Vishal Bhardwaj

  • Director, Writer, Music, Producer, Screenplay, Dialogue Writer

Aug 04, 1965  in Uttar Pradesh, India

Also Known as: Bharathwaj, Vishaal Bhardwaj, Vishal

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Vishal Bhardwaj is an award-winning Indian director, screenwriter, music director, playback singer, and film producer, who works primarily in the field of Hindi films. His films have received much critical acclaim, especially his adaptations of Shakespeare’s tragedies: Maqbool (Macbeth), Omkara (Othello), and Haider (Hamlet). He has won multiple National Film Awards in different categories: Best Music Direction: Godmother (1999), Ishqiya (2010), Haider (2014), for Best Children’s Film: The Blue Umbrella; Best Screenplay (Dialogues): Haider, and Best Screenplay: Talwar (2015). He also won the National Film Award – Special Jury Award for Omkara (2006).

Early life
Bhardwaj was born on August 4, 1965, in Chandpur village, near Bijnor, Uttar Pradesh, to Satya Bhardwaj, a homemaker, and Ram Bhardwaj, a sugarcane inspector, who also made poetic and lyrical compositions for Hindi films. They lived in Najibabad and after he completed his fifth grade, the family then migrated to Meerut, where he played cricket for the state’s under-19 team. However, he was unable to pursue a career in cricket because he sustained a thumb injury during a practice session.

Bhardwaj had an elder brother, who died of a heart attack after struggling for years to become a film producer in Mumbai. His demise affected Bhardwaj immensely. Growing up, Bhardwaj was always a connoisseur of poetry and knew most of Gulzar’s poetry by heart. He even composed a song at the age of seventeen, which was utilized in the film Yaar Kasam (1985) after his father brought it to the attention of Usha Kadam, a music director. Little did he know that he would later come to Mumbai and meet his idol Gulzar, who would then go on to become a father figure to him.

Personal life
Bhardwaj is married to renowned playback singer Rekha Bhardwaj, whom he met while pursuing a degree in Arts in Hindu College, New Delhi. Rekha was a year senior and was pursuing a degree in music. They met at the annual day function. After they relocated to Mumbai, they had a long period of struggle, even living in rented apartments for fifteen years, before both of them established themselves in the industry. Rekha often sings in her husband’s films such as “Darling” from 7 Khoon Maaf, “Namak Ishq ka” from Omkara. Together they have one son, Aasmaan, who, like his father, aspires to be a part of the film industry and has assisted his father on the 2009 movie Kaminey.

Movie Career
As a Music Composer
Bhardwaj moved to Mumbai to pursue a career in music direction and struggled for a few years to make his mark in the music world. He made his debut as a music composer with the children's film Abhay (1995). He then composed music for Fauji (1995), and Sanshodhan (1996). A turning point in his music career came in 1996 when he composed the music for Gulzar's Maachis, which won him the Filmfare RD Burman Award for New Music Talent. The film was based on the insurgency in Punjab in the 1980 and showcased the transformation of boys into insurgents. His other projects included Betaabi (1997), Tunnu Ki Tina (1997), Satya (1998), Hu Tu Tu (1999), and Godmother (1999), for which he received the National Film Award for Best Music Direction.

Bhardwaj went on to compose music for most of his directorial ventures such as Makdee, Maqbool, The Blue Umbrella, Omkara, Kaminey, for which he won the Filmfare Award for Best Music Director, 7 Khoon Maaf, and Haider. He went on to win the National Film Award for Best Music Direction for his work in the 2010 black comedy Ishqiya, which he also produced. Apart from these, Bhardwaj has also provided the score for movies like the 2015 crime thriller Drishyam, starring Ajay Devgn and Shriya Saran, the Irrfan Khan-starrer social thriller film Madaari, and his 2017 directorial Rangoon, starring Shahid Kapoor, Kangana Ranaut, and Saif Ali Khan in lead roles.

As a Director
Bhardwaj soon started feeling his music direction career was taking him nowhere as even after composing music for some eight to nine films, none of his compositions had become hits. At this juncture, he started visiting film festivals with Gulzar, which is when he veered towards film direction after watching Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994), and Krzysztof Kieślowski's television series Dekalog during a film festival. He says, “I saw Pulp Fiction and it messed up my head…it showed me the power of storytelling...and that violence can be so entertaining.” Indeed, violence was used extensively in some of his films which often explore dark themes.

