Like his cinema, Vishal Bhardwaj's brutal honesty in person startles you. "'Dhan Te Nan' was not designed specially for Kaminey. I had first used it in a tele-film called 'Dhan Te Nan'. I had used that catchphrase and the tune in that tele-film. 'Dhan Te Nan' is a phrase that belongs to our film and music culture. For us Indians, cinema is the biggest cultural entity. We often borrow illustrations and speech patterns from our films. 'Dhan Te Nan' is used during bedtime stories for dramatic effect. Whenever I used to tell my son Aasman stories I'd go 'Dhan Te Nan' to create drama. This phrase remained with me."
Vishal admits putting the phrase 'Dhan Te Nan' in the dance idiom in Kaminey was not easy. "I'm always uncomfortable composing pub songs. Most often, there is no logic to these items. A pub is so noisy. Why would anyone sing in it? In Kaminey, Shahid and his companion Chandan do not sing 'Dhan Te Nan'. When they enter the pub the song is already on and they just lip-sync to the words." Vishal is still high on realism. "In all my films I struggle to marry realism with the music-songs idiom. In Omkara, I made Bipasha's character a singer before she breaks into dance for 'Beedi Jalay Le.' I can't have my characters break into a song without justification."
Ask Vishal if the credit for the impact of 'Dhan Te Nan' goes to Shahid, and he retorts. "The song has its own value. In fact the character takes over the screen and the audience is no longer looking at Shahid Kapoor. He's a brilliant actor and he has completely disappeared into the character. All the credit goes to me for the impact of 'Dhan Te Nan'. Of course I needed the right singers, actors and technicians. But finally it's my vision that you see in the song. It's not Shahid Kapoor propelling the song forward. It's the entire packaging."
Vishal admits catch-phrases ka zamana hai. "We've to admit people want catch phrases. But 'Dhan Te Nan' isn't the first. What about so many R.D. Burman tracks in the 1970s? What about 'Apalam Chapalam' fifty years ago? We need such phrases because somewhere audiences are no longer sensitive to tender thoughts like Hai tere saath meri wafaa and other Madan Mohan ghazals. I realize to put across my music I need that one catchy phrase and hook line. If my Maachis didn't have 'Chappa Chappa Charkha Chale', then 'Paani Paani Re' wouldn't have been noticed."
Vishal Bhardwaj has sung the title song in Kaminey. "I felt that was the song for me. I don't think anyone can express the various shades of the word kaminey as well as I can. Sabse bada kamina main hi hoon." Speaking of the title, "When I titled my film Kaminey everyone thought I had gone mad. Today it's become a much-loved title." It's time for Vishal Bhardwaj and the unit of Kaminey to celebrate the success of the music.
"We didn't have a proper music launch or an event. We wanted to wait until the music succeeded to have a real reason to celebrate. Now we do, I guess," laughs Vishal, speaking for the first time on the music. "I saw no reason to talk. Why speak for my work when it can speak for itself? I've been so busy completing Kaminey. I've had no time to speak."
And Vishal's work doesn't just speak. It sings. The nation and its favourite DJ is busy humming Vishal Bhardwaj's 'Dhan Te Nan'. Ironically, Vishal came into the industry only to become a music composer. Being a filmmaker was never a priority for Vishal. Vishal Bhardwaj "Believe it or not, it still isn't. I came to Mumbai to be a music composer. And when I didn't make the headway that I expected, I decided to direct films so I could create opportunities for composing music. I'm glad I'm composing the music I want to and I don't have to depend on other directors."
Vishal is open to composing music for other directors. "Like I did the music for my friend Ajay Devgan's film U, Me Aur Hum. I'm open to outside offers. I love composing music more than directing films. All my scenes in Kaminey have an inherent lyrical and musical quality. But the music of Kaminey is very special. I've sung the title song and my wife Rekha has sung another very catchy number. Given a choice I'd want her song to succeed above mine."
Vishal is very proud of his wife's success as singer. "Today she doesn't need me to compose for her. Rahman and others want only her for special songs, like 'Genda Phool' in Delhi 6." He laughs, "Now that the music has clicked the real struggle begins. Jo hona hai ho gaya. Now is the real test. Because Kaminey is not a run-of-the-mill film. It's a masala film. But the ingredients will take audiences by surprise. Shahid has worked very hard."
We can't end the interview without discussing the indomitable collaboration of Vishal with Gulzar. "I don't have to tell him anything. He just has to be told the song situation and he goes wild. For the title song in Kaminey, the word has been used fifteen times in fifteen different ways. He has used the word kaminey in a spiritual sense. If you go on the internet you'll see Gulzar Saab has changed the definition of the word."
What if people say Kaminey is an abusive word? Vishal is nonchalant. "Let them say what they like. I don't agree. I use the word kaminey all the time. Even you send me SMS-es calling me a kamina. I don't mind at all. It can be used as a term of endearment. Look at how beautifully Konkona Sen Sharma used the Hindi expletive chu**ya in Omkara."