MUMBAI: Over the last decade, Indian film director Vishal Bhardwaj has carved a niche for himself in Bollywood with his edgy, contemporary style of filmmaking.
Bhardwaj, best known for his Bollywood adaptations of the Shakespearean tragedies “Othello” and “Macbeth”, is now wooing Indian audiences with a dark thriller about a woman accused of murdering her seven husbands.
“7 Khoon Maaf” (7 Murders Forgiven), based on a short story by writer Ruskin Bond, opens in India on Friday after its premiere at the Berlin film festival.
Bhardwaj, 50, spoke to Reuters about making a film with a “negative” heroine in a film industry that rarely sees female protagonists.
Q: What was it about the short story that made you want to make it into a film?
A: “I thought it was such an unusual, interesting and intriguing story. The common man in me thought why would someone have seven husbands and then kill all of them. The basic concept was so compelling, that I thought if I can feel so excited about it, everyone will.
“In fact, when we were discussing the marketing and promotion of the film, everyone told me you are revealing everything in the title – we promise you seven delicious murders. If it were me and I had to choose a film about the life of, say, Swami Vivekananda and a film that had seven murders, I would watch the latter.”
Q: What are the challenges in turning a short story into a full-length feature film?
A: “First, when Ruskin wrote it, he added some wickedness to it and when Matthew (Robbins) and I wrote the screenplay, we made it even more wicked. It is the kind of wickedness that you know this person is going to die in the next five minutes, and everyone else but him knows it – that is the thing, you have fun in that knowledge.”
Q: This film is somewhat of a rarity in Bollywood – a heroine-oriented film, with one who is a murderer.
A: “Yes, we don't make heroine-oriented films. People tell you straightaway – don't make it, it won't make that kind of money. But I never bother about that. Also, I think women are stronger than men. Men are physically stronger but internally women are strong. If you see grandmothers in our houses, they dominate the entire household and it is the men who look cowered down. I also think women can manipulate better.
“Lady Macbeth is a prime example of that manipulative behaviour. They are also more complicated than men – they live by the heart, men live by the head. And the more complicated your character is, the better it is for a filmmaker.”
Q: Were there any apprehensions about tackling a subject like this one?
A: “No, I wasn't apprehensive at all because I knew what I was making. But people around me wanted me to try gimmicks like have one star play all seven husbands. But I didn't listen.”
Q: There is a mention of the Babri Masjid (a mosque that was demolished in 1992, triggering some of India's worst riots) in this film. How did that come about?
A: “I also wanted to react on the Babri Masjid demolition because it was the most unfortunate incident in our modern history. India changed that day. If the government could not protect a masjid (Mosque) how can they protect the common man? No one had reacted to this incident in mainstream cinema before.”
Q: Is that something you do often? Find a way to express your politics in your cinema?
A: “Yes. Whatever I feel about politics, society and religion, I say through my films because that's the best way to do it.”
Q: But isn't this an unusual film to express those opinions?
A: “It's easier to do that in these films. If I make a film only on the Babri Masjid, no one will come to watch it. It is better you camouflage these things under the guise of entertainment.”