Breaking Bard: Vishal Bhardwaj’s Shakespearean Trilogy

In early 2000s, when a music director, known mostly for his work in niche Hindi films, began travelling to festivals for his exposure to international cinema, he chanced upon his nephew reading a “children’s version” of Shakespeare’s works. Little did he know that what began as a leisurely reading exercise, would, almost a decade and a half later, culminate into one of the most accomplished trilogies on Shakespearean literature ever.

What is interesting to note here is that what the world saw as a master stroke, with the Kingdom of Scotland being replaced by Mumbai’s underworld and the witches by corrupt policemen, to contemporarize Macbeth, was born largely out of ignorance. Had the creator felt intimidated by Shakespeare’s standing in world literature then perhaps we wouldn’t have witnessed this ‘chutzpah’ in his adaptations.

Today when we see Vishal Bhardwaj’s Maqbool, Omkara & Haider, unless told otherwise, we might not even think of them as adaptations of Macbeth, Othelo and Hamlet respectively. As his frequent collaborator, Gulzaar, points out “Vishal simply uses the name of Shakespeare for marketing gimmick. They are all but original works” This remark garbed with sarcasm is perhaps the best compliment one can give to his trilogy. 

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

 

“Shakti ka santulan”

Like most trilogies, it is very easy to notice a similarity in the screen-writing pattern in all the 3 movies. We are already familiar with the names of his characters sounding similar to the ones in the play (Gertrude becomes Ghazala, Iago becomes Ishwar ‘Langda’ Tyagi). The supernatural elements get conveniently replaced with their contemporary avatars (King Hamlet’s “ghost”  becomes a man carrying Ghost IDs – aptly named Roohdaar). The major plot points in the play always make way into the final adaptation (Desdemona’s handkerchief makes way for Dolly Mishra’s Kamarbandh but nevertheless remains pivotal to the final doom)

The "grave-digger" scene from the play & the film
The “grave-digger” scene from the play & the film

However, the similarity does extend to minor character peculiarities as well. The central character always gets a closely cropped haircut (while Irrfan & Saif got a Caesar cut, we saw Shahid’s head getting a complete shave-off). There is slight touch of an english song or a phrase to add the quirk to a narrative rolling out mostly in local dialect (much before the wordplay between Chutzpah & AFSPA we saw Kareena’s hindi medium educated Dolly learning to sing ‘I just called to say’ for Omkara always addressed as ‘My dear O’ in her love-letters).

And if you thought we had exhausted all the points, take note of how every romantic ballad, between the lead pair, paves way for the first in the series of events that would finally culminate into the tragic climax. (Nimmi lays the germ of killing Abbaji in Maqbool’s mind after ‘Rone Do’ | Indu steals the cummerbund towards the end of ‘O Saathi Re’ | Haider discloses his plan of avenging his father’s death to Arshia after ‘Khul Kabhi To’)

There might be many more similarities. We just need to keep looking!

 

“Ya to tu bahut badi lool hai. Ya bahut badi chudail.”

The two-faced Shakespearean lady
The two-faced Shakespearean lady

When Haider looks at his mother’s reflection on a broken mirror, split into two, he rightly points out her two-faced nature. The classic Shakespearean lady, whose desires and ambitions always leads to the crime. And it is her guilt of the same that consumes everyone at the end.

Does she really love her husband’s godson or is she simply looking for a means of escape from her sexless and hapless life? Why does she steal the cummerbund at the slightest prodding of her husband, without questioning him about it?  How can she, still a half-widow, sit and smile beside her new lover, basking in the glory of his electoral win; or are those dark glasses concealing her guilt-ridden eyes?

She is also the innocent victim, torn between her loved ones. She might scream out to push away her enemy. But mostly she weeps and surrenders – taking away her own life or letting her loved one take it away from her.

 

“Bewakoof aur ch***ye mein dhaage bhar ka fark hota hai”

Vishal really indulges himself in fleshing out the minor characters in Shakespeare’s play. The witches, the spies, the courtiers are not just mere sidekicks in larger scheme of things. They are instrumental in influencing the protagonists, taking the story forward and also providing the much needed comic relief in what everyone knows is going to end up in a tragedy.

Naseer & Om’s Pandit & Purohit in Maqbool, Deepak Dobriyal’s Rajju in Omkara and, the latest addition, Salman & Salman, played by Sumit Kaul & Rajat Bhagat, in Haider have some of the best written scenes in the film for them.

