Vishal Bhardwaj: When they strangle us, we will scream. This is the time for screaming
When Vishal Bhardwaj was 19, his family lived in a rented house in Meerut. Their landlord – a lawyer and the son of a judge – threw them out of the house one day. With no notice, suddenly the family was, literally, on the street. It was there – on the road, with all their stuff strewn around them – that Vishal’s father suffered a heart attack, and died.
For years, he confesses, he has not been able to tell that story without a lump in his throat. He dedicated his last film to his father – a story of a son going back home after the death of his father to find out what happened. This film was Haider.
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More than about politics or Kashmir, Haider was, to Bhardwaj, about his father. The scene in the film in which Haider comes back home to find it burnt down, and remembering the time he spent there with his father, was a moment of catharsis, he confesses in a candid conversation with Preti Taneja, author of We That Are Young – a modern day adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, set in Kashmir and Delhi.
On the second day of the Jaipur Literature Festival, a conversation about Shakespeare and the ability to speak truth to power with filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj predictably meanders to the freedom to make films. “Chutzpah,” he says, pronouncing it with the nuance and connotation that Haider brought to the word, as the crowd sniggers in understanding, “What’s been happening for four years now is ‘chutzpah’. If the Supreme Court says release a film, and it is still not released, that’s ‘Chutzpah’, isn’t it?”
Asked about the relevance and duty of artists in the present time, he declares that this is the best time to be an artist. When one is supressed, one can react to it, he argues. Before now, he says, the enemy didn’t give us the sort of fodder we have now. “When they strangle us, we will scream,” he declares, “This is the time for screaming.”
What was it like to be shooting in Kashmir, Taneja asks. Bhardwaj speaks of the anger that Kashmiris feel for Bollywood. “The people of Kashmir love Bollywood,” he says, “but they are very angry with us.” He speaks of how unfair the portrayal of Kashmir in cinema has been; the ‘firan and AK-47’ stereotype that Kashmir and Kashmiris have been reduced to in much of cinema. Was it hard, he is asked. Not as hard as what happened after the movie released, he says. “I couldn’t handle being called an anti-national. That was more painful than shooting in Kashmir.”
After three of Shakespeare’s tragedies, asks an audience member, does he have any plans for comedies? Yes, he wants to do a trilogy of comedies too, he answers. But he’s currently trying to find a way to situate them in his milieu – this culture, this politics.
Here’s looking forward to that.
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