that Ram Gopal Varma hadn't? Serendipitously, Anurag Kashyap had pointed him to Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood" and Alaap Mazgaonkar (who plays 'Mughal-e-Azam' in Makdee) had given him a book of stories containing Macbeth. Until then, he subscribed to the common view that 'literature' was high-brow and had no pulp or entertainment to offer. But here was a drama that gripped him.

He then read the full Macbeth ("Shakespeare language ek taraf, English duusri taraf") cover to cover. He and Abbas Tyrewala began to write, not encumbered by convention of what was allowed and what wasn't ("we were blessed with ignorance"). Making the witches into cops or turning Lady Macbeth into Abbaji's mistress happened. Naseeruddin Shah loved the script and gave him the confidence this would work, volunteering to play one of the cops instead of Abbaji as originally intended.

There was also a reference to an earlier FWA seminar where Javed Akhtar said: "In Maqbool, Shakespeare failed you; in Omkara, you failed Shakespeare" (according to this account, JA and others had torn into Omkara). Vishal ended by quoting Prof. U.R.Ananthamurthy's speech on the 1st day where the Jnanpith awardee talked about the difference in adapting just the 'structure' as opposed to 'texture'. Vishal said he had been paying more attention to structure than texture (though this blogger finds texture and ambience to be Vishal's key strength) and now had the confidence to write his own originals.

After reciting a parting couplet, he sat down. Govind Nihalani, chairing the session, said Vishal was off to catch a flight, so may be we had time for just one question. No one stirred (most sessions had gone question-less, a pity), so he was about to wish Vishal goodbye, when I decided to shoot my hand up.

There were many things to ask (that after disregarding Yasho's suggestion to yell "Kaminey!" out loud) but I settled for one on Vishal's other main writing source. "Could you tell us a little about your work with Ruskin Bond, and we've heard you're working with him again". Nihalani was about to brush me off for being a tad too late, but Vishal was kind enough to answer. He spoke of how he liked the story for The Blue Umbrella, but couldn't see how it would make a film of more than 30 minutes. He then hit upon the idea of the red umbrella, met Ruskin Bond who seemed to like the idea, and made the film. And yes, he was working on a few ideas with Bond (he mentioned a couple of names, but sadly, I couldn't quite figure them out - did he say "A Season of Ghosts"?).

And that was that.

A Times of India interview on the sidelines

Update: 5 Apr 2009
Ajay Bhramatmaj has a transcript of Vishal's speech here (the previous link is in Devanaagarii, here's a Roman script version).

Cross posted on our Vishal blog


Unknown said...

reminded me of my blue umbrella experience. Probably the story was a 30 min thing, but Vishal's art to make it was it eventually was, was truly incredible, and not even one small bit seemed out of place...

anand s said...

Hi, hope it is Room on the Roof, loads of material that VB is familiar with, not to be played by a 35 yr old Shahid Kapoor pls.

Other guesses are Running away, The Night train at Deoli or a burlesque The Man who was Kipling ?

Yash said...

The Night Train at Deoli...No. Was there and am sure would have remembered that. And Night Train wouldnt make that good a movie anyway, too constricted. Something like He said it with Arsenic would be brilliant..

Yash said...

and about JA tearing into Omkara. For some reason he is very critical of anything that isn't his or related to his family. I have always had reservations about Akhtar as a critic. And seeing how Bharadwaj would never work with anyone apart from Gulzar, you can see where i am coming from..

Unknown said...

Thanks all. I should really go and read/refresh my Bond stock.

Yasho: I haven't other criticisms by JA, so I couldn't tell. But have always thought it would be a pity for VB to never work with others or for Farhan A, say, to never work with Gulzar. Could do with more cross-pollination. Notice how S-E-L hardly work with Gulzar these days largely because the people they make movies for have their own 'camps'.

Rasik said...

nice post....only thing i noticed is dat Javed Akhtar's comment in ur post n Ajay Brahamtaj's post are exactly opposite.

Unknown said...

Rasik: thanks for pointing this. Since I was speaking from memory, it is quite likely I am wrong. Will check.

Ebrahim Kabirw said...

Interesting seminar thanks for sharing.