Vishal Bhardwaj, His Women and Their Non-Cooperation

Dear Mr Bhardwaj, we don’t wish to understand you quickly. Let it be a slow burn.

4 min read
Filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj with Priyanka Chopra.

The bond between Gulzar and Vishal Bhardwaj is an anomaly in the Hindi film industry. Gulzar, at the autumn of his life, diligently writing, shows us an inexplicable wealth of swift imagination, sunny acceptance, and abundant playfulness that has ripened into wisdom. Bhardwaj, many years junior, has slowly hardened in his convictions, and has created a distinct body of work, conscious of the increasing rupture from the spirit of his age.

With equal bluntness of self-revelation, they draw out and strengthen each other’s life and work. Gulzar can be traced in Bhardwaj’s work easily, for the latter has always acknowledged the former as his mentor. But despite their symbiotic relationship, there is a striking conflict in their cinematic oeuvre. Gulzar’s films, descending from the school of Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, carried an unassuming moral quality, a legitimate resignation weighed against the societal order, to understand one’s personal freedom and free observance to disobedient passions.

On the other hand, Bhardwaj’s filmography constitutes primarily a right to revolt, not adhering to the tradition of well wishing and well doing. With increasing disgust, his films find themselves being part of a society which neither understands nor values the existential chasm of their characters, making way for destructive fancies. A darker, cruder world. And if you dig deeper, and look closer, you will find women, regal and defiant, at the core of it.

Ajay Devgn and Kareena Kapoor in <i>Omkara</i>
Ajay Devgn and Kareena Kapoor in Omkara

Take a trip to the world of Dolly Mishra (Omkara), Ghazala Meer (Haider), Nimmi (Maqbool), or Susanna (7 Khoon Maaf), and you will notice how all of them do not exercise servitude or silence in despair. Even smaller characters like Indu (Omkara), or Sweety (Kaminey) assert their self-expression in a system of men, made by men, for men. As for Krishna, Begum Para, and Muniya, the women he co-wrote with his collaborator Abhishek Chaubey in Ishqiya and Dedh Ishqiya, they go by the deepest impulses of their blood and desire as well. All these women stem from the universe of Gulzar’s women, but in post globalised India, they not only raise their voices against the solid casing of masculine egoism, they act and pierce through it.

Priyanka Chopra and Irrfan Khan in <i>7 Khoon Maaf</i>
Priyanka Chopra and Irrfan Khan in 7 Khoon Maaf

Bhardwaj’s films carry the morals of a cinematic libertine, unafraid of intolerance or the weakness of a puritan. His stories use women to seduce us into a universe, hitherto unaddressed, slowly disrobing us of our habitual thinking, and making a show of the bad and the beautiful. His narratives, bordering on the mainstream, have sumptuous toppings of violence, the Oedipus complex or BDSM, interwoven in such a way that mortal morality gets sick and irritated, and the audience is forced to consider dark and twisted places within itself.

Tabu and Kay Kay Menon in <i>Haider</i>
Tabu and Kay Kay Menon in Haider

In a desire to present a certain segment of observed life, these women are increasingly off the hook of conventional masala, and they walk on the road, somewhere between the romantic and the realist. The violence and the cruelty are products of our modern times, the continuous disgrace of the human spirit. And women, the delicate and the attractive, making an exhibition of it simply make it delicious.

Shraddha Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor in <i>Haider</i>
Shraddha Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor in Haider

Bhardwaj’s pessimism has a scholarly basis, resting upon research and observation. Since he is a willing victim of the literary approach, like his mentor, it’s time he sourced more indignant women for us, his audience. Beyond Shakespeare, in the works of luminaries of classic literature like Émile Zola, Benito Pérez Galdós, Ivan Bunin, Lu Xun, Knut Hamsun, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Honoré de Balzac, Edgar Allan Poe, Jun’ichirō Tanizaki among others.

Dear Mr Bhardwaj, we don’t wish to understand you quickly. Let it be a slow burn.

(The writer is a journalist and a screenwriter who believes in the insanity of words, in print or otherwise. Follow him on Twitter: @RanjibMazumder)


(This piece is from The Quint’s archives and was first published on 4 August 2015. It is being republished to mark the master filmmaker’s birthday.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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