In his own quiet way, he has found his niche in the hurly-burly of Bollywood, garnering acclaim for his melodious music as well as his films, which include Saat Khoon Maaf, Kaminey, Omkara and Maqbool. His latest, 'top secret' production Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola, is already keeping cinewatchers guessing about what he has up his sleeve.
She, on the other hand is known for her fabulous voice, though her daring rendition of Namak ishq ka has overshadowed her more classical numbers.
Alike, yet different, they make a compellingly watchable couple. Rekha Bhardwaj talks without stops about Vishal Bharadwaj.
You do seem rather different from each other temperamentally. What brought you together?
In a way, it was music. And the fact that we were in the same college. But mostly, the bond between us was the crazy streak we both had, perhaps still have.
We met in 1984, at Delhi University. I was in Music Hons, and Vishal was in Arts. I was a year senior, and was quite well known, as I would take part in all the college music cultural functions. We met at an annual day function. He planned to sing some songs by Jagjit Singh and Pankaj Udhas on stage. He was rehearsing, so was I.
Somehow we got together, and then the crazy streak took over. We would laugh a lot, over nothing. But music proved to be the real bond.
What was he like?
He would compose music even then, and was quite lost in that. I liked the soulfulness of his compositions, though there were not many embellishments. His classical training started much later, when he started listening to the ghazals of Mehdi Hassan.
And you, on the other hand were a student of classical music. How did that work for him?
I had the training of the Indore Gharana. Serious stuff. And that gave me a sense of pride. I was straight forward, critical, almost badtameez. I would react loudly to his compositions with my views.
Did it bother him?
Not really. He was always a patient man, and he realised I was classically trained. I could influence him in that way.
His strength was his poetry, He'd started reading Gulzar while still in school, and knew most of his work by heart . He could recite freely from Dr Basheer Badr's long poem. In college, he would also compose a lot of poetry, and I had nothing to criticise in that sphere.
Why did you two move to Bombay? Was it films that beckoned?
He went through a terribly tough time. His father and brother were in Bombay: his father was a lyricist, brother was a producer here. His brother suddenly died of a heart attack, when Vishal was in the second year. He went through a tough time after that. From 1990 to 1995, we struggled a lot. But today when I look back, I think our days of struggle were the best days.
How did things change? What changed?
Meeting Gulzar changed our lives. He got his break. First, Jungle Book, then Matchis. Gulzar treats him like his own son. Because of Gulzar so much in our life changed for the better, including our perspective. Gulzar used to tell him, "Be patient, have success on your terms."
They still share a very close relationship, is it not?
They are like father and son. They understand the language of silence, of being silent together.
How is Vishal's relationship with others?
He is very sensitive, he values a relationship, be it with me, or his mother, or his team members. He has the ability to make a difference in people's lives without being asked.
But as a creative person, is he slow and steady or volatile?
When he is creating, he breathes it, lives it, be it a song or a scene. If he reads a story he likes, he will talk endlessly about it. He will be excited, want to share it with me, with his assistants. If he has a song on his mind and cannot sleep, he will wake me up and sing it. It is so complete an involvement that I have to take on responsibility for other aspects of his life.
But that is a wife's lot, is it not?
It might be, but it does irritate me at times. I think I am to blame. I have spoilt him. He can't see anything not connected with his work. The kerchief will be in front of his eyes, and he won't see it till I give it to him.
Only now that we are travelling so much, he is learning to be a bit more independent. I don't mind his dependency, but I am a creative person too...I think I expected him to also take care of the small things for me, but now I have learnt not to expect. It has done away with all the pain and anger and irritation I went through. Accepting that he is the way he is makes for mental peace.
Has money ever been an issue? You have lived through lean days...
Both of us have been brought up to believe that words, music and language are more important than worldly things. Today, however, he takes care of all basics for me and my son, and he takes care of his mother too. We have lived with no money and yet been happy, but it is easier when we have the money of course. He does feel the pressure as has a unit of 300 people who depend on him. Sometimes when he gets angry, I realise it is the pressure. And he needs to vent. He also knows I can take it.
Our needs are few. We travel in comfort, a/c, business class, once a year. If we can afford it, fine, or we don't go. For 15 years we have lived in rented apartments. For us it is more important to be together.
What about creative differences of opinion?
We are both people with strong opinions, and it is difficult to accept each other's opinions. I am the singer, he is the composer, but sometimes the line is crossed.
Sometimes, though, he gives me the freedom to interpret. He used to push me, beyond where I wanted to go. I would get upset, feel a complex, and say, "You don't care." But now I realise that he was trying to improve me.
Do you get the first right to sing his songs?
I get to hear his compositions first. He takes my opinion on them, which I give freely. Whether he heeds it or not, is another matter. But I have never asked for a song, never will dare to, even if I feel inside me that I can do it justice.
His clarity of vision will not permit me to ask. Yet, he did take a chance when he gave me Namak Ishq Ka. I was humming it, and he realised it could work well in my voice. He took the risk. I trust him in such matters since he knows best.
You have a son. What sort of father is Vishal?
Doting. Gives him full freedom to express himself. Vishal has financed his short films, his home music console. And after his 12th boards, Aasman will go to film school. He will have everything he needs for his creative growth. It makes us happy.
What are his ambitions for himself? And yours?
Gulzar once told him, "Once you excel, you must move to next level." He lives by that. I find it is not an easy ride with him because he is so perfect, wanting to excel in everything he does. It gives me a complex. In the beginning it was very tough to accept this, but now I tell myself, I cannot be him. I must be myself.
Any regrets now?
None, really. It has been lovely to grow together.