No Holds Bard
Getting under the skin of the man who proves cinema belongs to everyone.
In 1988, Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski made a series of ten films about the Ten Commandments, using highly polished allegory to explore meanings and interpretations of each of the Commandments, while looking at the hardships evident in contemporary Polish life. The great director used a different cinematographer for each of the ten one-hour films, and the project created for television went on to become the master filmmaker’s best known work, surpassing even his pathbreaking Three Colours trilogy.
The series is called The Dekalog, and it is a collective of DVDs Indian cinema should be eternally thankful for, largely because a music composer born in Bijnor felt his jaw drop as he watched the films, realising the inexorability of his passion for the medium. Cinema is the most visceral of artistic formats, and it is a stunning testimony to its universality that a man untrained in the art form but propelled by his own awestruck reach towards greatness is now Indian cinema’s finest cinematic craftsman.
Vishal Bhardwaj is 48, just about the age that Kieslowski was when those ten films first made it to the world a couple of decades ago. I sit across from the director in his Bombay apartment as assistants and family chime in with wardrobe suggestions, moments before he has to leave for an interview. He speaks exasperatedly about how it takes more energy to promote a film than to make it, apologizing to pause between sentences to take calls fobbing off actresses, the sort popular enough to be unmistakable just by their first names. For everyone, repeat everyone, wants to be in one of his movies.
His latest film is a couple of Fridays away from release, and the explosively titled Kaminey does not look anything like what Bhardwaj, over the years, has lulled us into expecting from him. This is a director who has earned himself the title of Bollywood’s Bard by inventively adapting Bill Shakespeare’s immortal plays into very earthy Indian cinema, and one who has crafted some gems of children’s cinema in a country which regrettably ignores the genre. His last take on Othello is considered one of the finest modern films made, and critics and audiences have been earnestly craving a third Shakespearean act.
Instead, unpredictable as ever, the usually literary Bhardwaj’s newest offering is as pulp as fiction can be. Kaminey, loosely translated as Knaves, or Rascals, is a story of twin brothers with speech defects, a slick and handheld caper film set over madcap events taking place over one day, with an authentic romance squeezed in between the lines of cocaine. It looks at Bollywood cliché and turns it on its head while revelling in it, and promises to be far cleverer than standard theatrical fare. Dhan te na!
“Everyone wants to make a caper film,” Vishal trills excitedly as we clamber aboard his SUV to trek from suburban home to suburban studio. “At least once. Like everyone wants to make a gangster film, or have their own take on The Godfather. It’s such a juicy genre, yaar.” It is also a genre well suited to Bhardwaj, a director who balances violence with poetry with ease, deftly walking the unlikely tightrope between the ultraviolent cinema of Takashi Miike and the subtle nuances of a Gulzar romance. “I was really inspired by Tarantino’s films, Guy Ritchie. That was the space. In that I had to hunt up something original, do something that hasn’t been done before.”