However, his directorial debut was the children’s film Makdee (2002), which starred Shabana Azmi, Makarand Deshpande, and Shweta Prasad. The film sought to debunk superstitions and was screened at the Critics' Week (Spotlight on India) section at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. He also composed the music for the film. In 2003, he made the first of his adaptations of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood (1957), which is considered to be one of the best adaptations of Macbeth, Bhardwaj set his version of Macbeth in the murky yet riveting underworld of Mumbai as Maqbool, the titular character of which was played by Irrfan Khan. Tabu played the role of Lady Macbeth and Pankaj Kapur was the equivalent of the Scottish King Duncan. Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri played the role of two corrupt officials, who are equivalent to the role of the three witches in the original tragedy. The film was screened at the 2003 Toronto Film Festival and 2004 Cannes Film Festival and has been listed as "one of the 100 greatest Indian films of all time" in a 2013 list by CNN-IBN. Maqbool also made it to "The Top 75 Hindi Films of the Decade" list in 2010 by film critic Raja Sen. Bhardwaj's next project, a children's film, The Blue Umbrella (2005), an adaptation of Ruskin Bond's novel of the same name, won the National Film Award for Best Children's Film in 2005. Again, he composed the music for the film.

His next adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedies, Omkara, didn’t do well at the box office, but received much critical acclaim and met with positive box office response the UK and North America. His adaptation of Othello, Omkara (2006), where Ajay Devgn played the titular character, was set in the political hinterland of Uttar Pradesh - India’s most populous, politically powerful yet socially backward state. Kareena Kapoor Khan plays the role of Dolly, the beautiful Desdemona, who is killed due to her lover Omkara’s hubris: jealousy. Saif Ali Khan plays the antagonist, Iago’s equivalent Langda Tyagi, and Konkona Sen Sharma plays his wife. The film also starred Deepak Dobriyal, Vivek Oberoi, and Bipasha Basu. The film premiered at the 6th Marrakech International Film Festival and was screened at the Cairo International Film Festival. At the 54th National Film Awards, Bhardwaj received the Special Jury Award for the film.

He directed Blood Brothers (2007), a 13-minute short film on HIV/AIDS as a part of 'AIDS JaaGo' - a joint initiative by Mira Nair and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, wherein Bhardwaj, Santosh Sivan, and Farhan Akhtar directed a series of short films. The series made its debut at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. In 2009, Bhardwaj made his most Quentin Tarantinoesque film: Kaminey. Although it dealt with the age-old Bollywood trope of identical twins, Bhardwaj’s treatment of the same is novel. With a good deal of violence, music to match, and dark cinematography, the film carried with it an edgy feel and has one constantly sitting at the edge of their seat. The film starring Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra was a commercial success, grossing over INR 700 million (US$10 million) worldwide. The film earned him two Filmfare nominations in the Best Director and Best Music Director categories.

Bhardwaj again teamed up with Priyanka Chopra for 7 Khoon Maaf (2011), an adaptation of Susanna’s Seven Husbands, a short story by Ruskin Bond. The script was a collaborative effort between Bond, Bhardwaj, and American writer Matthew Robbins. It revolves around the character of Susanna Anna-Marie Johannes and her development into a serial killer as she murders each of her six husbands, before becoming a nun and therefore making Christ her seventh husband. Although, creatively, a brilliant film, it didn’t do well at the box office. The film was screened at the prestigious Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Festival.

Haider (2014) is Bhardwaj’s adaptation of Hamlet. It fetched him the Best Music Director and Best Screenplay (Dialogues) award along with Best Film and Best Director at the 60th Filmfare Awards, for his adaptation which was set during the rise of insurgency in the 1990s in Kashmir. Bhardwaj and the lead actor Shahid Kapoor charged no money for this film. In 2017, Bhardwaj teamed up with Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor, and Kangana Ranaut for the period war drama Rangoon.

As a producer
Bhardwaj started his career as a producer with the 2002 children’s movie Makdee, following which he produced all of the movies that have been directed by him.

As a Writer
Bhardwaj has been associated with movies for writing its dialogues, screenplay, story or all three. He started his writing career in Bollywood along with his directorial and music composing career with the 2002 movie Makdee. Having written most of the scripts for movies that he directs, Bhardwaj has written the script of Meghna Gulzar's crime drama Talvar, which was based on the 2008 Noida double murder case. Talvar premiered at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and received positive reviews from critics. Bhardwaj won the National Film Award for Best Screenplay for writing Talvar. He has also been associated with movies like Dus Kahaniyaan, Ishqiya and its sequel Dedh Ishqiya as well.

Television Career
He has collaborated with Gulzar on TV serials such as Alice in Wonderland and Gubbare as a director and music composer.

Independent Projects
He provided music for the music albums: Sunset Point (2000), Ishqa Ishqa (2002) and Barse Barse (2011).

FILMOGRAPHY