As their latest film Haider hits the screen today (October 2) the film's stars Shahid Kapoor and Shraddha Kapoor with director Vishal Bhardwaj talked about the film's Shakespearian angle, the complexity of characters and more in an exclusive interview with NDTV's Pooja Talwaar.
Read full transcript:
NDTV: You have taken Hamlet from Denmark, 16th century to Haider, Kashmir 19th century. Hamlet was at a time of the reformation, what made you take it up this story?
Vishal Bhardwaj: The story itself, the play and the beautiful story which Shakespeare has written. I think this play would have been the best way to complete my trilogy, so that was the main reason.
NDTV: Also Hamlet is set at a time of political intrigue. Freud actually studied Hamlet for understanding human psychology but how are you going to explaining it in the Indian context? Basically the sexual conflict and gender issues, how are you planning to do that adapting to the Indian situation?
Vishal: I think within the parameters of our society and our culture which permits us to do that because these kind of conflict is there in every society. Every society has its own culture, its own parameters, within that you should do it and I think I have done that.
NDTV: Also Shahid, the hero in Hamlet is a very complex character. It also portrays the hero as a fool, and also he is a relativist and also skeptical. What was your understanding of him and manifesting him on screen? How challenging was it?
Shahid: So many things even I did not think before playing it. With the many things you say, it seems I have done some really complex stuff. Yes, Hamlet is so far the most complex role or considered to be one ever to be essayed by an actor. I felt the weight of Hamlet or rather Haider, because that's the film we are making and that's the character we are creating, but there is a lot of stuff in Hamlet that has been brought into Haider.
So I could feel why people felt that way about the film, and I felt weighed with the responsibility. Half way through the film there were many days when I asked Vishal sir if he was happy with what I was doing, and he would keep looking at me and saying, yes you are doing fine, go ahead and do it. But I could not help myself from asking him because I felt may be I will miss out on something because it is such a complex character with so many layers to it that it becomes too difficult to analyse if you are doing it right or not. So whenever I felt confused I would look at Vishalji after cut and if he was happy , I would be satisfied knowing whatever I have done is right. And yes, by far the most difficult role, the most difficult character for me has been Haider.
NDTV: Shraddha, a hattrick seems to be in your hands but you said playing Arshia has been one of the most difficult roles.
Shraddha: As you can see whom I am sitting next to - I am sitting next to Vishal sir and I'm sitting next to Shahid Kapoor - for me to be here right now is a crazily big deal and I cannot articulate it in words for me. I don't know how to look at Vishal sir and say how thankful I am for him to have this faith and trust in me to be a part of this amazing film. Basically being part of a part this movie is like going down in history right, and for me to be given the coveted opportunity is like once in a lifetime kind of a phenomena to have happened.
That aside, Arshia, the Indian adaptation of Ophelia and Horatio put together (which Vishal sir interestingly merged for Haider) adds another of layer of characteriszation. I just feel like it's unbelievable. Sir has given me this opportunity and he has changed my life.
NDTV: Also Shakespeare, Vishalji, what is there when you read these books, whether Macbeth, Othello and now Hamlet, that you want to make an adaptation?
Vishal: If you go within literature you find something in the layers, it goes beyond the surface and that's what literature does to us. When I was making Macbeth, my genre was fixed that I want to make a film set in the underworld, but I was looking for a story that would go beyond gang wars, beyond bullets and beyond guns. That's when I accidently happen to find Macbeth. And after that I fell in love with Shakespeare and read all his plays, and got it very difficult for me to decide about my second film, Omkara. Again I had a choice between Julius Ceaser and Othello and I went for Othello. And same way for Haider, I always say Shakespeare's work can be adapted at any time and any place, you can make it a futuristic film or a period film and it's beyond any country or culture, you can place it anywhere. So the stories are so relevant even now, it is a 450-year-old play, but because the stories he has written is about basic human conflicts and traits, if a woman becomes the queen, she remains the woman first and queen later, so he has caught the conflicts of the basic human traits.
We have a romcom and action in our film. Literature doesn't mean it's dry, it's very juicy and full of humor (wicked humor), and it's full of romance and action. So if you have a classic which can entertain you, and give you something more...
Shahid: If you see the promos you wouldn't even realise that it's an adaptation of Hamlet. There are very few filmmakers that have the ability and skill to take something as old as Hamlet is, and to adapt it and keep it relevant for today's times.
