Books aren’t just stories, they are a means to live multiple lifetimes, have multiple experiences, says writer, composer and film director Vishal Bhardwaj in an interview to Kunzum Review on the sidelines of the launch of Sumant Batra’s new book Anarkali.
Kunzum Review: What are your thoughts on Sumant Batra’s new book Anarkali?
Vishal Bhardwaj: I am happy that someone worked on this character, otherwise Anarkali was just “Jab pyar kiya to darna kya”, that song from Mughal-e-Azam. I am surprised that though she’s such a historical figure, why hadn’t anyone written a book on her so far. We’d always seen Anarkali as Salim’s mehbooba, not who she is, what she is doing and what happened to her, her character. I am so thankful that Sumant worked on this and saw her beyond what is popularly known about Anarkali. I think no one has done that after Mughal-e-Azam and no one even bothered to look at Anarkali as a character. So, this is good and I am looking forward to reading this book. And hopefully, I’ll be considered to make a movie on this.
KR: Where do you place historical fiction as a filmmaker in terms of literature in contemporary times? How do you see it? What do you see is its importance, be it Anarkali, or the story of the Mughals, or the story of the British?
VB: Now, history is becoming fiction. All the history that we have not been able to make in Bollywood for many reasons, it requires a lot of money. Today, as an audience, we are exposed to the Lord of the Rings and the Game of Thrones where the period is so exotic and the wars are so real and they are so captivating, that to achieve that kind of finesse, you need a lot of money. I don’t think that we as an industry are capable of achieving something like that because that requires a lot of money and when you require a lot of money, then you require a lot of audience and you have to go beyond India and beyond NRI and beyond diaspora and you have to make it universal. There’s a lot of things that are required.
KR: Even in cinema to create something like that to make something of such a scale requires research.
VB: I think that’s a very individualistic thing because some people believe in research, some don’t. They just say chemical locha” and with that one word, that one beautiful word, they can get away with the whole thing. I mean, that’s the power of cinema. But you don’t know what kind of disease Munnabhai had, but it was just called a “chemical locha”. The director didn’t want to go into the details of his (Munnabhai’s) mental illness. So that’s a very individualistic kind of question. But I think the other book I remember which made a very good fiction in history was Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar, that was brilliant.
Kunzum Review: You read and research a lot of books and then you make movies on them. How difficult is this work?
VB: More than difficult, it is very interesting. No matter how difficult it is, it is always more interesting. When you start researching on a particular topic or story, you end up finding some other related hidden, fascinating stories, that capture your imagination.
Kunzum Review: You made movies on three plays by Shakespeare, then you made an OTT series on Agatha Christie’s book. How did that inspiration come?
VB: I love literature, good stories and the inspiration is always there in my being. I keep reading all kinds of books across different genres, so I usually find something interesting.
Kunzum Review: When you are reading a book, in the back of your mind, are you always thinking that I can make this scene like this?
VB: No, at that time, my focus is towards the story of the book. And I read it as a story. The success of an art form depends on if, when you are reading a book, you forget that you are a writer; if you are watching a movie, you forget that you are a filmmaker; if you are listening to a song, you forget that you are a singer. The criteria of success for any fine art form is this only.
Kunzum Review: You once said that books are very important for movies. And you are also making movies on the books you read. Would you comment on that?
VB: Books are very important because it is only through books that you can do a journey of many lifetimes, which otherwise you wouldn’t be able to do. You can live a life that you haven’t or wouldn’t be otherwise be able to. If you don’t want to do that, then you can live the way you are living, but if you want live 50 different lives and lifetimes, then you should read 50 books.
Kunzum Review: So, when you are reading a book, how does it come to you that you can cast a particular actor as a certain character from the book?
VB: That is all about detailing. It’s a full film-making process and is a longer conversation which we can do at a later stage.
Kunzum Review: You are a writer, singer, film maker, which of these aspects of yourself do you identify with most?
VB: I like music, that’s what I like the most.
Kunzum Review: And books?
VB: After music it’s poetry because music and poetry are connected. You can’t have music without poetry. You can’t like or not like books.
Kunzum Review: Will there be a new role for Charlie Chopra?
VB: Yes, we are working towards that.
Kunzum Review: You’ve just released Khufiya, what after this?
VB: For now, nothing, I am here at Kunzum today for the book launch of Anarkali.
Ajay Jain: According to you, what is the importance of bookshops and books in society?
VB: I think bookshops are important because books are important and books are important because they allow you to live 50 different lives or as many different lives that you’d like if you read books.
Pick up Sumant Batra’s Anarkali from any Kunzum store or WhatsApp +91.8800200280 to order. Buy the book(s) and the coffee’s on us.