Project 365: Day 89 — Happy birthday Vishal Bhardwaj!

I can’t say I’m one of those people who voraciously consume films. I do, however, love catching the films of certain directors. Vishal Bhardwaj is one of my favourite directors. He never ceases to surprise me with his unique blend of filmmaking. True, most of his films have been adaptations of books or plays, Shakespearean plays in particular. But he positions his stories against a larger backdrop — political power struggles in the case of Omkara (the adaptation of Othello), Mafia wars in the case of Maqbool (adapted from Macbeth) or the Kashmir unrest in the case of Haider (Hamlet).

He’s a brilliant filmmaker that has taken otherwise average actors to the next levels, and these are A-list star kids who’ve otherwise got a chip on their shoulders. He’s extracted solid performances out of them, something not every director can do. Like Shahid Kapoor has had an otherwise lacklustre career with the exception of Jab We Met perhaps. But evaluate his performances in Haider and Kaminey and you know it takes a master to extract that bit of genius from an actor. Haider is a personal favourite and every other frame of Haider reeks of genius, even references to directors and soundtracks here and there.

He also enjoys the unique distinction of having been a music director for a few years before he became an actor. I was reading this interview conducted by journalist and film critic Raja Sen with Bhardwaj; this must have been over seven years ago, given that Kaminey was just about to release to audiences. I marvelled at the kind of effort the man puts into his work, both as the director of the film and as music composer. Sample this —

“What happens is that always before shooting, I make a mix of the song in my own voice, picturise it and then come back and dub. I don’t use the original artists till much later, unless it’s a sync song. This saves a lot of time and the song is still being made, and because it’s my composition I can sing it quicker. I sing all the songs, male and female parts, and its a reference to the singer later, so he or she knows what expression to give it, how it should be sung. But as people listen to it on the sets, they start liking it, and then when I change the voice they say your version was better. Which embarrasses me, because I really don’t want to be a singer.”

He’s truly taken Indian cinema to a completely different level. I know I shouldn’t be comparing two greats; it’s blasphemy I know. But between Anurag Kashyap and Vishal Bhardwaj, I think the latter’s style just hits home more often. His only miss till date is probably the half-baked Saat Khoon Maaf. It wasn’t very good in the second half. Kashyap’s a little more self-indulgent in that sense, he’s made good films, but he lacks the kind of restraint Bhardwaj has. Bhardwaj rarely goes overboard, he did with Saath Khoon Maaf.

I could go on and on about Bhardwaj. He really is the filmmaker we need in times of grave censorship like we’re currently seeing in India. I am really kicked about his upcoming film, Rangoon. It has Shahid Kapoor again, aside from Kangna Ranaut and Saif Ali Khan; the latter was great as Langda Tyagi in Omkara.

So, happy birthday ‘Mr. Bardwaj’! You’re truly a wonderful helmer of films, composer of music, puller of casting coups and a ruddy brilliant man in general… Happy, happy birthday!

On his birthday, I’d like to leave you with a lovely song from Kaminey. It used to be my favourite for a while back in the day.

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