Vishal:: I think Shahid is one of the best actors in his age group and he still has to tap his talent more, he still has to go down deep, and after a few days you will see the phenomenal work he has done but even after that he has to go down deeper and explore himself because he is a very talented man. But talent doesn't give you all, you need your hard work, sincerity to tap your 100 per cent.
NDTV: (to Shahid) You constantly feel you are being compared to your father (Pankaj Kapoor)?
Shahid: No, I don't. There is no comparison. He is one of, or probably the best actor we have in the country, so there is no comparison. There is only pride, love and learning from him and nothing else.
NDTV: (to Vishal): So you are a great fan of Pankaj sir as well. How has been your experience to work with both, father and son?
Vishal: I think I'm just being a medium. I'm learning from him and passing it on to Shahid.
NDTV: Vishal sir on one hand makes these children films and on the other hand he makes these dark movies, so where is this coming from?
Vishal: I think, not just me but we all live in the extreme. If somewhere I can achieve the golden middle, I will be Buddha, so I live on extremes and we pass through such emotions daily. Sometime we are a kid and sometimes a much matured man. I feel I have to explore more sides of me. So I have just explored adult and kid, and now I have to explore the adolescent within me.
NDTV: Along with exploring, you direct, you sing, you write, how do you do it?
Shahid:: He composes his own music and does his background score for his own movie.
Vishal: For that I must say God has been very kind, because he has given so many things to me that I do and people appreciate. And the best thing that I think he has given me, and I have realised it now, is that I immediately recognise my foolishness and inferior work and then don't do that. And that is what I think makes a person intelligent. An intelligent person knows when he is a fool and a fool never knows when he is intelligent.
Shahid: It's just not me, both me and Vishal sir have done the movie in a fee-free structure because in our initial conversations Vishal sir told me that it's a very pure film, and I don't want any commercial parameters on it. When I heard the script of the film I fell in love with it instantly, and I understood why he was saying what he was saying. I felt this film cannot be made just like that. It's a very special movie for my career and I hope people feel the same way about it. It needed to be protected like a new born baby. It shouldn't have had anything that could take away the honesty and the purity of the film. And we felt if we make it within a certain budget we would be free to make the film the way we want to make it without feeling those pressures.
NDTV: Why did you choose Kashmir as the landscape for this movie?
Vishal: In mainstream cinema the films that have been made in Kashmir has shown Kashmir from the fringes. It is important to feel the conflicts from within to feel the place and I think it's the right way too. My take was that we have to see the film from inside , how the people of Kashmir who have gone through this long period of conflict, or what all they have seen should be seen by the audience. The only way to do something like this is to go and place a character in that place. When I went to Kashmir, I was so surprised to see that place, there were doctors, there were people speaking in English and so many literary people, and I had a very different image by how I had imagined it from the mainstream cinema. That's when I felt like placing the film in the middle class family of Kashmir where the father is a doctor and the mother is a teacher, and how this family goes through conflict.
When I was screening my movie to the censor board, in the meanwhile I went to the edit board to make the movie a bit tighter. I felt it was a little loose and long, so I edited some non-purposeful mundane scenes in the movie. Such cuts have nothing to do with the censor board's suggestions. Out of the 41 cuts, 33 cuts were my voluntary creative cuts and censor suggested me 8 more cuts which I happily agreed to because I felt they were very good suggestions and made my film tighter. But they are available on the censor site so if they want to make a sensation, they can.
NDTV: I have heard you felt very happy after portraying a dark character, is that true?
Shahid: I feel comfortable in uncomfortable spaces, with that what I was trying to say that is after working as an actor for 10-11 years, what I have come to understand is that if you don't take risks, you will not evolve as an artist.
Working within your comfort zone is pretty scary. That means you are repeating yourself and that's the big fear I have. I would get bored of myself if I kept doing the same thing over and over again. How will I keep people interested? So yes, I enjoy delving into new areas, areas that I haven't delved into. I enjoy doing roles that I don't know if I will be able to pull off or not. I don't know whether the audience will enjoy it or not, because that is how I am when I go to watch a movie. I always look for something that an actor hasn't played before, an actor who rediscovers himself, tries new genres and its always more exciting as you don't know what to expect. Hence it is simple for me, keep doing different things. If you are an actor, you have to take a few risks and be adventurous, that what makes it so interesting.
