Bollywood filmmaker 'Bugs' Bhargava explains how Nail Polish raises the bar in courtroom dramas
The ZEE5 Original OTT film has been earning praise for its gripping tale and refreshing take on courtroom battles.
Actor and adman-turned-director ‘Bugs’ Bhargava Krishna has come a long way since shifting his base from Bengaluru to Mumbai in the 1980s. Over the last three-and-a-half decade, he has dabbled in theatre, acted in films such as Delhi Belly, Taare Zameen Par, made ads – he created the ‘Taste the Thunder’ line for cola brand Thums Up – lent his voice for films – as King Louie in the Indian version of Jungle Book – and directed movies.
Having made his digital debut with Barot House in 2019, his latest offering is the gritty courtroom drama Nail Polish. The ZEE5 Original has been receiving rave reviews ever since its premiere on New Year’s Day.
Inspired by a true story, Nail Polish takes viewers on a journey through the uncertainties of the human mind and stars Arjun Rampal, Manav Kaul and Ranjit Kapoor in lead roles.
Director Bugs had to overcome several challenges to complete the movie as it was conceptualised and shot during the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19)-induced lockdown period. At one time, he was faced with putting a stop on shooting the film after some of his cast members tested Covid-19 positive.
“It was Covid-19 time and the film, from how we presented it to ZEE5 and to all the actors happened online. We could easily create a new record as being the only film that was entirely planned on the internet, while a pandemic raged at large, and it happened when the Covid-19 fever (no pun intended) was at its peak,” Bugs reminisces.
While people refrained from seeing each other during the lockdown, Bugs said he and his team were meeting for up to five hours daily and were also connecting over video calls. But extreme precautions were taken after the filming started.
“We had a disinfectant tunnel, sanitising of the set every half-an-hour and everyone was tested ahead of coming on the floor,” he says.
But there are times when even after taking utmost care things could go awry, and as luck would have it, some of the cast members did contract SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19.
“It was, perhaps, on the fourth or the fifth day of our shooting schedule, when two of our lead actors tested Covid-19 positive, which set us back. We complied with the (Indian) government’s regulations and put a stop to filming. It took us nearly three weeks to get it up and running again,” he says.
And it wasn’t easy to get back into the rhythm, as not everyone had recovered fully. The shooting had to take a break again.
“On the very first day after getting back to work, I was shooting with Anand Tiwari (who plays a public prosecutor in the film). He was all enthusiastic about the shooting. Initially, he was feeling fine, but I could see him visibly struggling. For two of the scenes, we shot that day, his performance was brilliant, but we knew he was getting weaker, so I had to call off the shoot and give him another 10 days off before we could shoot again with him. Getting the shooting up and running was a huge task because you lose momentum and you have to pick it up. But I must say the crew and the cast was extremely committed.”
Location was another major challenge that Bugs faced due to a Covid-19-enforced interruption in his shooting schedule. Some of the locations had to be changed and he had to plan the minutest details all over again. “We had conducted our tech recces and knew exactly where we were going to place the camera, lights etc. Unfortunately, everything went haywire because many of those locations were not available to us after we went back to shoot. So, we were on recce even as we were filming. In hindsight, it was, indeed, difficult,” he said.
Nail Polish is not your usual Bollywood courtroom flick which are littered with typical legal terms like ‘milord’ and ‘order, order’, Bugs says he used a fresh approach to make this drama intriguing by adding a psychological angle to the legal proceedings. “I’d say there are two main features in the film: The casting is the first. Arjun Rampal, Manav Kaul, Anand Tiwari, Rajat Kapoor, and Madhoo created an interesting ensemble of actors, and people were curious to know what this cast could do. Moreover, what kind of a plot would require actors of this calibre all together in the same frame? The other highlight is that it’s a courtroom drama and is also linked to mental illness. My creative partner, Sudeep came up with the line which was used in the trailer. It goes like: ‘The crime is committed by the mind but the body takes the blame’. This idea was quite intriguing in my opinion,” Bugs explains.
A lot of preparation goes behind recreating a courtroom drama, but Bugs wanted to present the audience with a story that also involved them. “I love courtroom dramas as a genre and I’ve watched a lot of them and was struck by a certain predictability brought about by the procedure and the geography of a courtroom. Certainly, over the years, things have changed, the lighting and sets have improved, performances are terrific. But the approach was all from the same blueprint that has been followed for years. The reference point for us (in Nail Polish) was not to have a reference point. I wanted to make sure that we did this (drama) as different as possible,” he says.
