Vishal Bhardwaj’s accidental romance with William Shakespeare

Vishal Bhardwaj says his instant connection with the author William Shakespeare’s writings was an accident

Vishal Bhardwaj
Vishal Bhardwaj

It was love at first sight for Vishal Bhardwaj when he chanced upon William Shakespeare’s Macbeth and found his Mumbai-based gangster drama Maqbool in the tragedy, making the Bard his biggest source of inspiration. Bhardwaj, who has also given Shakespearean tragedies — Othello (Omkara) and Hamlet (Haider)– an interesting twist to suit Indian sensibilities, says his instant connection with the author’s writings was an accident.

“I fell in love with Shakespeare accidentally. I had made ‘Makdee’ and after that I wanted to make a film on gangster genre. But I wanted to make a film which was beyond gang wars, bullets, guns and blood. “We have a godson, whose name is Alaap. He was studying in Dehradun and I was coming to Delhi with him in a train. I was getting bored so I asked him to give me a storybook. So, that’s how I read ‘Macbeth’. I felt it could be a very good story for a gangster film. I read it again after coming back to Mumbai and I started adapting,” Bhardwaj said during a session titled “Word to Screen: Translating Shakespeare and Ruskin Bond” at the ongoing 13th Habitat Film Festival. The session was organised in association with HarperCollins India.

Bhardwaj said his initial “ignorance” towards Shakespeare’s literature was “bliss” for him as he was able to adapt “Macbeth” fearlessly. “When I was adapting Shakespeare for the first time I didn’t have the realisation what I was getting into. I was just looking at the masses, who didn’t know much about Shakespeare. I felt no body will get bothered with whatever I was doing with his literature. “I was fearless. I had this instinctive connection with his literature, which probably nobody else had. I just wanted to see the conflicts he had in our own culture and society,” he said. The director, however, faced serious nerves when “Maqbool” premiered at Toronto International Film Festival in 2003 and he realised the importance of Shakespeare’s work in world cinema.

“I realised that I was in a dangerous zone when the film was screened at Toronto International Film Festival. There was a premiere and then media interactions. That was the time I realised that it was dangerous. “The only thing I had in my mind at that time was ‘thank God I did a decent job’. Otherwise they would have ripped me apart,” he recalled. Bhardwaj, who is currently reading two classics by the iconic English writer, said his mentor and frequent collaborator Gulzar believes he is “exploiting Shakespeare the brand”. “But I disagree with him. I tell him, for me, Shakespeare is an inspiration. I chose to have Shakespeare’s name when I was told it will be harmful for me. I am acknowledging my source. I can’t say it is my own, if I am using references from his writings,” he said. “Probably… I do it so that I can steal his writings openly,” he quipped.

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