Vishal Bhardwaj is easily one of the best Directors in this part of the world right now. His films, in spite of being populist in nature, manage to maintain a semblance of intelligence. His Shakespeare trilogy earned him worldwide acclaim and rightly so. In fact, even the legendary Ian McCallen showed his interest in being Directed by Bhardwaj. So everyone knows he’s pretty awesome. His films have been disected and analysed by almost every critic worth her/his salt. Then why am I writing this post, you ask? Because this dude is a straight up Badass MOFO!
Okay, Vishal Bhardwaj is a great film maker. His visual style is ever evolving. His grasp on Hindi as a ScreenWriter is unmatched, except for maybe Gulzar. Sorry, Gulzar “sahab”. But in this post I am only going to talk about the themes he takes up. And living in a socially intolerant (yes, I said it) country like India, I’m surprised he hasn’t been forced to move to a neighbouring country which boasts of better food and music than us (Everything else is pretty fucked up though. Also, no bacon). The themes and topics in his films have been extremely controversial. But in spite of taking on these “taboo” topics head on, he has somehow avoided major backlash and went on to deal with much more complex topics. Here are a few examples…
In 2009, he directed the Crime drama, ‘Kaminey’. The film was about two identical brothers who take different paths in life. The film is a gritty journey into the underbelly of Bombay’s criminal identity through the eyes of Politicians, Cops, Hoodlums, Gamblers and Mafiosos. This film is all about duality and anyone who watches it will understand that so I’m not going to dwell too much into it. What’s noteworthy is one specific character, that of a Right Wing politician played by Amole Gupte. Anyone who knows anything about Mahashtra politics knows who this character represents. This character talks about how the migration of North Indians into Maharashtra has to be ‘dealt’ with. There is even a conversation between him and the protagonist, who’s from North India, where the latter argues with the former about whether the city’s called Bombay or Mumbai. Btw, Vishal Bhardwaj lives in Bombay and yet did not refrain from putting this relevant theme in a mainstream Bollywood film.
Another film of his, ‘Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola’ spoke about the uncontrollable spread of Capitalism in Haryana through the eyes of a cruel land owner who becomes Communist when he’s drunk. A classic tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde told as a comedy. This film spoke in favour of Communism and hence against rampant growth in the name of Capitalism in 2013. 2013 was when the campaigns for the general elections were at their peak in India. And the leading party, ‘BJP’, was running on the rhetoric of ‘Developent’ and Capitalist ideologies. Even though this film did not gain a lot of popular attention, probably because of a fuckall casting decision of taking Imran khan in the lead. And also because most people did not understand it. Nevertheless, Communism is a really hated topic these days and simply the fact that Bhardwaj attempted such a film is commendable.
Finally, coming to his most controversial and most recent film, ‘Haider’, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in 1990’s Kashmir. Any film on Kashmir is likely to spark debate. And there have been quite a few which have tip toed around the subject. But Haider was the most unapologetic take on the issue yet. The film actually made a pretty good case for Kashmir’s independence from India and Pakistan. This did not sit well with people but no one could deny the validity of the ideas presented. For once, someone had the balls to talk about the plight of the people in Kashmir from a humanistic angle on not spout rhetoric through phony patriotism. The monologue on ‘Azaadi’ or ‘freedom’ also gave teenage theatre enthusiasts a new passage to plagiarize. This was a gem of a film and Bhardwaj showed his bravado by making it the way he wanted to, after the cuts made by the censor board of course.
I think the above examples show how much of a maverick Vishal Bhardwaj is. He has repeatedly managed to make films on real topics on a large scale, irrespective of which group of people took offence. This takes guts, especially being the A List director that he is. Also, I’m not saying that other directors haven’t dared to made films on controversial topics. It’s just that Vishal Bhardwaj is the only one at that level to maintain this kind of unapologetic consistency. Neither am I suggesting that making controversial films makes one a good director, it’s more to do with how one treats those issues.