If it has been a while since you watched Omkara, we can recap one such scene for you.

And to all those raving on the performance of the two Salmans in Haider here is a small scene from the film for you.

 

“Hummara ishq to paak tha naa miyaan”

What is it in the forbidden love, that attracts us so strongly towards it? The very boundaries of relationship that one is expected to safeguard, end up getting violated first. It inebriates us with such a toxic strength that the lines of right and wrong get blurred.

The different shades of forbidden love
The different shades of forbidden love

Why else would Maqbool end up putting bullets into his Godfather when he has risked his entire life saving him from those very bullets? What came over Dolly to defy her father and elope from her own marriage for a hard-core criminal, lower to her in both caste and status? Was Ghazala actually in love with her brother-in-law or was just running away from her son lest she starts reciprocating his Oedipus complex?

The forbidden love doesn’t expect the world to understand it. It is continuously judged and condemned, but it continues to be giving till its last breath. Sometimes it is in form of a last peck to her son to salvage his years of desire before blowing oneself up to quench his thirst for vengeance. Other times it is just abject surrender to one’s beloved only to be smothered by him on your wedding night. As mentioned, it continues to be giving till its last breath.

 

“Hum hain ki hum nahin”

Last, but not the least, Vishal’s films are also about existential crisis. A half-brahmin continuously jostles with those who have been ridiculing his caste to gain power over them. His second-in-command forgets years of friendship when what rightfully belongs to him is usurped away by a greenhorn only because of differences in their social standing. His insecurities are not very different from a Mumbai gangster who continuously feels threatened by a lad much younger to him simply because he is soon going to qualify as his Godfather’s son-in-law. And in a world much more complex than theirs, millions of Kashmiris take sides in a war for reasons that are anything but ideological. Some are avenging the death of their closed ones. Others are following their lines of duty. Most of them are confused and are willing to sideline with anyone who can promise them safety and purpose in lives.

While love, greed, lust and redemption remain integral to the plot, it is the continuous struggle towards protecting one’s own existence that forms the core of all of Vishal’s stories. It propels them to do the unthinkable only to realize the truth when it’s too late. The truth that recurs in all the 3 movies. Whether it is by showing Maqbool giving up arms at the sight of his son being adopted by his enemy or by having Haider forgive his uncle to honor his mother’s last wishes. The truth- that has been articulated with great simplicity in Haider “Jab tak hum Inteqam se aazaad nahi ho jaate… koi Aazaadi humein aazaad nahi kar sakti”.

Here is leaving you all with the Faiz Ahmed Faiz song that is played through the movie. Set to music by Mehdi Hasan, it is the first instance of Vishal using someone else’s composition for his films. “Chale bhi aao ki gulshan ka karobaar chale……”

Hola Venky (2014) Movie Review: Of Brain, Heart & Groin

The official synopsis of Hola Venky on IMDB reads “A Techie’s journey from ‘his groin to his heart’, that takes him from Mumbai all the way to the City by the Bay”.  Before we delve any further, here is a look at the Official Trailer of the film.Continue reading “Hola Venky (2014) Movie Review: Of Brain, Heart & Groin”

Innuendo: An Indie Film from Bangalore

“A film is neither good nor bad. It is always an extension of the film maker. So just like an individual, film too has many shades to it”. This is something Arvind Kamath told me at the Film Making Workshop hosted by IIT Madras in 2012 when we met for the first time. I however understood this completely only when I saw his indie venture Innuendo. Here is the trailer of the film.Continue reading “Innuendo: An Indie Film from Bangalore”

The Making of ‘Gutthi’: Part-II

My Producer Rahul Reddy (extereme R) with some people from Industry whom we could show the film at Stuttgart
My Producer Rahul Reddy (extereme R) with some people from Industry whom we could show the film at Stuttgart

I still remember the night of 24th  February, 2012, when we held a private screening of ‘Gutthi’ at Prasad Labs in Hyderabad. Apart from friends and short film enthusiasts, a few Telugu film industry artistes had also come to the event. Watching your film on big screen with a theater full of audience is perhaps the most magical moment you can ever experience in your life. Surprisingly, your audience gets ‘everything’ that you wanted to convey. And on top of that, they also enjoy those moments which you never thought had any importance in the overall plot.Continue reading “The Making of ‘Gutthi’: Part-II”

The Making of ‘Gutthi’: Part -I

EXT. “IN FRONT OF SOMEBODY’S HOUSE” 3 AM

    Me
” Lights. Camera….”
D.O.P.
“Rolling….”

