Bard of Blood writers Bilal Siddiqi, Mayank Tewari on adapting the book into a Netflix India Original
The Bard of Blood writers talk about how Hussain S Zaidi and producer Shah Rukh Khan had valuable inputs to offer for the screenplay.
(Firstpost was invited by Netflix to conduct interviews from the sets of Bard of Blood in Rajasthan in March 2019)
Netflix India's latest original Bard of Blood released earlier this week on Friday. Ribhu Dasgupta's espionage show has received rave reviews, mostly for the central performance of Emraan Hashmi. But a large chunk of credit for the pacey, thrilling screenplay must go to Bilal Siddiqi, who wrote the 2015 book on which the show is based, and Mayank Tewari, who adapted the book into a screenplay.
On the sets of Bard of Blood, when I meet the writers, they are relatively freer than the actors and director, but stressed nonetheless. The pounding heartbeat is only natural in cases when a writer is about to expose years of his craft, and subconsciously a large part of their personality, to a huge audience; in this case, Netflix consumers in 190 countries.
But Mayank insists the adapting process was not particularly difficult for him since the creator of the source material, Bilal, was also involved in the writers room. "Bilal's novel had some interesting characters, some great lines, and some extremely thrilling sequences. So it was a fertile ground to begin with. The most we had to do was to make the narrative revolve around more contemporary events since the book released over four years ago. I have to give Bilal credit that he was always more than willing to improve on his book, include parts that were particularly engaging, and leave out those we didn't want in the screenplay."
Bilal claims he was always aware if his book is adapted into a show or a film, the screenplay will be completely different from the novel. "A screenplay is not a conduit of great literature. That is not how a good screenplay is measured. The screenplay is merely a manual for the director, which makes it easy for him to understand the story better and smoother to execute."
However, he does confess a suggestion by his mentor, popular crime writer Hussain S Zaidi, proved to be advantageous in the long run. "I've learnt a lot from him. He is the kind of writer I want to become. When I was writing the book, he suggested to make the text more graphic, more visceral, more cinematic. He explained that in the current times, a book like Bard of Blood is actively competing for attention with a film or a Netflix show. So you have to give that extra cinematic quality to your novel in order to make the audience pick it up in the first place."
Bilal reveals he started off as an assistant (in research, editing, and other areas) to Zaidi, on popular books like Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia, My Name Is Abu Salem, Mumbai Avengers, and every book that followed. "He's like a father to me now. He always encouraged me to write. When I had an idea of a spy in Balochistan, he asked me to put it on paper. I wrote a few chapters and gave it to him. He liked it so much that without telling him, he sent it to Penguin (Random House Publications). They also liked the content, and decided to publish what was turned into a book," says Bilal, on writing his debut novel Bard of Blood.
Interestingly, when Bilal launched the book, he shared the dais with both Zaidi and the chief guest Emraan Hashmi, who was eventually cast as the lead in a show adapted from the same book by Netflix four years later. "After he launched Bard of Blood, we co-wrote his memoir A Kiss Of Life (based on the battle of his son Aayan with cancer). Since it was a deeply personal book, I got to connect with Emraan really closely. Having known him really well, I can say Bard of Blood (the show) is in sync with his personal sensibilities and is right up his alley, contrary to what we've seen him do in Bollywood so far," says Bilal.
Mayank claims he is confident about the final screenplay of the show, and admits it was easier to adapt a book of fiction rather than a non-fiction biography, like Vijay Ratnakar Gutte's political biopic The Accidental Prime Minister, which was based on the life of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and adapted from a book of the same name by his former media advisor Sanjaya Baru. The film, which released earlier this year, turned out to be a flop. "Adapting non-fiction is completely different from adapting fiction. In non-fiction, one has to select the dramatic points of the subject's life and use anecdotal instances to propel the screenplay. But in a fiction story like Bard of Blood, we could introduce new characters, tweak a few plot points, and add a few more thrills as per the digital format because we had the luxury to do so," says Mayank.
Bilal adds the producer Shah Rukh Khan, whom he has closely worked with for years, also had some valuable inputs, right before they pitched the screenplay to Netflix. "Obviously, we had to take his inputs before sending the final screenplay. He's had over 25 years of experience in the industry, and has been part of some amazing stories. His inputs for Bard of Blood also turned out to be very useful. Out of the various changes he suggested, the most significant was the addition of Kirti Kulhari's character, Jannat Marri. She added a lot of softness and poise to an otherwise hard-hitting and fast-paced story," says Bilal.
It is clear from their confessions that the extremely engaging screenplay of Bard of Blood is a product of contributions from a lot of forces, including not just the writers but also the producer. While Bilal's book may have been tweaked to suit the format of a Netflix Original, he sure does not seem to be complaining, probably given how fine the final product turned out to be.
Bard of Blood also stars Viineet Kumar, Sobhita Dhulipala, Rajit Kapur, and Sohum Shah. It is produced by SRK and wife Gauri Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment.
All images by Netflix.
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