Rangoon's Kangana-Shahid romance: Love blooms against harsh backdrops for Bhardwaj
It almost seems like the sun does not shine in Vishal Bhardwaj's films. Inkiness dominates his canvas, engulfing every inch of white. The most interesting part is that Bhardwaj comes across as that painter who would just stare at that kind of image and admire every bit of it.
Whether it is the Mumbai underworld in Maqbool, the Uttar Pradesh political turmoil in Omkara or the terror-stricken Kashmir in Haider, all his films are set against the backdrop of a tragedy. But unlike Ram Gopal Varma's craft, which is gritty and dispiriting, Bhardwaj's films are driven by hope, warmth and a strong undertone of romance.
Peace amidst chaos, light amidst darkness and humour amidst violence — Bhardwaj juggles these contrasts effortlessly. He is the Raju from Mera Naam Joker who comforts you with the pain in his craft and the melancholy masked by a wish to amuse.
However, more than Raju, his style is in coherence with that of William Shakespeare. The playwright mastered the genre of tragicomedy with his 'problem plays' that had overtones of violence, terror and conflict and undertones of humour, love and compassion. All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure are great examples.
Bhardwaj's Maqbool, an adaptation of Macbeth, saw the character of Tabu strike a balance between comedy and tragedy with a submissive authority. Well aware of the fact that her master is a notorious underworld don, she drifts towards his faithful right hand Maqbool, played by Irrfan Khan. However, instead of choosing to distance herself from the realm of crime courtesy her new lover, she instead pushes him to kill and dethrone his master. Her character is engineered in a way that it finds solace in the company of darkness and is not willing to do away with it for the sake of greener pastures.
Bhardwaj's music also echoes this symbiotic relationship between tragedy and romance. The song 'O Saathi Re' from Omkara (adaptation of Othello), though romantic in nature, has a rather interesting texture. It is intoned in such a manner that all the lines project a descending graph, announcing the arrival of an impending bad omen, lurking behind the bed.
Similarly, Haider, his adaptation of Hamlet, depicts Shahid Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor's characters embrace each other in times of crisis, in the backdrop of the dismal, harsh, cold Kashmiri mountains. However, their warmth lends them a sense of consolation. Also, having lost her husband and living the life of a half-widow for years, Tabu's character falls even for her son as he is the only prized 'possession' she is left with in terror-torn Kashmir. The Oedipus complex angle in the film is not incidental but resounds with the fact that we always have a loved one to cling on to even if we feel like we have lost the instinct to love.
His upcoming film, Rangoon also has shades of this theme. The song 'Yeh Ishq Hai' aesthetically shows the therapeutic relationship that Shahid and Kangana Ranaut's characters share. In one glimpse, they are seen mud wrestling with each other, and in another, they embrace each other in the comfort of dirt.
The themes that Bhardwaj plays with are complex in the conventional sense. But if we simplify them a little, we can draw a parallel between them and the situation of losing a loved one. It feels like we have lost a part of ourselves but it makes us more prepared to come to terms with our eventuality. Also, we tend to cherish our loved ones even more. Thus, a tragedy, if taken in a certain spirit, is a crucial step towards both finding love and self-discovery.
Thus, Bhardwaj enjoys every drop of dark ink that he sprinkles on his canvas. But, not in the capacity of a sadist. He is a foresighted individual who knows how to spark love within amidst an atmosphere loaded with hatred. As he leaves you with his canvas in an unlit room, he ensures the door is kept ajar so that you gain enough light to marvel at his masterpiece.