Monday, February 21, 2011

The Curious Case Of Vishal Bhardwaj

Let me begin by saying that I am the biggest Vishal Bhardwaj fan that there is. I forever have been. Even before Vishal Bhardwaj became a fashionable music director, I’ve been in love with his work. And then when he directed his second film Maqbool, it blew me away. I have waited for each one of his films. I of course watched Saat Khoon Maaf and came out more disappointed than I thought I would be. There are no Saat Khoon Maaf spoilers here. It’s again the ranting of a fan who feels betrayed. I somewhere didn’t have a good feeling about this film…something didn’t feel right. But then even a half decent film by Vishal bhardwaj is a million light years ahead than many other directors. But I didn’t find it even a half decent film, and it’s heart breaking. It feels like a huge sense of loss. Like somebody my own made an unpardonable mistake and put all us believers into a crying shame.

Saat Khoon Maaf is as clueless as it can get. Susanna is one woman on a killing spree of her 6 husbands, but for no apparent reason. There’s hardly any back story to why she’s the way she is. No human angle to whether in the whole process of defeating the evil, she herself embodies it( a film subject, South Koreans have masterfully handled). She’s got no moral dilemmas, no human conflict. If a comedy is what Vishal bhardwaj intended to make, then he successfully did so. Because people laughed along even in the supposed serious scenes. 

I wonder why he’s doing what he’s doing. He is one of the most powerful men in the Indian film industry. He has the ability to change the kind of films people would go watch in cinema halls. But instead, he is constantly compromising on his craft. Directors like Dibakar banerjee( who again I have huge respect for as a film maker) and Anurag Kashyap (who I think is very derivative…his direct lifts from the films of Fateh Akin and such directors is quite blatant, but still a fearless film maker) have been doing some amazing job. They are taking up different subjects and are casting apt people. Somebody like Dibakar Banerjee, who after two successful films could have picked any big subject and made a film on it. But instead, he chose to make a film with hand held camera with no established actors. That shows the arrogance and belief of a director in his craft.

Though it’s his second film, Bhardwaj truly burst into the scene with Maqbool in 2004 and it still remains the best Indian film I have watched in the last 10 years. It was such an amazing film with brilliant human drama, an all consuming theme of greed, passion and deceit. Brilliantly casted and even brilliantly directed, it is a masterpiece. The pride of having a film maker like him in our era is immeasurable. Sadly it has only waned after that.

But then, Vishal Bhardwaj has been very meticulously working towards it. He has been constantly compromising on his cinema. The crack started appearing from his second film Omkara onwards. Taking stars over actors, giving precedence to style over substance. And I repeat, that his half decent films also have more soul than a lot of films by other film makers. It’s just that after a Maqbool, he’s set his own standards so high, that it is a huge task to live up to. But a die hard fan like me would forever want that from him. 

The sad part is that Vishal Bhardwaj insists that Priyanka Chopra with her limited range of acting skills is a great actor and that she should get the National Award for her role. And she will. Because when it comes to acting, we are quite happy with doling out big awards to non-actor stars over really talented actors. How else would you justify Arjun Rampal getting a National Award for Rock On and Priyanka Chopra getting it for Fashion last year.

With his short film on AIDS, Blood Brothers included, Vishal has already made 7 films. The next projects he’s supposedly making are a musical with Priyanka Chopda and then there’s another film in line with Shahrukh Khan. God only knows what to expect out of them.