To be or not to be ecstatic

Are you happy now?
Vishal Bhardwaj (VB): Yes, I am very happy.

Are you satisfied with the film’s reviews and its collections?

VB: I attribute this reaction to Maqbool. All my friends in the industry and even people who don’t like my kind of cinema have praised Haider.

What did you do differently this time?

VB: Nothing, really. I did the same thing. (Laughs)

Do you think the audience has grown?

VB: No, I think I have grown.

When UTV decided to back Haider, a lot of people asked you whether it was the right decision.
Amrita Pandey (AP): Did they? Who were these people? I want to know. (Laughs)

How does it feel now?

AP: It’s a great feeling. We are all very happy. We have worked with Vishal so many times…
VB: Yes, I have made eight films, of which four were with UTV.
AP: I remember it was Dussera and we were talking about the script and what he had done with the film. He has taken this film several notches higher. I remember how excited I was after seeing the first few scenes he had shot.

You had said it was very difficult for UTV to come on board for a film like Haider. Why did you say that?

AP: Did I say that? I don’t think so. (Laughs) I think it was a very natural progression for us.
VB: Yeah, during the very first narration, Sid (Siddharth Roy Kapur), Ronnie (Screwvala) and Amrita agreed.
AP: We met for the first time in July and began rolling during Dussera.

Has the result exceeded your expectations?
AP: The unanimous response has been overwhelmingly positive. We all loved it and we knew that people like us would love it. The amazing thing is that everyone in the industry loved the film.

Vishal, what was it about Shahid Kapoor that made you cast him in the lead role?

VB: Many things. First, he wanted to do a film with me and had been talking to me about it for the last 18 months. I wanted to take a star who wouldn’t charge money and who would erase that blot ki film acchi hai par sasti honi chahiye. I had been hearing that for a long time and was fed up with it.

So that was the main reason. Next, I wanted someone who would give a hundred-per cent commitment. And I wanted him to go bald and he agreed to everything. I think Shahid is a very good actor and is, in fact, the best actor in his age group.

For any actor who portrays the role of Hamlet, ‘to be or not to be’ is the most important scene. How difficult was it for you and Shahid to execute that scene?
VB: The tough part was writing the scene, baaki execute karna toh uske writing mein already tha hi. There were many options to ‘to be or not to be’, and we used many variations in the film, which we retained. Like, hum hain ki hum hain nahi, hai ke hain nahi and main hoon ke hoon nahi… But main rahoon ki main nahiwas the closest. So execution was not as big a challenge as writing was. There was a poetic rendition in it, which we made Shahid aware of during our preparation.

Was it difficult to convince Tabu to play Shahid’s mother?
VB: Yes. And thank God she was convinced. Now she too must be thanking God that she agreed to do it because she has been receiving much acclaim. In their review, The New York Times said the film should have been called Ghazala. That’s the biggest compliment an actor can get.

How did you convince her?

VB: Actually I didn’t have a choice. Mere paas koi aur tha nahi and, more importantly, she was able to see Gertrude’s character. But she was also wondering how she would play the role of Shahid’s mother because Shahid started his career very early and he has been around a while. The problem is, in India, we tend to categorise actors that once you play a mother, you always get roles like that.

We tend to make fun of people, saying tumne Shahid ki maa ka role play kiya hai. One day, she told me that ab toh bas, Shah Rukh ki mother ka role play karna reh gaya hai. (Laughs)

We argued so much over this that we even stopped talking to each other for a few days. But once we calmed down, I thought I shouldn’t let my ego get in the way of my work. So I went back to her and said, ‘Look at the role of Ghazala, not as Shahid’s mother but as the character Gertrude, because Shahid will not look like Shahid Kapoor. It won’t seem as though this is Shahid Kapoor. He will be like any other character, he will be like Haider. I gave her one more option, to charge me as much as she wanted.

What was her response when she saw it?
VB: She didn’t like it, initially. I think that’s her way of experiencing catharsis. Every actor has their own ways. For instance, Kay Kay didn’t like himself on screen either. So I thought maybe all the actors have this method. Pehle apne aap ko napasand kar lo phir apni taarefein suno.

Your have portrayed the Oedipus complex very blatantly in the film. Did Tabu have any apprehensions with those scenes?

VB: No. In fact, these were the key things that attracted her to the role!

How did the Censor Board react to it?

VB: They didn’t have any objections. I was expecting them to say something, especially the scene where the mother kisses the son. But it was done in such a natural way that it didnt seem replusive at all. When we were shooting, I did have my apprehensions and I wondered how that scene would look eventually. But the way Tabu managed to create this beautiful, invisible vibe in that scene that you can’t pinpoint why it does not look repulsive.

