Vishal Bhardwaj Curated
Bollywood Film Director
CURATED BY :
What Vishal Bhardwaj told about his music label?
“It is a non-commercial platform for me where I can express the texture of my being or the call of my soul. I needed an outlet to express myself where I record a song from my own money, make a video and if that money does not come back, it does not matter. God has given me enough for my music. I can take that much loss. This label is to explore the inner soul of my music.“There are so many songs that are waiting for their turn for years now. There are Sufi songs of Rekha, some thumri songs that Gulzar sahab wrote for her. I want to record music with my favourite singers like Rashid Khan Ji, Arijit Singh, Sukhwinder Singh and Sunidhi Chauhan.” Vishal Bhardwaj called the process of recording the song ‘challenging and satisfying’. He said, "It was a lot of coordination, but we have managed a song despite distance”.
What are your views on the art of storytelling?
What kind of films influenced you as a kid?
When we were growing up, Meerut was all about Bollywood. As a child, I used to look forward to Subhash Ghai and Manmohan Desai’s films, and movies like Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) and Suhaag (1979). But I was into sports. Cinema actually started influencing me after Maachis.
How difficult is it to strike a balance between commercial elements and creative urges?
The kind of subjects and canvases I look for require big money. And if I need that kind of money, I have to camouflage my content as commercial. Film-making is actually about maintaining a balance between compromises and achievements. It’s the most difficult job, I think, after pilots of fighter planes.
When you started making films, did you know what kind of movies you wanted to make?
Initially, I didn’t have any idea. But yes, I was always very fascinated with gangster films. That’s why Maqbool (2003) happened by accident. I had no plans to take up Shakespeare. I had not read Macbeth; I didn’t know what it was. But I was clear that I wanted to make a film on the underworld, and I was looking for a great story. By chance, I read an abridged version of Macbeth, and wanted to turn it into a gangster film.
Are you happy with the kind of films that are being made today?
I have no interest in being happy or sad about what’s happening in the industry. I’m only concerned about my films. I am not a social worker in the film industry. I am a film-maker, and not someone who wants to bring in any change.
Do you feel any pressure with the kind of expectations people have from your films?
Not really. I don’t care as long as I am able to make my kind of cinema. You have a huge accountability yourself. I don’t lose sleep over what the audience expects out of me; I am my own audience.
How did you start the process of becoming a director?
Hansal Mehta (director) was making short films, and was looking for stories. I sent him four-five, including my own called Highway. After reading it, Hansal told me that he wanted to make a film on my story. I didn’t even know what a screenplay was at that time. I slowly started gaining confidence. Later, I started going to film festivals with Gulzar saab, and heard about people like Krzysztof Kieslowski (Polish director). My training started from there.
So many of your stories are set in rural or small-town India. Having lived so many years in Mumbai and Delhi before that, what still draws you to that milieu?
Rural India will draw anybody who is interested in a good story. The conflicts there are primal. In our cities, conflicts are superficial because they are about wants, ambitions for things like who drives what car. In a village in India, it is still about basic things for survival. I am drawn to rural characters probably because I also want to stay rooted by getting involved in that basic experience of living. I read Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Nights and felt that that story had to be told. He lived through insurgency, and the Muslim point of view had to come out. I can myself experience it by telling a story about it. I am interested in projecting the several realities that exist beyond cities, which I or you can’t live.
Have you ever thought of setting a story in another country?
No. The country outside of India where I have spent enough time is America. I know its cities, I have interacted with a lot of people there. If a diaspora story ever appeals to me, I will tell it. But so far, I haven’t found enough material or inspiration in the diaspora. You have to know the people. Once I get a story I invest in the place. Like I spent a lot of time in Kashmir after I got the story for Haider.
How do you shape your visual language? Do you always have a template before you shoot?
First comes the story – it can be inside a house, a village, in a railway station or a sports ground. A story about two people or four people, and their relationships and exploring the extraordinary conflicts in their ordinary lives, which is the most difficult thing.
How important do you think it is for a creative person to keep learning?
The day he stops, his creativity is dead.
Can you be objective about your work?
Objectivity about your work happens all on its own but it takes years to happen. Even if I don’t want to do it, it’ll come naturally. Once you forget about your past work and go back and look at it, that’s when real objectivity comes. When I suddenly hear some music and think it’s good, and then suddenly realise it’s mine or hear something that I think is terrible but it’s also mine, that’s objectivity.
How do you deal with success and failure?
I know how to deal with failure, but I still have to deal with success. With failure, I just don’t give up; I keep coming back to what I want to do.
Have there been actors you’ve worked with that have surprised you?
They all surprise me, sometimes in a good way and sometimes bad. In this film Pataakha, for example, these two girls are so young. It’s the first film for one of them and the second for the other, but the way they worked on their characters and the way they performed didn’t allow me to feel that at all; they were so good.
Is there one aspect of filmmaking that’s required of you as a director and producer that you don’t love as much as you love everything else?
