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Ever since Vishal Bhardwaj stepped into the Indian Cinema, as a music-composer and subsequently as a film-maker (writer, director, producer), his work has been appreciated for its originality, even though most of his movies are adaptations of literary texts.

A typical portrayal of Indian Cinema are the Bollywood movies where the film depicts the equation between the one-dimensional, pre-defined bad guy and good guy, polar opposites of each other, leading to the obvious ‘eventual-victory-of-the-truth’. In such a placement, the movies of Vishal Bhardwaj come as a breath of fresh air. Although the man himself likes to be identified as a music composer before a film-director, there is no doubt about the fact that he is equally good at both.

Vishal Bhardwaj: This is not the India I grew up in -
Vishal Bhardwaj
Credits: India TV News

Bhardwaj’s list of creative gems goes on from movies for children like ‘Makdee’ (2002) to his trilogy of adaptations of Shakespeare’s tragedies. The genius and newness of Bhardwaj’s creations lies in his portrayal of his (anti)heroes with all their whims and fancies, in all their multiple shades and traits. This is, probably, the reason why he has so successfully adapted Shakespeare’s tragedies, written for the stage in England almost 400 years ago, to movies set in different parts of contemporary India. He remarks that the reason for this is that, while adapting the play to the script, his focus is on saving the soul of the drama, and not the text. The soul is what carries the idiosyncrasies of humankind that are common to people all over the world irrespective of their regions, nationality, race etc. 

Bhardwaj, the director, of course has a vivid imagination that made possible the setting of ‘Omkara’ (2006), an adaptation of Othello, to be in the outskirts of Meerut, UP. However, another important aspect that fuels and completes this imagination is the language. For ten different characters based in ten different backdrops, Bhardwaj, the writer, uses ten different facets of language. This nuanced understanding of language is visible not only in the dialogues of the movies but also in the songs – both lyrics and the music. Bhardwaj, the music-composer, composes music for the movies that he makes, and in a way, uses his music to bind the elements of the narrative together, and further the plethora of realistic depictions.

A significant ingredient of Vishal Bhardwaj’s movies is the absurdity that pinches the audience in the gut, with as-real-as-it-gets cinematic portrayals of the inane mannerisms of humans. For example, the Mumbai underworld in both ‘Omkara’ and ‘Kaminey’ are not painted pictures of a setting that is other-worldly or hero-like. It is rather presented with the same idiosyncratic flaws as the audience, making the stories extremely possible, along with building different connections with each and every one who watches it.  Except the two films for children, ‘Makdee’ (2002), and The Blue Umbrella (2005), all of his other movies have a certain lingering tense dark-humour that acts a medium through which the movie proceeds and the audience aren’t sure if they should laugh out loud, or be scared.

To watch Saif Ali Khan as Langda Tyagi in ‘Omkara’ was made possible by Vishal Bhardwaj, as was the case with witnessing Pankaj Kapoor in a spectrum of stunning characters. Bhardwaj, who has played many significant roles in his movies- director, music-composer, writer, producer, playback-singer has not only brought out the best in his actors, but has also given us a glimpse of the immense potential that Indian cinema, with  a variety of regions, cultures, languages, and dialects has. 

P.s. Everyone makes mistakes; ‘Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola’ (2013) was probably Bhardwaj’s.

Alfisha Sabri is a student pursuing English Literature at University of Delhi.

Edited By: Shaireen Khan

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.

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Written by Alfisha Sabri

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