Jaipur: His films have taken us into the heart of India, from villages in strife-torn Uttar Pradesh to dusty Rajasthan, a life he has seen, growing up, from up close, and which still brings a smile to Vishal Bhardwaj’s face. He recalls walking around with his pet Pomeranian and the village barber trying to coax him to sell the dog to him for Rs 50, going up to Rs 100, thinking he could persuade the bachcha to part with his kutta. “There is an ajeeb si innocence in these villages, lost to us in the cities,” the National Award-winning director muses.
The smile breaks into a laugh as he shares that after Omkara, his son Aasmaan wanted to go live in a jhopdi in the gaon, and when told it could get uncomfortably hot, exclaimed, “Wahan AC nahin hai!” Today’s generation, he admits, has a complete disconnect with that life. “When I made Omkara, commercial filmmakers were setting their films in New York and Toronto. Now, that they’re moving to villages, I should shift base to New York,” jokes the filmmaker whose upcoming film, Pataakha revolves around two warring sisters living in a gaon in the interiors of Rajasthan.
Vishal who can take his pick of Bollywood’s big names today points out that this film couldn’t have been made with established actors because apart from date commitment, it would have been difficult to crack their vanity. Even to Sanya Malhotra and Radhika Madan, relative newcomers who lived in the village for 10 days prior to the shoot, learning the dialect, how to milk buffaloes and make dung cakes, he reiterated that if they had the slightest apprehension facing the camera without make-up and teeth stained black by beedi, thinking it’d cost them roles in mainstream cinema, they should bow out. “But both insisted they’d never get roles like these and went beyond the brief, putting on 10-12 kgs when I wanted eight to look like mothers with kids. And for the sequences that required them to kick and pummel, they actually beat each other up, telling me not to call for ‘Cut’ if either screamed out during the shot. And after these realistic fights, they went back to being best friends,” he reminisces, admitting that after Rangoon it was liberating to make a film without stars, big money and the weight of box-office expectations. “We shot Pataakha in 29 days and I had a blast. It’s recovered its cost from satellite and digital sales alone before release.”
Based on a story by Charan Singh Pathik, Do Behnein, which made him laugh uproariously, it’s a hilarious take on the tana tani between siblings, reminding him of his own relationship with sister Mahima. “As kids, we’d bicker incessantly and even today, she demands special treatment when she visits us, stopping at one roti if you don’t offer her another. I even told her she’s not welcome if she can’t consider my home, then, went to Delhi to manao her to visit again. Blood is certainly thicker than water,” he quips with a wry smile, encapsulating the story he’s bringing of siblings who can’t live with or without each other, and eventually find themselves married into the same family
For a pataakha to explode, you need a small spark and Sunil Grover’s character, Dipper Naradmuni, provides that. Having seen Sunil on Kapil Sharma’s show and after meeting him on flights, Vishal felt there’s serious talent here waiting to be tapped, and once, when they met at the airport, told Sunil he had a character for him. “I wasn’t sure if he could give me dates as he’s so busy with stage shows, but he insisted he’d do anything to do my film. This character is like a good-hearted Langda Tyagi, with the impish streak but without the criminal bent,” he says, flashbacking to the Omkara days and how hard it was to convince Saif Ali Khan to cut his hair which he was growing for another film. “I even told him he could shoot that film first, we’d do Omkara later, to which he argued why couldn’t Langda Tyagi have long hair. I’ve realized that more than women, men are really vain about their looks and particularly about their hair,” he laughs.
Meanwhile, Vishal has managed to cajole Malaika Arora to return from a three-year-hibernation for a special appearance track, “Hello Hello”, which though shot only recently was the first song to be recorded. “I wrote this script during the two months I was on the road with the Broadway adaptation of Monsoon Wedding. That’s how I came to cast Namit Das after seeing him on stage. He works for the Door Sanchar Vibhag, the telephone department, and while explaining the term to Radhika he uses the word ‘Hello’. Malaika’s nautanki in the mela is intercut with shots of both girls romancing and is an integral part of the narrative,” he explains.
Vishal informs that he’d composed the song with the line “Sainyan Karke Telephonia Chede Hello Hello” but when he took it to Gulzar Saab, while he liked the tune, he suggested they make the lyrics more contemporary and came up with “Aaja Network Ke Bhetar Keh Ke Hello Hello”. “So then I said, let’s use WhatsApp too and he responded with “Ho Mere WhatsApp Ke Teeter.” We then figured that lovers no longer go to the terrace to see the moon but for a better signal and “Allah Jaane Mere Chhat Pe, Kyun Itna Kam Signal Hai, Paidal Hai Ya Oont Pe Nikla Ya Michael Ka Cycle Hai” came about,” he narrates, saying that after years of playing a tune to Gulzar Saab on the phone and him reciting an Antara to him, this time, he decided to go back to the Maachis days. “We sat together for all the songs. I’d compose a tune and he’d write something extempore or vice versa with the result that this album sparkles with spontaneous creativity,” he smiles.