There are many. One or two things you love about filmmaking, the rest of it you hate. I hate it when I fail in writing, because you think you’ve achieved a great script but then everyone comes and pinpoints the problems. When you go for casting and have to meet these creatures called stars — I hate that. Then you meet the moneyman — you hate him but you need him. Then you go to shooting — it’s torturous to shoot for 12-14 hours a day. The pleasure starts coming back when you come back to the editing room, when everything is there or when you’re recording songs. So, the pleasure is with the prep and the post, post-production being the most pleasurable for me.
A lot of your stories are set in times of turmoil. Is it that turmoil makes for a good setting to tell a story?
The whole telling of stories is about conflict. If you take Sita out of the Ramayan, there wouldn’t be any conflict. Ram would be in exile for 14 years with his brother and they’d come back after those 14 years and take over. But because Sita’s there and Ravan abducts her, you have drama. You, therefore, need turmoil and conflict to make it engaging. Even in the reality shows that you watch, one needs conflict; if it isn’t there, they create it.
Do you have a notepad on your bedside to jot down ideas in the middle of the night?
Obviously, sometimes you don’t remember them when you wake up. But the ideas that come back to me later are the good ones, and that’s how I value them and rate them.
What happens to the characters you build that don’t get translated on to screen? Do they then go into cold storage?
They always fit in somewhere; sometimes in poetry, sometimes into another character. There are times when there’s a crisscross that happens, where a character you’ve built for a certain story fits another one better. It’s a 24-hour creative process. Sometimes, I even get ideas in my sleep — it’s probably not a good thing but that’s what obsession is all about.
When do story ideas generally come to you?
I’m thinking about stories all the time. It’s not that one day you switch on — you’re always thinking of stories, every day you meet your characters in real life, you’re always exploring and making mental notes. And then you exploit that in the work that you do.
As you have composed the music for all your directorial ventures, does it give you an added vantage point when creating your films?
It’s actually the other way round. When I create my films it gives me the advantage to create the songs and music of my taste. I become my own master.
Is there any long-standing unfinished project that you would still like to attempt?
There are many, but I believe you don’t make the project. The project comes on its own and gets itself made through you. This couplet from Ghalib captures my feelings the best: Hazaaron khwahishen aisi ke har khwahish pe dam nikle, Bahut niklay mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikle [Thousands of desires do I harbour, each to die for; Though many did come to pass, not enough did].
How far do you think you have come since you began with Abhay (1995)? How have you changed since then?
My first film was actually Wahem (1987) in 1984 so it’s more than 35 years I have been in the industry. I think I have come a long way and I have been changing every year, every month, every moment. The learning never stops. The moment you think you know, you encounter failure. It’s like a mirage, you never reach the horizon. It always keeps shifting for you.
Which film album did you labour on the most? Which was the easiest?
Talvar (2015) was the most laborious since the subject inherently didn’t have scope for music but the producers wanted to release an album. Hence, to make the songs a part of a tragic crime thriller was the most challenging part. All others have been very easy since the script had the situations already worked out.
How do you stay inspired when it comes to music? What do you listen to?
Mainly I listen to Western classical and Indian classical. With regards to popular or good music, it reaches me through friends.
What is your process like during composition of the score and songs of your films? Do you pen down thoughts and ideas whenever they strike you?
As I write a script, many situations for music emerge and many a time I compose tunes while writing itself. Instead of penning them down I record them on my phone as voice notes and keep brushing them.
How do you handle the stress of reinventing yourself?
How did Delhi work on you, as you were from a small town?
How do you get these ideas and inspiration to make new films?
What is your mantra of life, which you would like to share?
How do you choose your actors? What do you look for in them?
Can you tell us about your special bond with singer Suresh Wadkar?
You have openly spoken about politics in your films, what do you think stops bollywood from expressing themselves?
Are you a fan of Tarantino or pulp-fiction ?
How was the journey from making music to making films?
In these completely loud and maddening films, is quite filmmaking an option?
There is a particular genre of movies, what is your definite cinematic style you would say?
Yon planned to make a Shakespearean trilogy. How did Haider came into picture?
How did ' Maqbool' happen?
How did Shakespeare's influence moulded your films?
How did stories and plays of Shakespeare inspired you?
Can you tell something about the Gulzar effect on your development as a filmmaker?
If you wish to make a romantic movie, what kind of movie would you like to work on?
Why did you take a break from Shakespearean stories in your films?
Do you feel that we have mature political cinema in India?
How would you explain your unusual style of filmmaking?
Music composer to film director how did the shift happen?
As a music director which was your first film?
How did you meet your wife Rekha Bhardwaj? How did she contributed to your music career?
You have a great influence of Gulzar in your career, how did ot help develop you as an music composer and film director?
A career in Ad agency, how did it happen?
How did you career as a music director start, initially?
How did music happen to you? Was it a hobby?
You lost your father at a very young age. How was your relationship with your father?
A lot happened in Delhi, Cricket ended for you, also you lost your father, any memories of that?
You played cricket Under-19, how was the experience?
After Meerut, you moved to Delhi how did this happen?
Meerut has changed a lot since 70's, any childhood memories you would like to share?
After moving to Meerut, how did cricket happen?
How was your childhood, growing up in a rural area?