Friday, August 28, 2009

Interview: Vishal Bhardwaj

In conversation with Vishal Bhardwaj

Extensive interview with reference to Kaminey; solid dope on VB's method of working with actors and his opinion on other stuff like music and editing...

(Long!) Excerpts:

I was really inspired by Tarantino's films, Guy Ritchie. That was the space. In that I had to hunt up something original, do something that hasn't been done before.

"And also it must be said that the boys and girls of this generation are indeed a lot more intelligent, a lot more aware. And awareness comes from exposure, and they have so much more exposure now"

Our audience itself is so star-struck that they need references, it takes them time to place a star in a different context. And a combination like this unnerves them.

If you're in the moment and listening for your co-actor, instead of waiting for your own line… as a director, that is the false note that you have to try and capture. Sometimes things don't look internal enough, the crying looks too surfacial. So you have to keep bringing actors back to the moment, the truth, the reality."

Vishal shuns rehearsals entirely, feeling they decapitate all notions of spontaneity. "You become so rehearsed there's nothing left. So we read the script, and we go deeply into character study."

What is not seen on the screen should be explored, and we should all try to live those unseen moments. So that when we arrive at this moment, the moment that is in the script, we'll bring some sense of that backstory, feel some invisible energy. Then the actor is not just coming and performing those lines."

Borrowing from reality is something that fascinates the filmmaker, and he describes how it was awkward to meet the stammering men, but amazing to hear their life experiences.

The current film, he says, has had a lot of improvisation, largely because all of Kaminey has been shot using handheld cameras. "Nothing was fixed. None of the actors knew exactly which angles we were using so they all had to do the entire scenes all the way through. And we would do axis jumps! Right from the first scene! Paagalon ki tarah shoot kiya hai," he beams wide.

Bhardwaj is almost embarrassingly effusive in his praise for Hussain. "I think we have a really great rapport. As professionals, we have such an identical gelling when it comes to cinema.

What happens is that always before shooting, I make a mix of the song in my own voice, picturise it and then come back and dub. I don't use the original artists till much later, unless it's a sync song. This saves a lot of time and the song is still being made, and because it's my composition I can sing it quicker.

We talk of dynamic editing and cutting scenes to music, and Bhardwaj cuts in, strongly disagreeing. "When you're shooting it, the shot was not conceived to the music, so it starts going wrong. I hate to cut to music. I cut separately. You should not have the music to stimulate you to cut. You cut it the way it should be, emotionally. And then put the music.

Music should follow the edit, edit shouldn't follow the music.

"A film is only made on two tables, yaar. The writing table and the editing table. Everything else is chaos."

Current Indian filmmakers he is impressed by include Anurag Kashyap — the man is all praise for most of Dev D — and Dibakar Banerjee, the man behind Khosla Ka Ghosla and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye, going as far as to mimic the young-Sardar scenes from the latter.

Consciously I never tried to say anything, but interestingly enough a message is born. A philosophical message.

In conversation with Vishal Bhardwaj

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Vishal Bhardwaj walks a somewhat different territory this time. Though he again dabbles into the dark side of humans, he takes the interesting route of humor in his attempt to tell a tale of a thriller which is set in the city that is the capital of amalgamation – Bombay. With so much of skill and talent, in evidence for long, Bhardwaj pulls off another successful story.

Playing on the story of twins, with one walking on the good side, another on the evil, he showcases a world that is full of corrupted folks with everyone trying to gain as much money and power as they can.

In a world full of deceitful men – drugs landlord, betting mafia, corrupt policemen and an amoral politician, this is chiefly the story of Charlie a small-time crook who dreams of owning his own booking window at the race course, and his (twin) brother, Guddu, his opposite, a nice and nervous bloke.

As Charlie gets lucky with a big haul of cocaine, the drug-landlord is after him. And As Guddu who has impregnated the aggressive Sweety is in a mess courtesy her brother, who is a bhai cum politician after his life. With them being caught by opposite gangs, it makes for interesting viewing.

For a thriller to work, the plot has to carefully intertwine and Kaminey works pretty solid. Bhardwaj plays on the narrative by breaking it in parts interspersed with flashbacks. It's technically not non-linear; the film keeps logically moving ahead but since it's edited in small-small units, for once it works good, especially as the various threads of the story are unfolded over the time, not at one-shot.

This is an interesting move – breaking the whole into many parts and managing to make it gripping. What really helps strongly in keeping the momentum going is the background music. But the key remains – the ability of Bhardwaj's team to create humor. It is by far the biggest binding factor, which makes the film quite entertaining.

Expectedly, and admirably as ever, Bhardwaj proves his high mettle as director in eliciting top-notch performances from everyone. Shahid Kapoor is not Shahid but Charlie and Guddu, and Priyanka is very effective. All character actors are spot-on.

Another great technique used to showcase the various elements of Bombay is to throw in different languages. There is the Bengali booking mafia who talk in Bengali and then the politician who is a Marathi, and with no sub-titling it makes it interesting and also challenging for the audience, who are not used to the fare.

This is where Bhardwaj deserves a salute – in attempting to change the accepted norms of film-making in India. It is a huge risk, but such films where the narrative is not expository where the understanding is in watching the film in patience without getting judgmental help in maturing the audience.

