Released in 2002, Vishal Bhardwaj’s directorial debut, Makdee, is arguably one of the finest children films to be made in Hindi. Cornered in an industry where most professionals are too set in a mould to attempt and break it, Bhardwaj took on the gigantic task of directing a film. Only to find a reasonably good home for his melodies. Participating in the Express Adda, Bhardwaj recounted a terrific anecdote about the making of Makdee.
Responding to a question during the Q & A session, Bhardwaj spoke about his grouse about how little we do for children in terms of storytelling content. Immediately correcting himself, he also points out that it would be unfair to place the blame entirely on Hindi films.
He started off on his rant by saying, “we have a Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI), none of whose films get a theatrical release. They’re given minuscule budgets, and there’s this notion that because it is a children’s film… we will need to order less cloth for their costumes, which in turn means that the film will cost less to make. They’re such terrible films, no money is spent on making them on more visible. We’re still dubbing the same films over and over again. Shame on us, really.”
“I made Makdee for the CFSI, and they outright rejected my film. For the first time in 60 years, a filmmaker returned the money to them and bought it from them. I released the film by myself. My confidence was at an all time low. I would’ve died as a failed filmmaker if I hadn’t taken that step to buy the film from them, and release it on my own,” said Bhardwaj, sounding exasperated by the end of the anecdote.
For a film that had children as the main protagonists, Makdee was a breath of fresh air in the manner that it treated them just like ‘adult characters’. There was no effort made to make the audience ‘like’ the children through ‘cute moments’. Shweta Basu Prasad was absolutely brilliant as a pair of twin sisters – the cute one with a lisp, Munni, and the hell-raising bully, Chunni. One of the characters is called Mughal-E-Azam and by the end, the film makes a compelling point about the widespread superstition and blind faith in witchcraft in Indian villages.
Makdee wasn’t a commercial success, but the popularity of the song Panga na le paved the way for Bhardwaj to make Maqbool – his first adaptation of Shakespeare. “That was 16 years ago, and the attitude of the CFSI is still the same. We make these ‘commercial’ films that have the IQ of a small child. And the kids have no other option, so they will watch the same old mainstream films,” bemoaned Bhardwaj during the chat.
Bhardwaj made one more stunning film for children called The Blue Umbrella, which was adapted from a Ruskin Bond short story. He’s moved on to other kinds of films, and considering his experience during the making of Makdee, one wouldn’t blame him to not come back to making a film for children. Forget the CFSI, even as an industry that produces close to 700 films a year, it’s a travesty that Bollywood hasn’t been able to produce a decent film for children since 2011’s Stanley Ka Dabba. Attempts are barely made, except for the odd Amole Gupte.
Thanks to Bhardwaj’s self belief and also (to a degree) his arrogance, that empowered him to salvage Makdee. Imagine if it came out like the other CFSI films (minus a wide release) and descended into oblivion forever.
Listen to Vishal Bhardwaj talk about it here at the Express Adda (01:07:08 onwards):