I think every human has moments of extreme emotional outbursts. It could be due to so many things. I don't think any character in Haider is mad. When you see Haider, you will see the beauty of the filmmaking by Vishal sir. He makes you understand why a person is behaving the way he is. When you will go with the journey of the characters you will understand them more. Every character is explained and everything is understandable. I think the character that loses himself a bit is Haider himself. There is a scene where I go bald and start hitting my head but when you see the film, you will get why. I felt if I was at his place, I would have felt the same way. But you need to see the journey to understand that.
Shraddha: Adding to that, I think it's not madness. They are conflicting emotions, the one who has most of the conflicting emotions is Haider. Every character has their reason of why they are conflicted and that you will be able to see in the movie.
NDTV: How was it getting bald knowing you are so possessive about your hair?
Shahid: It was very liberating. Vishal sir told me if you want to do Hamlet you will have to go bald and I was ok. I asked for the reason and he explained me the scene and I understood. Obviously, it was a big decision, but it became like an exciting thing to do, like sky diving.
NDTV: You play a character surrounded by many powerful people. Do you relate to your character? Someone also asked why is she playing the girl who has to be rescued by the hero?
Shraddha: Actually its ulta. I am the person who is rescuing the hero. The madness and the craziness of the hero is only increasing. So this one is the highest one where I have got the maddest hero.
Shahid: Vishalji has always written very strong character roles for the females in his films which is not something what happens very often. He has written amazing roles in the past for Tabu ma'am in Maqbool or Kareena (Kapoor) and Konkana (Sen Sharma) in Omkara or Priyanka (Chopra) in Kaminey and Saath Khoon Maaf and now Shraddha and Tabu ma'am in Haider. It's really cool that he gave something juicy for the female actors to do in their character.
Shraddha: So there is a lot of pressure on me, because in the past all the top actresses who had been given these roles have done it amazingly, and now I have to prove I have done it well.
Shahid: You are new, there is no pressure, you are good, they took the decision of doing a film like that after so many films and you took it after 5 films, it's great.
When you're an actor there is no Shahid Kapoor. Shahid is someone I get to be when the cameras are not rolling and then I get other characters that I can do whatever I want with, and no one can turn around and say you can't do this and that because that's what the filmmaker wants you to do. So the most amazing part of being an actor is that you go out there and play characters that you really won't be able to be. And you get to feel what it would have been if you were at their place. It gives you a larger understanding of life and makes you appreciate whatever life has given you. When I play a role like Haider who leaves a normal home and comes back to a house completely destroyed, that is a difficult journey for anybody. Haider is one the most vulnerable and real characters I have played. It will be unfair if you just talk about the physical attributes, there is a lot more to it. It's about transcending into the mind of a filmmaker.
Shraddha: I think when you are shooting a film, there are technical things which go into making a film and there are many issues that production team handles which even the actor doesn't know about.
Shahid: Neither of us were present when the alleged incident in a Kashmir University happened. But in my 11 years of my career and in the 23 movies I have done, there have always been incidents of chaos while shooting. And when you are shooting in the downtown of Srinagar, where there is house every 5 meter, obviously there is going to be chaos. But what I want to hear is how they reacted to the shooting. They came with wide yes with surprise, they were clapping, laughing. I felt they were welcoming as they want more films to be shot in Kashmir. Tourism is something that is huge for Kashmir. The people of Kashmir were very supportive and nice.
NDTV: You both are young actors. At a time when everyone is doing a romcom, how do you decide to do a different film from what your colleagues are doing.
Shahid:: If Leonardo cannot do a romantic film for many years after Titanic, then it only shows that repeating yourself is not guarantee for success. It only confirms failure. The point is to move on from what you have already done and keep trying something new.
NDTV: Shraddha and Shahid both describe each other as actors, co-stars and performers.
Shahid: Shraddha is very easy to get along. She is quiet chilled out, loves to eat, little lazy, always happy.
Shraddha: He always eats healthy and I eat junk food. And he is a vegetarian and has no bad habits so it's amazing to have an energy like that around. For the first time I am getting to work with one of the country's superstars, it's awesome. As an actor, he has proven himself again and again that he can get into any role with ease and one can see the ease in his eyes, which is very tough for an actor and he completely nails it all the time. Because Shahid is young and experienced, it's fun working with him because you can learn from him and also have fun because he is completely mad.