Bard of Blood: Emraan Hashmi and Ribhu Dasgupta discuss the show's making, and what brought them on board
IT IS INTERESTING to see how Emraan Hashmi who was once known as ‘serial kisser of Bollywood’, owing to the roles that he played in the initial phase of his career, has reinvented himself as someone who is a risk-taker. Over the years, he received immense praise for his work in films like Shanghai, The Dirty Picture, Once Upon A Time In Mumbai, Ek Thi Daayan and recently released Tiger. As he joins hands with director Ribhu Dasgupta, the man who finds solace in thrillers and has directed films like Te3n and Michael, for Netflix’s Bard of Blood, Indulge sits down with them to understand more about the making of the seven-episode web-series that revolves around the story of a former RAW agent. Excerpts:
Q: What brought both of you on board for Bard of Blood?
Emraan Hashmi: For me, the journey started in 2015 when I launched the book. I remember reading the book at that point and loving it — it was extremely thrilling and a page-turner. I felt this should be adapted into a film but then we thought that if it is a film then a lot of imports are there, you have to put the masala and songs into it, jingoism will come into it and in the process, you might lose the essence of the book.
Four years later, Bilal (Siddiqi, the author) told me that it is getting adapted into a Netflix series. So, I was super excited for him and was actually throwing in ideas as to who will play this character well. One day, we were chatting about the shows that we are watching when he asked me if I would be interested in doing a Netflix original series and it took me five seconds to say yes. That very night, I was sent three episodes and I found them very interesting. Although they were still in their nascent stages, they had those cliffhanger moments.
Ribhu Dasgupta: When I read the book, I really loved it and found it to be a very pacey read. Also, I could actually visualise the terrain of Afghanistan and Balochistan. I could smell the soil... it was written so nicely. When I finished the book, I asked Bilal if they are making a film or a series. He told me they are making a series for Netflix and then they asked me if I would like to work on it. Some of the episodes that were written were shared with me. Bilal Siddiqi and Mayank Tiwari had done a wonderful job with the screenplay.
Q: This is your first web-series. What are some of the pros and cons of its format?
EH: The process is pretty much the same. It is just that the hours and the workload in the given time frame are different, and you have to shoot more footage. At the same time, I was a little anxious and curious to know how it would pan out because it was new terrain for me. But when I went to the second schedule, I was like this is not very different from films. The character’s arc might be longer but I just need to pinpoint the beginning, middle and end to be able to trace the character. What is testing here is that it doesn’t have a chronological shooting the way we don’t have with films. You might start off with a climax, which we did, so while going back and forth, you have a longer arc to trace. While in a film, you are like where was I two scene ago, here, I need to know where I was two episodes before to know the state of mind of the character.
RD: It is challenging. Every episode needs to have a cliffhanger. Binge-watching is a culture now, given the kind of content we see across the globe. So, the cliffhanger is a must for every episode. And, that’s where the writing comes. I personally feel that making the series is all about its writing and both Bilal and Mayank have done a wonderful job by creating those moments to end every episode.
Q: Emraan, what intrigues your interest in a script?
EH: It should be an engaging story. I like a journey which is full of conflicts, the character is driven, goal-oriented and is ambitious to achieve that goal. The ambition could be to be the best agent or make a lot of money. There should be something aspirational about it. Even antagonists are extremely charismatic and likeable because primarily there is a drive that they have that connects to a primal state that we have. Why is a character like Pablo Escobar from Narcos so likeable? You should hate the guy, he has killed so many people, right? But yet there is a part of you that roots for him because you take a deep interest in things like family values and there are circumstances, the environment that he has been brought up in, he is a part of it and he has to live up to that...
Q: So how do you prepare yourself for a character? Do you take scripts home?
EH: I can’t work without a script. I have refused films that have come to me without a script or directors who tell me that they don’t work with script because I, apart from the director, trust what is there on the page. That’s why I have to have a script and read it front and back and I prepare for it like I would do if it were a play. I like to take it home with me 15 days or a month prior to the shooting schedule. By the time we shoot, I know each and every dialogue from the first scene to the last without needing a look at the script.
Q: Was playing Kabir physically taxing?
EH: Yes, there is action and then getting used to Ladakh’s climate and learning how to catch those guns and how to take cover, how to use those guns and other military tactics were challenging. We used to take a day off before every big action sequence to choreograph it in terms of how we will run, who will join us when and how, how will we take cover, etc. Pre-production was very crucial here. There is a sequence where I am taking down eight people, it might look rigorous on paper but the way it was captured, it was shot in one shot and the choreography involved being on your toes to get it right.
Q: Ribhu, as a director, are you biased towards any character?
RD: I cannot be biased towards any character but Kabir ties the entire show and every character together. It is his narrative. It is a character-driven script and it is his voice and narrative.
Bard of Blood streams on Netflix.