Hindi film director Vishal Bhardwaj and Anglo-Indian writer Ruskin Bond make for an unlikely working pair. But they think the world of each other

Anubha Sawhney Joshi | TNN (THE TIMES OF INDIA; August 22, 2010)

It’s not everyday that you hear Ruskin Bond sing. “But I was so bored and irritated with Mumbai’s traffic, I really considered breaking into song just to clear the cars,” says the 76-year-old Mussoorie resident only half in jest. The writer made the trudge from Colaba to Oshiwara to meet friend and fan Vishal Bhardwaj, who has based two of his films (The Blue Umbrella and Saat Khoon Maaf) on stories originally written by Bond. But more on that later.

“I’m a really bad singer but I quite enjoy singing. As a young man, I was fascinated by opera and would subject people to my baritone and tenor,” he says. But egg him on to sing and he surprises you with a song nowhere close to opera. Hawa mein udta jaaye, mera laal dupatta malmal ke.. err.. ka, Bond croons, sitting in the music room of Bhardwaj’s office. The music director nods approvingly.

Getting this duo together in Mumbai is a rarity. “But I’m happiest meeting Ruskinji in Mussorie,” says Bhardwaj, adding that he’s bought the house next to the author’s and they now share a wall. They actually share more than that. Both love the mountains. And enjoy a story well told, preferably over a couple of stiff drinks.

So who’s the better storyteller? “He is,” both say in unison. “There’s no debate there,’’ clarifies Bhardwaj, “I’m just a good re-teller.” He then confesses that he was introduced to Ruskin Bond’s writings by wife Rekha, the original Bond fan in the family.

Conversation flows effortlessly between these two. “I would go to Mussorie to play cricket; Ruskin Bond’s house was a landmark,” says Bhardwaj, who then indulgently lets Bond do much of the talking. “My opening dialogue in his film is a killer,” says the writer, referring to his cameo in Saat Khoon Maaf. “Am I allowed to talk about it?” The director gives his assent, and Bond launches into an elaborate explanation of the scene. “So Priyanka Chopra’s character is telling me how I make her feel calm and comfortable, and I say ‘It all comes down to love, sweetheart’,” Bond enunciates, thrilled at the dialogue and his delivery. As we applaud the first-time actor, he looks at Bhardwaj menacingly and says, “Don’t you dare cut that line out. If you do, I won’t write for you ever again.” Bhardwaj assures him that the line stays and a pleased Bond gleefully continues to tell us how he has two costume changes in the film. “And I look much better in those clothes than I do in my own,” he says, looking disapprovingly at his spotless white shirt.

He then gives Bhardwaj and his publicity manager some tips on marketing the upcoming film. While they both make mental notes, Bond wears the title of marketing guru quite lightly. “I’ve made a living by writing books in a country like India for 55 years—of course, I would know a thing or two about how to sell an idea,’’ he says nonchalantly. Does it bother him that the reading habit is slowly going down? “On the contrary, in fact. Despite no distractions like the internet, even in my time people hardly read. If anything, that minority of readers has swelled in the recent past. And I’m happy about that.’’

Bond writes in long hand. “When I was making Kaminey, the best time of the day would be after pack-up, when I would retire to my room and take out a chapter that he had written and lie back to read it,” says Bhardwaj. “I’m a lazy writer,” confesses Bond. “I would wait for him to read a chapter and say ‘Very good’ before I went on to write the next one.”

So does he still write every day? “I try to. I’m writing something else for him right now,” he offers. “We’re developing another project together,” says Bhardwaj. “But only if you don’t cut my opening line out from this one,”chuckles Bond.