Filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj reveals how he discovered Shakespeare on a train journey
Vishal Bhardwaj’s trilogy — Maqbool (Macbeth), Omkara (Othello) and Haider (Hamlet) — adapted to the screen is known to have introduced William Shakespeare to the Hindi speaking audience in India. For the music director-filmmaker-poet who grew up in the company of poet Bashir Badr, reading the likes of Premchand, Kabir and Rahim, stumbling upon Shakespeare was no less than a big discovery.
The Bard moment
“Honestly, like the masses, I thought literature is boring. I was not acquainted with English literature at all,” admits Vishal. The filmmaker was travelling with his godson on a train from Dehradun to Delhi, when he read Macbeth for the first time. “I had nothing to do, I asked him if he had anything to read, and he gave me the abridged version of Shakespeare’s tales. Macbeth was just five-six pages long, but that story hit me. When I came back to Mumbai, I ordered the book and read the play again and again. I read all the critical analyses and watched all the screen adaptations. I discovered Shakespeare on a train,” reveals Vishal.
Apart from Shakespeare’s work, Vishal has adapted many literary texts to film. In fact, his upcoming film Patakha, is based on a short story by Charan Singh Pathik. “I had read it in Sahitya Akademi’s literary magazine. I wanted to make a film but it was a short story. I approached the writer and we worked on it together,” explains Vishal.
The filmaker is known to bring the best and the worst of relationships and characters who portray extreme emotions of love and hate. When asked what drives him to work on such topics, he says, “Love and hate are two sides of the same coin. You can love and hate the same person with the same intensity. If someone says he or she has only love for you, then that person is lying. We are an embodiment of opposites. We are like water and fire. We are capable of doing exactly the opposite of what we are feeling today, and that’s what reflects in my characters.”
Vishal’s films have always featured some of the best actors from the industry. His female characters have always made a mark, from Tabu in Maqbool and Haider, Kareena Kapoor Khan in Omkara to Priyanka Chopra in Kaminey and 7 Khoon Maaf. But it’s specially Priyanka who seems to have impressed Vishal — he has also dedicated a poem (Minnat) to her in his first book of poems, Nude, that was featured at the Bengaluru Poetry Festival earlier this week.“Priyanka is a very intelligent woman. She is sincere, passionate and a solid actor,” says Vishal, adding, “Tabu is a fun person. She writes poetry and has a lot of depth. She’s very observant and really works hard, yet she remains spontaneous.
The filmmaker, who has been writing since childhood, was more of a closet poet. So when Nude was published this year in January, it did come as a surprise. It was on the insistence of his close friend and mentor, the poet-lyricist-filmmaker, Gulzar, that Vishal penned his thoughts.
But before it was published, Vishal says, there was a tiff between him and Gulzar over the title. “I wanted to name my book Nanga (naked in Hindi). But Gulzaar saab got really miffed... he said, ‘Please don’t spread the gandagi (dirt) of your films and dialogues with the title of this book.’ I called him back after a few days and suggested Naked since my poems are naked in thought. He said the reference to the thought is okay, but the title needed to be more poetic. Then he suggested Nude. Since ‘nude’ is also an art form, this title was apt,” he signs off.