Interview with Vishal Bharadwaj

Vishal Bharadwaj – film director, writer and musical composer. As a young man, he wanted to be a cricketer. He recorded his first music piece in 1984 but got recognition and won fame with Maachis. Maachis went on to become a top seller for Pan Music and earned Vishal the Filmfare R D Burman Award in 1996. Maqbool changed Vishal’s fortune, so much so that he could work with the desired starcast, have the desired budget for his film. He shares with the experience of making Omkara and his obsession with Shakespeare.

How did you stumble upon Shakespeare?
It was a while ago in school when it was though Merchant of Venice that I chanced upon Shakespeare and used to wonder and then curse myself for having to read the complicated thou thee language. However at that time my perspective of looking at things was different.

When did you want to change?
Recently I was travelling and a child next to me had a book called Shakespeare Tales. This book had a short synopsis on al his works. Macbeth was absolutely dramatic. So I bought Macbeth and read it and decided that I should make a film on it. Around this time I also heard that Gulzar Saab’s Angoor was based on Comedy of Errors. I was then keen to make Macbeth into a film as it was very dramatic

Will you complete a trilogy of Shakespeare?
Yes, in future definitely. Any Shakespeare’s play can get adapted in the Indian scenario. Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Tempest are all interesting stuff. I can live my whole life making films on Shakespeare’s work.

A comedy?
Why not? It could be Midsummer Night’s Dream. I don’t know. I just want to take a break now.

Did you have to buy the copyrights of Shakespeare’s Othello?
No. Shakespeare’s plays are out of copyright. Why do you think I keep picking up his plays over and over again, without any fear?

If Shakespeare was still alive?
(Confused) I would have….what would I have done? I would ask him to write my script.

You were already a music director. So what made you turn into a director?
When I stopped getting work as a music director I thought I should turn a director to run my house. But I must say that I worked really hard towards it. I attended a lot of international film festivals and saw international films, I read a lot of books on film direction. I directed two short films for a channel and that’s where I felt that I was a pathetic writer. So I learnt scripting because script is the core of this medium.

Was there no way you could cast Irfaan Khan and Pankaj Kapoor in Omkara?
They are such brilliant actors that they can play any role excellently. But Ajay, Saif and Viviek they were my first choice. I wanted to work with Saif, I wanted to give him a different look I wanted to give him a role that he has never played. These were the challenges I wanted to take up. I wanted to work with the mainstream actors and present them in a different way.

You were star struck to cast them?
Even when I was making Maqbool I wanted to cast the stars but at that time they were not willing to work with me. If tomorrow I become a superstar after the release of Omkara, nd money is generated on my name then obviously my choices will be different.

Dolly’s role played by Kareena is something that even a newcomer could have played, then how did you zero down on her?
I had liked Kareena’s performance in Yuva and I realized that she has a rare combination of beauty and talent. I needed a beautiful Desdemona to play this role and I didn’t have the time for auditions. Moreover Kareena was interested in working with me, then why not cast her?

One could have never imagined Saif as a villain. What made you cast him?
I wanted to shock the audience with his look and performance. I wanted to give Saif a mean and creepy look like Gabbar Singh. He had an anglicised accent though, but he worked really hard towards it. He used to sit with me for 2 hours daily, 20 days proper to the shoot.

You were also contemplating for O Saathi Re as the title for Omkara. Why?
Ajay wanted Omkara. Kumar ji wanted O Saathi Re. Saif was always in two minds. But I always wanted Omkara only. O Saathi Re sounded like a movie of 70’s. Firstly I wanted Omkara because of the O sound which would match Othello. Besides I also wanted it to be named on the lead character, like in Othello.

Are you enjoying being a director?
Of course. It gives me a sense of high and boosts my ego. This medium belongs to him. The director is like the master and everyone else is a slave. It’s the director who decides my characters will speak like this, my music will be like this. Of course he is bound by the producer. So very soon I want to turn a producer and dictate my self as a producer also.

So how does Vishal the master treat Vishal the music director?
There I play a split personality. If my team likes my music I say thanks. If they say they do not like it, then I say director Vishal wants it. This time I really wanted to bounce back as a director so I worked hard towards it. I consciously wanted to create music for masses and wanted to generate sales.

Your actors say that they had to practice hard to get the dialogues right. So do you think the audience will find it difficult to comprehend?
This language is easily understandable but a little tough to speak. Especially for the actors who have not lived in that part of the country. Even Lagaan had a dialect but nobody had difficulty understanding the language and the film, although they may have felt a little lost in the initial 10 – 15 minutes.

What response did Omkara receive at Cannes?
The response was very good, they all knew of Othello. I think Omkara will see a good opening in the overseas also.

What about your film Mr. Mehta & Mrs. Singh?
That project got shelved earlier due to creative differences between Aamir and me. But the script is still lying with me, so the decision to make the film is up to me. Once Omkara is done with I will sit peacefully and decide.