Rangoon is a love story, but of a heightened, melodramatic nature: Director Vishal Bhardwaj
Rangoon director Vishal Bhardwaj talks to Firstpost about his unique brand of cinema, aesthetics and his latest love story, Kangana Ranaut, Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan
For someone who is in the midst of a court case over Rangoon, director Vishal Bhardwaj is remarkably as Zen as the Buddha statue in his office cabin. The canvas of his cinema has always been unique to Bollywood, with its occasional Tarantino influence, cheeky humour, political comment, fascinating characters and music more heady than tequila. Who better than this auteur to make a romance-musical set in the 1940s?
Excerpts from a chat:
Your film has just released. Nervous?
It’s a peculiar feeling. I don’t feel anxious and I don’t want to feel excited.
Why is that?
Because it’s better not to identify with your success. Then you would have to identify with — God forbid — (your) failure.
Do you fear failure?
No, but I do feel sad like anyone else, momentarily. The fear starts when you are writing and reaches its peak when the film is releasing. I have seen so many great filmmakers make very bad films at some point, barring masters like Satyajit Ray or Steven Spielberg. If the fear is not there, you will definitely fail.
Do you think a filmmaker’s passion borders upon indulgence at times?
A filmmaker would not be a filmmaker if he is not indulgent. He has to be indulgent. Otherwise why would you put yourself through such a hard life — from writing to getting funds to handling actors’ tantrums? You have to shoot, re-shoot, get the background score, manage 300 people, edit, go through many drafts. Whether or not someone likes it, you have to be indulgent. You are overindulgent if you stop listening to others or your own self. You suppress that voice which cautions you.
Has that happened to you?
Yes. In Saat Khoon Maaf, I should not have cut Irrfan’s story by 20 minutes, which was written in pure poetry.
With ideas as ambitious as yours, is the execution difficult?
You have to keep adapting to the reality. Sometimes you have to shrink your imagination, sometimes you have to expand it. Like the homes in winter in Delhi, where there is no sunlight…how do you convey that? It’s easy to convey through poetry but it’s very difficult in cinema to capture the image and convey the subtle feeling of a cold house in winter…the melancholy.
In Haider, the landscape does reflect the sombre, haunting mood. How do you choose such locations, which become characters by themselves?
I look for a good backdrop that helps in showing the internal conflict of the characters and the drama.
Your characters are deeply layered. How do you handle the most complicated emotions — like the Oedipus complex in Haider?
I managed that partly because the actors were comfortable and they had an understanding and trust in me. Like Tabu kisses Shahid on the lips and you don’t feel awkward about it. The character also has to feel it from within and nobody objected to that scene.
How did you make it so acceptable ?
The basic intention of filmmaker goes across. If the intention is corrupt or noble or somewhere between corrupt and noble, that too will show on screen. The filmmaker is completely naked on screen, emotionally.
You mentioned stars’ tantrums. How do you manage that?
You have to treat them like kids, sometime you admonish them. [Smiles.]
Is it easier to work with them when they have natural chemistry, like Irrfan and Tabu had in Maqbool?
It’s not just me, the whole unit saw it. They were very responsive to each other as actors. Acting is more about reacting. But I have seen actors who may not get along and yet have great chemistry on screen.
You have worked with various genres now — from children to Shakespearean tragedies to comic capers. Rangoon is your first love story. What draws you to romance this time?
Romance attracts me all the time but pure romance is also very boring. Romance is more like a mystery initially and later it is no longer intriguing. Rangoon is a love story but more heightened, more melodramatic. I wanted to achieve the tone of a Broadway musical. This has an operatic feeling.
Is that why you used live orchestra in Rangoon?
We did that background score in London. This is primarily a musical. I wrote it 10 years ago with the intention of exploring musical storytelling.
The poster says 'love and deceit'. Omkara had a similar theme of betrayal, so did Maqbool. Does that theme fascinate you the most?
There are few basic emotions and all are interconnected. There needs to be an antagonist — for negative emotions, for the protagonist to work. If there is lust, there is jealousy, there is deceit... they all work together. Pick up one emotion and the rest are part of the package.
How did you see someone like Saif in a dark light in Omkara and now again in Rangoon?
First you write the character and then think of the cast. Then you surprise people. I wanted a challenge. Someone like Irrfan will play ‘Langda Tyagi’ in his sleep. Also to be very honest, I wanted a star to get the masses. Because the kind of films I make, the masses are confused whether they should watch or not, whether they will be entertained. They think — ‘We don’t trust this man…he will call us with his songs and then...’ Every time, I have to find a new way to deceive the audience. [Mischievously] I don’t want to betray my own aesthetics for my masses.
How crucial is box office success to you?
It’s crucial for my single malt, for my business class ticket and for the money I need to make my next film [laughs]. If I make more money, I will make films with more fearlessness.
You seem to be already fearless enough… like Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola.
In retrospect, I realise that while I am making a film, I think every film is commercial. With Matru..., I thought I was making Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge... shaadi ka backdrop hai...ladki ka engagement hai. I forget what kind of politics I have in my DNA. I can’ t stop commenting on politics and society.
Rangoon is bigger in production. There is more at stake.
It should cover the cost and make money for the producer. I have a unique association with Sajid Nadiadwala. He has a great command over the commercial execution of a film. He has structured it so well, it has to work.
What about Mr Roy Wadia’s allegation about copyrights over Nadia’s life (on whom the character of Julia in Rangoon is said to be based)?
It’s not true. The film is not about her personal life… [pauses] I think I should not speak about it as it is sub-judice.
Kangana is an excellent choice. She says, 'Vishal Sir is the only director who says I am beautiful.'
Beauty is internal.
Do you agree with what Kangana said about nepotism to Karan Johar? Does it exist?
Yes but what’s wrong with that? I am not endorsing what she said. She voices what she feels is the truth.
What’s your truth?
It’s there. But that’s okay. If a star’s son is launched, there is something about that star, it is there in his blood. Regarding camps, it doesn’t matter. If you are successful, nothing matters. Every camp wants you. The other is a mirror of you, if another person does not like me, it is reflected inside you. There is favouritism in a family too. Anyone with power is successful. One should be so talented that nobody should be able to stop you. I will get the money I want to make, as a filmmaker. But an actor has to depend on more people.
These days, the romantic movies are not as memorable as Mughal-e-Azam or other classics. What has caused this change?
The problem is the youth. They are the ones who come to the theatres. The youth is very frivolous today. They are intelligent and clear but aesthetically, they are frivolous. We grew up on ghazals and poetry. Now there is only dance music since the past 15- 20 years, party songs…’Party abhi baaki hai’... so that reflects on the music. The young are more intelligent than us, but they don't have roots.
Do you find it more challenging to make films for the young?
How do I con the youth is the next thing to think about [laughs]… I want them to rise to our aesthetics. Unless we try to rise, achieve, fly, the aesthetics will remain the same. It’s a cycle.
What about the music remixes that are rampant today?
I don’t hear them.
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