Sound of police jeep siren intervenes.

All (In unison)
Arey band karo yaaron. Mama logaan aa gaye

For next 20 minutes the entire crew lies low. Not even a sound of breath. I impatiently look towards the sky. There was only an hour left for the crack of dawn. More than half of the scenes scheduled for the night were yet to be shot.

Me
“Why are we wasting time. We can bribe the police and get started with shooting”

Pallavi (Executive Producer)

“That won’t be possible”

Me

“Why? Just because we haven’t taken permission and are shooting before somebody’s house.”

Pallavi

“No. Because we haven’t taken permission and are shooting before an MLA’s house !”

Gutthi_PosterMy only prior experience with cinema was shooting a couple of short films during Engg. College.  For me movie making was all about having a story in place, finding out actors (friends) who could spare time for me (besides dinner at the nearest best restaurant) and getting someone’s camera (begging/ borrowing a digicam at the last moment) for shooting. I was thus a little taken aback when Rahul (my producer) & Pallavi (my executive producer) started holding auditions for casting in my film.Continue reading “The Making of ‘Gutthi’: Part -I”

Ladies we Loved & Lost

‘Lost’ is a hyperbole. None of them have passed away. But we certainly lost them to a plethora of options available around us – options that are merely entertaining but are passed off as talent.

While the story holds true many deserving people in the Hindi film industry – actors and technicians alike – I just picked a few actresses who came into limelight during early 2000s. It was definitely the start of a change in Bollywood in terms of content and execution. The Kashyaps and Bharadwajs were beginning to find their ground and were looking for new faces as the old ones were too obsessed with their returns on investments.

Some of the fresh faces found lasted for more than a few films while others bit the dust too early. But sadly enough, none of them had the longevity in the industry, I thought they would. Here are my top 5 picks:Continue reading “Ladies we Loved & Lost”

In Conversation with Producer Ronnie Lahiri: "Madras Cafe would be an experience the Indian audience has never had before"

In a candid interview to MadAboutMoviez, producer of Madras Cafe, Mr. Ronnie Lahiri, shared with us his experience of making the film and told us why it would be different from run-of-the mill stuff movies.

What is Madras Cafe all about?

Madras Cafe is an espionage political thriller with settings and backdrop in Sri Lanka. ‘Madras Cafe’- the place- plays a central character in the film and the whole plot revolves around it. Hence the title.

Given its massive scale, how did you manage to keep the film tight-budgeted?

Well with good planning one can control the costs. We have been in the advertising business for 15-16 years. So we did maximum possible optimization of resources. We did not spend on frills. Only on what could be seen. With our Production Designer and VFX Team we had visualized how exactly the film would be and spent on what was required for the film rather than food and luxury.Continue reading “In Conversation with Producer Ronnie Lahiri: "Madras Cafe would be an experience the Indian audience has never had before"”

"I create order & design to achieve a perfectly working illusion of spontaneity"- Anand Gandhi

In early 2000s, NDTV Profit aired a T.V. programme where short films were shown and discussed over with the film maker himself. It was my introduction to the format and was fascinated by the stories and concepts in those films. However, only one film stayed with me over all these years- Anand Gandhi’s Right Here Right Now. (please watch the short if you still haven’t: part 1 | part 2)Continue reading “"I create order & design to achieve a perfectly working illusion of spontaneity"- Anand Gandhi”

What Raanjhanaa teaches us about Love in India

This is not a review. Far better posts have been written analyzing how Sonam could have performed better, Rahman’s compositions could have been more soulful and second half should not have taken the political twist.

raanjhanaa_masand_630I personally connected with the film totally and have no complaints at all. My solo defense for second half is that it would have been much easier for the writers to take a conventional route post interval. [Spoliers Ahead] Like keeping Jasjit alive and make Kundan work towards getting him and Zoya together. Or make Zoya realize what she had been overlooking and fall for Kundan towards the end of the film. But life, unfortunately, always puts us in a situation to which we have no answers. And we just drift along the flow. That’s what the two protagonists do in the second half. It is much easier to harm oneself- slitting wrists, drinking kerosene.; true love demands penance – complete surrender of oneself – despite continuous rejection & humiliation. And that is where Raanjhanaa scores !

But as I said earlier this is not a review. I just want to take a look at various facets of love through the prism of Raanjhanaa and underscore a few lessons that the film might have conveyed but got overshadowed in other discussions.Continue reading “What Raanjhanaa teaches us about Love in India”