Releasing a movie on New Year’s Day could work both ways. Since it’s a holiday, you may have a large audience or even an empty hall, but in this case, the filmmakers decided to take the gamble and release on the first day of the year.
‘Well! It turned out to be a good decision in the end. We were originally supposed to be out on January 7 or 8. But when ZEE5 announced January 1 as the release date, I could hear all kinds of whispers, “Oh my God! Will we be ready?” “Should we request them?” I said, "No that’s the date that’s announced and that’s the day we’ll launch” and I think that’s a brilliant idea to have our film as the first film to be out this year and we will be forever remembered for that. We’re the harbinger of hope, shutting the door on the nightmares of 2020. Frankly, for all of us, releasing it on January 1 was possibly the best thing that ZEE5 could have done. It was a New Year’s gift and I have to thank them for the overwhelming gesture.”
Nail Polish is not a title you'd expect for a courtroom-based flick and Bugs says it has a symbolic reference.
“For me, Nail Polish is a metaphor for hiding something – the truth. Like when your nails don’t look at their best you manicure them and then you polish them and hide the nail, it acts as a mask. So, Nail Polish was a symbol for a mask and the film is actually about a lot of masks.”
The talented Roja girl Madhoo is not the face that you see often on the big screen these days, and Bugs was glad to have her on board and for all that she brought to the story.
‘Frankly, I think it’s the best thing that ever happened to the film. It (her accepting the role) was a complete shock. I was still looking out for this character, and I didn’t have her in mind then. It was a small but beautiful role, and it needed a great actor to play it. It’s not easy to play drunk. There are certain truths to be played as a drunk and I couldn’t find someone to do that. Suddenly my casting director asked if I’d like to talk to Madhoo. We met over Zoom and in the very first conversation, I knew she was it. She’s so creative that she would give you the same scene in half-a-dozen different ways. It was really exciting working with her. She worked on the part as if it was the lead. And that’s the greatest tribute I can pay to Madhoo because she gave it her everything and I am so happy to see her back on the screen. It’s a joy for the audience as she’s a spectacular actor and can play any part. The best part about her is her instinctive feel of a character.'
Bugs also lavishes praise on lead star Rampal’s talent and regards him as a highly talented and passionate actor.
'What can I say about Arjun! He is the biggest USP (unique selling proposition) and that’s what got people intrigued by the film. I have said this before when Rampal had said yes to play Sid Jaisingh (his character in Nail Polish), I thought I was getting a star, but I got an actor. He’s a driven actor who is passionate about his craft and constantly working on it to fine-tune his acting chops. We used to sit together and talk about the character and a lot of the stuff that you see there has come out of our conversations. He played a tragic, lonely, yet charismatic, man to perfection.
“A great theatre director-playwright friend of mine, Rahul da Cunha, had once said to me, ‘Man! Rampal is like one of these great cricketers who has all the time in the world to play a shot. The fastest bowler is bowling to him but he has all the time in the world to see that ball and play the shot’. That’s how Rampal is with his timing and his scenes. He’s easy, he’s not hurried, he’s not anxious and so relaxed. Frankly, it was a revelation to me. It’s an acting lesson for all aspiring actors. He doesn’t act the character. He is the character. And what I noticed is his process doesn’t change even if the camera is fixated on someone else. Rampal told me, ‘Bugs you know when the director says action, I have to be who I am, no matter whether I am in my shot, someone else’s shot or it’s a wide shot.’ I think Rampal deserves all the praise and more,” says Bugs.
So how does Nail Polish raise the bar in courtroom dramas? “We wanted to gamify the courtroom action. I wanted to bring the audience onto the floor where the arguments were playing out. I wanted them to move with the prosecutor and the defence lawyer and see the court from their perspective. his is precisely why I decided to use a steady camera. It shows the courtroom, changes perspectives dramatically and puts the viewers bang in the middle of the action. I think we did something different there. We also tried to give the courtroom a timeless quality. The colour on the walls. The shape of the windows. The way the light seems to turn it into a cocoon. Because when one is in the courtroom, time stands still,” he concludes.