Another cool thing of the film is doing a good amount of shoot outdoors – trains and rails are the key motifs within the film. Considering the film is about the dark side of human nature the film is mostly shot in dark, and the element of rains plays a strong part too.

This is another of Bhardwaj's strengths – cinematography and art direction playing a critical role. This film is as slick as it gets in Indian cinema. Bhardwaj is a master of scenes construction and Kaminey shines in this regard. Not to forget – dialogues. He shows that he is likely to be India's finest dialogue-writer. Hardly any thing is superfluous and every bit adds to the meaning of the characters and story.

The issues in the film at times tend to be periods where the film slows down, where it almost feels that the film is getting too cute for itself, though it does seem to be a direct intent at times, which in itself is fine; this aspect is also exploited well by the playing R.D. Burman's songs and paying a tribute to him.

The film does seem to be doing too much at times – there are too many characters flowing and at times you almost feel short-changed; perhaps Guddu should have had more screen-time. There is also an excess of hand-held camera, which becomes jarring at times.

It's no doubt a challenging film to make, not because of the tale but because of the way Bhardwaj wants to depict the story visually. And he does pretty well once again. With an ability to score with such creativity and direct with so much of freshness, he once again highlights his talent as one of India's finest in films, who is head and shoulders above others.

Kaminey is about Charlie, a young ambitious kid, (youth of our times?), who is not morally bound, but eventually he has to face his dark side and choose what path he needs to take. But…don't bet on that!

Based on an idea by Cajetan Boy
Writers: Vishal Bhardwaj, Abhishek Chaubey, Sabrina Dhawan, Supratik Sen
Director: Vishal Bhardwaj

Rating ***

[Max Rating ****]

[Viewed in Delhi. At Sangam on 22nd Aug with Rajeev and on 23rd Aug at Fun, Moti Nagar with folks and Bunty + family]

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


The film is supposed to tell the story of our times - of how romance works today compared with the past. As it attempts to play it cute all the way it comes out too cute for good.

A boy and a girl quickly meet in London. Then decide to split since the girl is moving to Delhi to pursue her career. They close their relationship by celebrating with a break-up party. And as the boy (Saif) is alone, he meets up an old Sikh gentleman, a restaurant owner (Rishi Kapoor) who piles on him to reveal about the break-up with his girl (Deepika.)

They build a friendship where the Sikh person tells him about his own love story as he continues to push the boy to meet his girl. In the process, the film goes into flash-backs with the young Sikh being played by Saif and his own progress of friendship wherein he finds another girlfriend and the girl finds a boyfriend in Delhi.

The story per se may be alright, if not too original; the key is in the treatment and that's where the film falters. The boy is set-up to be a smart-alec, meant for Saif all the way, since perhaps he can sleep-walk through such Dil Chahta Hai or Hum Tum roles. He is supposed to be funny, whereas the girl is supposed to be cool. Independent, yet loving the boy, yet being on her own. This is where it perhaps is supposed to reflect the reality of our times.

Which is - boy and girl today meet to sleep with not much emotions at play. Unlike the past that was based on the romance. But works today too - the couple are soulmates and when the misguided boy is pushed by a wise-man, then...he discovers his true love and the confused girl also comes back.

The depiction is all the way cute, which means deliver 'hep' dialogues, which not only is supposed to create humor but also move the story forward. This is a strategy which a lot of successful masala flicks follow and like many it never works - when conflict is all verbal, when there are no strong 'action' events, when reliance on cute-dialogues is key you walk on thin ice. What it does and very successfully in the film - messes up characters. Technically, there is an 'arc', are never with the characters.

Being a film of today, it also tries to move too quickly - quick change of phases of period, which in itself isn't bad but..quick editing is never a solution for creating conflict. The story is told from the boy's perspective who is a smart-alec but with no wisdom. He is supposed to be a confused bloke. And the attempt to showcase that is through dialogues, which never let you sink-in with the character.

In the end the story of the Sikh tends to be more interesting - it is more visual, but...what's the story about? The boy is supposed to discover love and he is a passive player. It's an interesting trick to showcase the young Sikh as Saif but there is a big difference in the mindset of the two, plus there are no scenes to build up their connect.

The big problem in the flick is the lack of emotional journey one needs to take with the hero/heroine. It's almost missing with the latter since the story is not told from her point of view. It's the boy and the Sikh's. The only reason one may believe that there is decent chemistry between the two is simply because of the lack of other characters, which is good. need to let the emotions release so the audience can relate.

Nope, it's meant to be the opposite. Quick movement as if it denotes the quick pace of our times. But it's a myth that when you 'slow' a film it loses its pace. Since it keeps shifting back and forth without helping in any identification, the characters seem very much contrived. And the Sikh character is very much cliched and so is his interaction with the boy.

When transitions become quick, when the characters are too flat, when the story doesn't have too much of tension, it does not work. Interestingly, it does for many, and as such does good business and then more such cute films are spurned. Well...that IS the harsh reality of our times.

Writer: Imtiaz Ali
Director: Imtiaz Ali

Rating *1/2

(Max Rating ****)

{Watched the 9.50 pm show at Cinema 130 in New Jersey on 2nd Aug, 2009 with Guru and Sachin}