Were you sure the film would do well?

VB: A week earlier, we were wondering whether to show it to the industry or not. At that stage, as a director, you lose perspective and you look through the eyes of other people. But I was not in favour of showing it. I thought waise bhi bahut mazaak udta hai, so there is no point in screening the film earlier. But Sid and Amrita were both so confident. One day, Sid called me and he, Amrita and I were on a conference call.

I was still apprehensive, so they said we should show it to the audience and go all out on the front foot and own this film, and be proud of it. Jisko acchi lagegi, it’s good, and even if they speak ill of it, we shouldn’t care. That’s when I realised I was the one behaving like a producer and they were behaving like a director. So I called Sid and told him that directors usually want to show their films to people and like to get praised. Praise hi milta hai, gaali toh milti nahi. So I told him that it was his call, and if he wanted to show the film, we should start that day itself. It was shown and appreciated by fellow filmmakers.

Amrita, why did you decide to back the film and what made you release it alongside Bang Bang?
AP: When we got the film, there was a narration and we loved it. We watched a few shots which he had shot of the first half, because they had completed the autmn schedule of the film. We were completely blown away. I think our sensibilities were the same and our chemistry matched. So we were all very confident. So we met towards the release, when we had announced Phantom, and we were not sure when to release but we were sure we wanted a strong weekend. We thought there could be no better day than this weekend because it was a five-day weekend. It was the best weekend of the year and the longest weekend before Diwali. So we all felt we should go for it.

You started promoting the film very early.

AP: Yes, we did. We did that because Vishal was travelling.
VB: And Shahid was also shooting.
AP: We cracked such a good trailer that we felt we should make the most of it. At that time, I remember, there was a trailer releasing every week, but we were confident. Moreover, Vishal was travelling a little later and we wanted Vishal and Shahid for the launch. So we launched the trailer on 7 July. The trade asked us why we were launching the trailer so early and pointed out that we did not need such a long run-up for this film. But we went ahead anyway. We decided to go with our gut and the decision worked in our favour as the songs in the trailer picked up well with the audience.

How did you conceptualise the Salman and Salman characters?

VB: Actually, we thought about it when we were working on Curfewed Night written by Basharat Peer, who has also written the film with me. In that book, there was a scene, which I wish I had used in the film but couldn’t. When Salman Khan’s film Tere Naam released, his hairstyle became famous all over India and he is one actor who has a huge fan following in Kashmir. Everyone in Kashmir adopted that hairstyle. In fact, there was this one militant who had this hairstyle too, so much so that people started calling him Tere Naam. He was a philanderer and used to loiter outside girls’ schools. In fact, he was killed because of this. That’s what attracted me… how much people there love Salman.

So in the original Hamlet, there are two characters called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, on whom I modelled the Salman and Salman characters. There was also a film called Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. It’s a very famous film and they are very famous characters. So the Salman-Salman character was inspired by that. Also, we are very big fans of Tintin. So, one day, one of my associates, Aditya (Nimbalkar), said, ‘Let’s base these characters on Thomson and Thompson from Tintin.’ So from Tere Naam to Tintin to Salman-Salman… When I was being interviewed recently, I realised that all my films had these two characters in their sub-plots. In Makdee, there were two cops called Santa Banta, in Omkara, Saif (Ali Khan) and Deepak’s (Dobriyal) characters, in Maqbool, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri’s characters.

The first half of the film is much shorter than the second half. Did you intentionally position the intermission that way?
VB: Irrfan’s entry was the interval point. Firstly, I was taking a huge liberty because the Hamlet play, from where it starts, that was my interval point. I did exactly the opposite; the ghost enters in the first half. We needed a point where people could be hooked. Length is a matter of perception, so even a 20-min short film could seem 200 mins long.

Vishal, most of your films are set in Uttar Pradesh. Were there any challenges in choosing Kashmir as the backdrop of Haider?

VB: It was very difficult. I had never been to Kashmir before I decided to make this film. So I went there in April last year, when there was a festival being celebrated. On the way to Pahalgam, there is a dargah where people go with mashaals at night. The mashaals burns all night long.

Then, along with Basharat, I started meeting people and learning about their culture. That’s when I realised they speak words like ‘loved’, ‘checked’, with a unique accent. So many films have been based in Kashmir but no one has paid attention to those nuances.

So I decided to do that. Since they speak Urdu, the half-vowel is missing. I had to literally go back in time with my writer.
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