Mumbai-based director Vishal Bhardwaj talks about his latest film, dark comedy 7 Sins Forgiven (7 Khoon Maaf), which has its world premiere in thePanorama Special section of Berlin.
Starting his career as a singer and composer, Bhardwaj moved into directing with children’s film Makdee in 2002. He has since directed interpretations of Macbeth and Othello, entitled Maqbool and Om Kara; children’s film The Blue Umbrella, and stylish gangster fable Kaminey, starring Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra.
His latest film, 7 Sins Forgiven, tells the story of a seemingly sweet and innocent woman who over the course of 35 years gets married seven times and murders her seven husbands. Based on a short story by Ruskin Bond, an Indian writer of British descent, the film again stars Chopra along with John Abraham, Irrfan Khan, Naseeruddin Shah and Neil Nitin Mukesh among her husbands.
Following its world premiere in Berlin, the film opens in India and overseas on Feb 18 via UTV Motion Pictures.
Would you say this is your most commercial film to date?
I was a music composer first and used to compose for commercial films, so I’m not really interested in making something which shrinks the market. For me a film should entertain anyone and everyone, but on my own terms. So it asks the common audience to rise a little above the usual Bollywood film in terms of story-telling.
How does it differ from your previous film Kaminey?
It’s very unusual in terms of content – it’s a black comedy and a very wicked film and that’s not something that’s usually seen in our cinema. The intention is to have the audience on the side of the killer. I want them to feel the same way I did when I read the short story – you start by asking why someone would kill seven husbands, but as you get into the story, you’re on her side and want those husbands to be killed.
How did you come across the short story?
Bond is a British man born and brought up in India who lives in a small hill town called Mussoorie in the north. I find him more Indian than Indians in terms of his writing. He’s famous for his sketch material but I realised there’s more to him than that and my previous film The Blue Umbrella was based on one of his stories.
After I read this story [Susanna’s 7 Husbands], I hired him to turn it into a novel and from that adapted a screenplay with my co-writer Matthew Robbins. It’s a very complicated structure to be adapted on screen because it’s basically seven short stories about the seven husbands and I didn’t want them to look or feel episodic. So I called Matthew and we wrote it together. I’d worked with him before on a project called Julia that unfortunately I couldn’t raise financing for.
You’ve worked with Priyanka Chopra before but why did you think she was suitable for this role?
The idea is the contrast because she should look like a very innocent girl who you would like to fall in love with – so she has that quality. I also realised in Kaminey that she’s a very fine actor although she had a small part. She’s very versatile and intelligent and I needed somebody who was completely committed because this is a difficult film in terms of the make-up. She’s playing a character between the ages of 24 and 60, so she had to spend around four to five hours in make-up every day.
Do you think there will be an international audience for this film?
I don’t know because the NRIs [non-resident Indians] are more conservative than the Indian audience. That’s been the biggest reason for our cinema not evolving because a few years ago all the filmmakers were making films for those NRIs and forgot their own country. Those people live in a different world where they left India 50 years ago and they want to see that India and show it to their kids.
But what about the crossover potential?
Again I don’t know because when I made Maqbool we got a standing ovation in Toronto, but the film was never released theatrically outside India, not even a single print. So I thought what’s the point of even thinking about the foreign audience. I make films for myself now – forget the foreign audience, I don’t even have the local audience in mind.
But do you think it’s possible to make films that work in India and overseas?
I think it’s becoming more possible because after Slumdog everyone has started thinking – OK India has something. So they’re a little more open-minded and the main thing is the growing economy and the fact that the money is here. Now the foreign studios are all here but they want us to make films for own market – they say please, please make films for your own market – so they don’t actually want us to cross over right now.
Why did you start directing when you were so successful in music already?
Honestly, when I started my career as a music composer I was successful, but then it started going down and I realised that if don’t do something else I’ll be sitting at home all day. So that’s why I started making films to employ myself as a music composer.
What are you working on next?
I have an idea that I’m working on with Shah Rukh Khan but we’re still finalising the subject. We want to do a very sweet film together because he said I’ve made too many dark films and it’s time to do something a bit lighter. I don’t consciously set out to do dark films, I’m just attracted to these kinds of characters.
What do you think of the Berlin film festival?
I love it because it’s an excellent festival and the weather is beautiful. I love winters and wearing my overcoat because I don’t get the chance in India. And I’ll also get to see some very good films so I’m looking forward to that.