Vishal Bhardwaj Wants Rajinikanth to Play King Lear

At a talk at the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival, Vishal Bhardwaj got candid about Haider, Beedi Jalaile & more.

4 min read

Vishal Bhardwaj at a panel discussion at the fifth Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival.

If Vishal Bhardwaj were to make a movie on the Shakespearean tragedy King Lear, he’d cast Rajinikanth in the titular role. The filmmaker made this candid admission at a panel discussion during the Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival in Guwahati, which concluded on 17 September.

Addressing a crowd of students and young filmmakers, Bhardwaj said that before he decided to adapt Hamlet into Haider, he had mulled over an adaptation of King Lear for a long time. Rajinikanth was the only person he could envisage in the role, he said.

On His Unusual Casting Choices

At the event, the director and composer also spoke about his other unusual casting choices, like Tabu playing Shahid Kapoor’s mother in Haider, and Saif Ali Khan as the rustic Langda Tyagi in Omkara

Tabu in a still from the movie <i>Haider</i> (2014).
Tabu in a still from the movie Haider (2014).
(Photo Courtesy: India Opines)
When I was envisioning Gertrude, I could only think of Tabu and no one else. There were very few good people left to play mothers. I could cast any one for Hamlet. I had a lot of choices, but could only think of Tabu as Gertrude. We have been friends for a long time and the first time I asked her she said, ‘I can play mother to any one but Shahid Kapoor!’
Vishal Bhardwaj on casting Tabu as Shahid Kapoor’s mother in Haider

“Then I came back and thought about whom to cast and no one came to mind. It is then that I swallowed my ego and asked her again. Told her to take whatever money she wants but play the role. She said it is not about the money. Then I gave her another line and said, ‘Don’t think of this as playing Haider’s mother but playing Gertrude’. Then she finally agreed,” he said.

Speaking about Saif’s casting as Langda Tyagi, Bhardwaj spoke about a movie that he was making with Aamir Khan that got shelved. “Actually, I’ve shelved more movies than I’ve made,” he joked. The character of Langda Tyagi was born during a brainstorming session between the filmmaker and Aamir ‘Perfectionist’ Khan.

Aamir Khan wanted to play ‘Langda Tyagi’, a character finally played by Saif Ali Khan in the movie <i>Omkara </i>(2006)
Aamir Khan wanted to play ‘Langda Tyagi’, a character finally played by Saif Ali Khan in the movie Omkara (2006)
(Photo: Mid-Day)
After the film got shelved, Aamir said why don’t you make Othello and I will play Langda Tyagi. I didn’t think at that time that a star would be interested in playing the role and that prompted me to think of casting a star. I liked Saif in Dil Chahta Hai and Ek Hasina Thi. I met him and I got the confidence from him that he’ll be able to pull it off.
Vishal Bhardwaj on casting Saif Ali Khan as Langda Tyagi in Omkara.

“Tell Your Story”

The director also spoke about the fine balance between artistic movies and commercial success.

If we talk about ‘Beedi Jalaile’, I’ll be very honest with you and say that we wanted it to be the biggest item number of the year. But integrating the item song into the movie and making it realistic was important. Finally, if any one would have gone out for a smoke break or to take a phone call during the song, then they would have missed an essential part of the screenplay. And that’s an art.
Vishal Bhardwaj

He also offered advice to young movie makers from the North East about surviving in the ruthless movie industry.

Vishal Bhardwaj at the 5th Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival in Guwahati
Vishal Bhardwaj at the 5th Brahmaputra Valley Film Festival in Guwahati
(Photo: Ishadrita Lahiri/The Quint)

“One of the best advice that I was given by Gulzar Sahab was to always keep your gun loaded. When an opportunity comes to you, you must be prepared to take it. If you go looking for the bullets when the opportunity comes, you’ll miss the bus,” he said.

Bhardwaj also emphasised that the only way stories from the North Eastern states can be told is if those in the North East start telling them.

If it is your story, only you can tell it. Don’t wait for other people to come and tell your story.

“We have to create film institutes over here and they have to be at par with everyone else. And only then will these stories be told,” he said, in response to a question by a student.

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