Memorable characters are the cornerstones of great cinema and in just a handful of films Vishal Bhardwaj has created a landscape dotted with truly unique characters. What makes it better is that unlike most contemporary filmmakers in Hindi cinema the characters Vishal creates couldn't be anyone else's.
Right from his first film as a director Vishal's films have featured ordinary everyday characters doing ordinary everyday things in a manner that Hindi cinema either forgot or chose to not bother with. The whole endeavor of Bollywood to make the hero look larger than life has made it almost impossible for most films to see characters for what stand for. Makdee's Chunni is how a regular young village child should be and even though she displays more courage than the entire village folk it never looks heroic in the sense Hindi cinema is used to.
Similarly The Blue Umbrella's Nandu is someone right off the busy corner store in a north Indian hill town but it wasn't until Maqbool that the viewer actually witnessed the power of Vishal's characterization. He took the seemingly villainous characters such as an underworld don, his henchmen, and his jealous lover along with a bunch of corrupt cops and made them so real that Macbeth, the play he based the film on, seemed harmless. Don Abbaji, Maqbool, Nimmi Pandit and Purohit, along with Kaka, Guddu and Sameera were as common and faceless as the person on a busy street and that made it all more organic. Vishal went a step ahead with Omakra, his adaption of Othello, and made the characters darker and more complex. Although Omakara's world is as real as the one where Maqbool takes places when compared the interplay amongst the former's characters looks a little manufactured. In addition to creating such intriguing characters Vishal also blesses them with believable space in the form of well-structured screenplay but in Omkara it felt like somewhere he concentrated more on the atmosphere than charting the characters journey. It could also be that Omkara's much larger canvas and the presence of stars like Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan, Vivek Oberoi and Kareena Kapoor added to it appearing slightly synthetic as opposed to Maqbool.
The limited commercial success of Omkara was followed by a smash hit in the form of Kaminey. A breezy capper Kaminey was the most commercial film that Vishal had attempted and all the elements fell into place. The twin characters of Charlie and Guddu along with Sweety never lose resonance in spite of being molded in typical Hindi film style and surviving the literal all guns blazing over the top climax. If these three films, Maqbool, Omkara and Kaminey were to be put side by side you could clearly see just how Vishal's detailing as far as his characters go has come down while his effort to make his screenplay less complex has gone up. This trait becomes more prominent when you include 7 Khoon Maaf and Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola. With 7 Khoon Maaf Vishal unleashed, in varying degree, eight absorbing characters of Susana and her seven husbands and hoped that would be enough to make the film tick. Barring the characters and a few moments 7 Khoon Maaf lacked the punch of his usual films and while Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola had much more than moments, it seems to rely too heavily on characters. Pankaj Kapur's Matru is worth its weight in gold but the film meanders through precious little in the first half thereby making the characters almost incidental to the film. Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola gets better with each passing moment but by the time it ends it squanders away it point. When it comes to present day Hindi cinema there isn't anyone besides Vishal who understands the value characters attach to stories and because at places Susana, Matru and Mandola seem pointless and so do the two films.
An unwarranted thought that refuses to go away has infested this writer's mind. I feel the manner in which everyone praised Omakara and yet it didn't enjoy the same run as Maqbool and the way Kaminey, a simple escapist film, charmed the viewer has perhaps let the filmmaker down as far as his audience goes. People seem to expect a certain kind of complexity attached to his films and when his effort to make a larger part of them decipher Omkara on their own failed he tried to, for the lack of any other expression, idiot-proof Kaminey. Is Vishal somewhere angry with his audience and therefore just coming up with characters that would entice the viewer with 7 Khoon Maaf and Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola? And for good measure he needlessly added a veneer of complexity to the proceedings for the heck of expectations….or was he plain lazy with his last two films?
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