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We have not abided by any stereotype in ‘Bard of Blood’: Emraan Hashmi

A scene from upcoming web series ‘Bard of Blood’

A scene from upcoming web series ‘Bard of Blood’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


Bard of Blood stars Emraan Hashmi, Kirti Kulhari and Vineet Kumar Singh on venturing into the digital medium, ahead of its première later this month

Author Bilal Siddiqi was 20 when he wrote his début novel The Bard of Blood, when he was still too young to deal with themes of power and deceit. He took inspiration from his mentor, author S Hussain Zaidi, and toyed with the idea of constructing a world that is both visceral and graphic. The Bard of Blood, an unadulterated espionage thriller, attained commercial success and is now being adapted into a seven-episode web series, produced by Netflix in association with Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment.

On a sultry day at Chokhani Haveli, Mandawa in Rajasthan, I caught up with actors Emraan Hashmi, Kirti Kulhari and Vineet Kumar Singh, who took some time off their shooting schedule to discuss Bard of Blood, its world and its politics.

Excommunicated and back in action

When Emraan Hashmi launched The Bard of Blood in 2015, little did he know that he would play the lead character, Kabir Anand, four years down the line in a web adaptation of the novel. “I read it long back, and he [Kabir Anand] seemed like an interesting character. So, there was no reason for me to turn down,” said Emraan Hashmi, sitting inside his vanity van. I met him two weeks after the Balakot air strike carried out by the Indian Air Force, and so asked him about the geo-political significance of the series. “Ours is completely fictional,” came the response from Emraan, adding, “You could say there’s some relevance here and there, but it has nothing to do with what’s happening around.”

Emraan Hashmi as Kabir Anand in ‘Bard of Blood’

Emraan Hashmi as Kabir Anand in ‘Bard of Blood’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

RAW agent Kabir Anand is excommunicated, and is forced to leave the agency following a military operation gone wrong in Balochistan. He ends up teaching English Literature at a college in Mumbai before he is reassigned a ‘mission’, should he choose to accept. Bard of Blood, according to Emraan, is a clean narrative that also has several layers and subtexts to it. “Every character you play is somewhat an extension of your personality,” he said, about internalising Kabir Anand, adding, “You have to bring in nuances and personality traits to your character from what’s written on paper. In that sense, most of my work is done on the set, and I tend to improvise a lot.”

The series, by his own admission, is true to the book, but certain plot points have been altered for cinematic effect. Was it to cater to Indian sensibilities? “Not just our audiences, but we are taking it to 190 countries. So we have to keep that dynamics in mind. It’s great that the book has been made into a web series. Had it been in a film format, a lot would have been sliced out.” Emraan pointed out the obvious creative freedom available on OTT platforms, and believes that there is more space to play the characters effectively. “Not that we do it less effectively in movies, but it limits your screen time and character arc,” he clarified. One could argue that the Indian audience has been exposed to far better narratives on the intelligence agency. In such a case, what sets Bard of Blood apart? “I have not seen too much content in that zone. But we have stuck to the book. That in itself is a great thing in terms of the world Bilal wanted to create. Our audience hasn’t seen something like this before,” he said.

Premises that revolve around agents, agencies and militant groups invariably tend to stereotype Pakistan, reducing it to a somewhat caricaturish portrayal. How has Bard of Blood handled this criticism, if at all there is one? “We have not abided by any stereotype in this. That much I can say,” said Emraan, “It’s very authentic and true to the milieu. We met Balochi people, interacted with them and watched videos as to how the place is projected in movies. So, we have done our bit,” he added.

Kirti Kulhari plays Jannat Mari in ‘Bard of Blood’

Kirti Kulhari plays Jannat Mari in ‘Bard of Blood’   | Photo Credit: A screengrab from YouTube

‘Jannat Mari is bound by love’

Dressed in a dun-coloured salwar kameez, Kirti Kulhari was the first to arrive. I greeted her with a casual “Hey, Kriti”, which touched a raw nerve. For she had to correct me not once but thrice. “It is Kee-rr-thee. It’s a ‘proper’ South Indian name. I don’t know why you aren’t getting it right,” she laughed. Kirti hasn’t read Bard of Blood, and she had a reason not to. “When I came on board, my writers asked me to read the script. It had more details and was updated in that sense. My character wasn’t there in the book, so why should I read it anyway?” she said. Kirti is slowly moving away from her comfort zone to play characters “that provoke, stimulate and instigate you”, with Bard of Blood being a significant step in that direction.

Excerpts from an interview:

What do you look for in a script?

The content and how it’s being told. I’m currently in a position where I love to take up projects that would make you uncomfortable — the things we shy away from speaking in public. I might sound sadistic, but I’m just a mirror, reflecting the darkness inside you.

Your character was created just for the series. What was the brief you got from the director/writers, considering she is alien to this universe?

Jannat Mari is a Balochi girl. She’s a leader in her own right. She fights for a cause and I would say she’s bound and moved by love. At least that’s how I perceived her. And that emotion was important for me. At the same time, she’s not carried away by it. In a way, she is a great balance between head and heart.

Do you believe in taking references? Anything that subconsciously helped you in playing the character?

No, I don’t take references. If someone asks me to watch a film/series to get into a certain zone, I avoid doing it. It’s easy to get influenced, and I need to make sure that it doesn’t affect my creative process. I watched a documentary on Balochistan to get the dialect right and have a rough idea about the milieu it’s set in.

Would you say it was a difficult process understanding Jannat Mari, her background, and where she came from?

To a certain extent, yes. It’s never easy to find the character in your mind. But that’s also the fun part, right? Of course, there are always people to guide you in a certain direction with regards to dialect and personality. But you know what? There will invariably be a moment where you think and feel like the character. That feeling is inexplicable. I had many such moments in this one.

Since it’s produced by Netflix, could you share some of your favourite shows?

I am a big fan of The Crown. It’s one of the most flawless shows. I liked the second season of Narcos and loved the conceit of Black Mirror. I also caught with Roma recently.

Vineet Kumar Singh plays an undercover agent Veer Singh in ‘Bard of Blood’

Vineet Kumar Singh plays an undercover agent Veer Singh in ‘Bard of Blood’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Rise of an underdog

When Vineet Kumar Singh was a struggling actor, he never imagined that a day would arrive where his work would be seen in 190 countries. He signed Bard of Blood, his first venture in the online space, keeping that prospect in mind. Wearing an Afghani robe with a matching turban, Vineet sported a bushy beard, with kajal in his eyes — a makeover that makes him unrecognisable at first. And the disguise worked in his favour, for he plays Veer Singh, an undercover agent posted in Afghanistan.

He is Indian at heart, but lives an Afghani life and survives among Taliban groups. “Opium is the main source of money for terrorist organisations. He [Veer Singh] tries to expose this, but nobody takes him seriously,” he said. There is a certain rawness that Vineet brings to his characters — whether it is Shravan Singh in Mukkabaaz or Imtiaz in Gold. He attributes this factor to his characters’ actions. “You need to understand the rhythm of the character in order to get into his mindset. While reading the script, it’s important to answer the ‘why’ part of my character. Veer, for instance, is volatile and spontaneous,” he said, adding that his character in Bard of Blood gets an arc of his own.

Has he ever approached Veer Singh from a writer’s perspective, given that he’s also a sensible writer? “After Mukkabaaz, I must have read around 200 scripts. There’s some advantage in reading scripts. Beneath the paper, I see a person’s journey and worldview through it. That is very inspiring and offers me a new perspective on life.”

Bard of Blood premieres on Netflix on September 27.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 11:00:48 AM |

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