Arthur J Pais
William Shakespeare wasn't the source for Vishal Bhardwaj's Kaminey but the Bard whose Othello inspired Bharadwaj's hit Omkara and whose Macbeth became Maqbool was very much looking over the filmmaker's shoulders this time.
"Once you fall in love with Shakespeare, you cannot get him out of your mind," the writer and filmmaker says.
This time, Bharadwaj worked with several writers including Monsoon Wedding's Sabrina Dhawan in calibrating the script, a story of twin brothers who are very different from each other, and the young woman who enters the life of one of them leading to dramatic conflicts. The film has a raw atmosphere, rough scenes, fierce action, gangsters and crazy people but it also has a sweet ending. And the filmmaker is not apologizing for it!
Shakespeare also wrote plays with happy endings, Bhardwaj, who composed music for over 30 films before turning to direction about seven years ago, says.
"It has plenty of black humour," he says of the film that top lines Shahid Kapur and Priyanka Chopra. "There is even a lot of fun in the violence."
Why then is the title, Kaminey? "It is a derogatory word," he says, speaking from his home in Mumbai, in a phone interview. "But like the word saala, it can be used as an endearment word too."
Of course, in the film, it meant to be a dark, derogatory word.
"No one except one of the twin brothers in the film is a 'white' character," Bhardwaj says. "Others are greedy or betrayers or are prepared to do anything to satisfy their selfishness. There is no innocence in them."
'Mira Nair and I have been friends for a very long time'
The new film owes something to a visit Bhardwaj made to Uganda about three years ago. He was a mentor at a cinema and theatre institute run by the filmmaker Mira Nair (The Namesake) who has a home there. Uganda is the country where her husband professor Mahmood Mamdani was born and raised.
"Mira and I have been friends for a very long time," says Bhardwaj who directed one of the four segments in her AIDS Jago omnibus two years ago. One of the students at her institute came up with the idea of twins who were polar opposites.
"I forgot about it, or let us say it was somewhere at the very back of my mind," he says, chuckling. "Over a year ago the young man called and asked what happened to his concept. I revisited the idea but in the process of developing the screenplay, most of what was suggested in the first place came to be changed. The climax was very Indianized too."
'I felt I was exploring my own darker side'
Once he decided to make Kaminey, he felt the urgency to shoot it in a few months. "I worked on the original idea with two other writers," he says. "I brought in Sabrina, who was also a mentor at Mira's school for a few months when I was there because I admire her roots in India and her worldwide cinematic outlook. Her way of thinking is quite Hollywood and there is New Age outlook in her too.
"We were making this film in a hurry and I correctly felt Sabrina would give a solid structure," he continues. "On the surface, it is a simple story but it has a complicated structure."
Writer Abhishek Chaubey, who makes his debut as director with Bhardwaj's production, Ishqiya, was the third writer.
Despite the complicated structure, Bhardwaj says Kaminey is anything but arty or a film that could alienate the audiences in any part of India. "It deals with themes that affect our lives directly," he says, adding, "I felt I was exploring my own darker side. In fact, the film is a reminder that we all have a dark side, and often we are not fully aware of that side."
UTV is distributing Kaminey as a mainstream film with more than 1,100 prints, 900 of them in India.
'I did not go to a film institute or start as an assistant director'
Bhardwaj has composed more than 200 songs for such films as U Me Aur Hum, Maachis and Satya, but he often found his music was wasted by directors who did not create good situations for them. And that was one of the most important reasons he decided to direct films
"I carefully planned my moves," he had said in an interview soon after the showing of Maqbool at the Toronto International Film Festival. "Some of my well wishers suggested that I should direct 'a safe film' that would attract the masses. Sure, I wanted my films to reach wide audiences but I was very clear that I wanted to make films that satisfied my sensibilities. Hence I sought out Shakespeare and made Maqbool. I realised that if I held my ground and remained patient, I would find producers who shared my sensibilities and vision.
"I did not go to a film institute, I did not start as an assistant to a director," he admits. "But cinema has been a big passion with me. Once I decided to direct films, I began teaching myself. I read a lot on writing screenplays. I watched, mostly at Pune Film Institute, films by Indian and world cinema masters."
Working with Gulzar on Maachis as a music composer also strengthened Bhardwaj's desire to direct. After all, Gulzar had started his career as a lyricist. Gulzar continues to be a close ally of Bhardwaj; he has written the lyrics for a number of films that have Bhardwaj's music including the movies Bhardwaj has directed.
'If an iota of what I've learned from Shakespeare is reflected in my film, I'll be grateful to God'
Some people could say there is nothing special about a story on twins, Bhardwaj says. But a few minutes into the film, they could begin changing their opinion. "This is not just a story of twins are very different to each other," he explains. "In fact, they hate each other and would not want to have anything in common."
The story unfolds in a day. "There is a bouquet of colourful characters and there are many unforeseen plot twists," he says. "This is not the usual Hindi film where the twins end up creating a lot of confusion and a Comedy of Errors kind of atmosphere. That is a very old Bollywood formula and the writers and directors keep reinventing it once five or six years. Here we have taken the formula, got rid of the common clich s and completely subverted the standard formula."
But the audiences may not realise the subversion process. "We are offering them a tightly knit story, imaginative plot twists, and fast moving film," he assures.
What has Bhardwaj taken most from Shakespeare? "I like the dramatic structure in his major plays," he muses. "His characters could be edgy at times but they are so real. Anyone can relate to them. There is also irony and humour even in his darkest plays. And his study of human nature is very deep."
He says he wants to make another film out of a Shakespearean play. "In my mind I am committed to complete my Shakespearean trilogy," he says. "I don't know whether it will be my next project or something that I may take up after a few years."
Every time he makes a film, he says he prays "even an iota of what I have learned from Shakespeare is reflected in it, I will be grateful to God."