In New Delhi’s Taj Palace, an entire floor was almost cordoned off to accommodate the cast and crew of Bard of Blood — the new web series that will stream on Netflix. Comprising actors Emraan Hashmi, Sobhita Dhulipala, Viineet Kumar, Kirti Kulhari and director Ribhu Dasgupta and co-produced by Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment, Bard of Blood is an Indian spy series, where Hashmi plays Kabir Anand, the titular ‘Bard’ — a former secret service agent — who leads an off-the-books mission to rescue four Indian operatives who have been taken captive by the Taliban in Balochistan. In the process, he is assisted by Isha Mathur (Dhulipala) and Veer Singh (Kumar). His day job is that of an English professor who loves the original Bard of Avon, and doesn’t miss an opportunity to quote him.
The show is set primarily in Balochistan (Pakistan), in the cities of Quetta and Keech. The rough and arid terrains of Leh, Ladakh and Rajasthan in India were used to create the desired effect. “It was a gruelling 90-day shoot. Many members of the crew had nose and ear bleeds. But it was a tough schedule, with a lot of action. We shot in every possible weather and ended the Ladakh leg in snow. Physically, it was very demanding and a first-of-its-kind experience for me,” says Hashmi, sipping on his “saunf paani” (fennel water), as Dhulipala and Kumar nod in agreement.
He is also the only actor, who has read the book, Bard of Blood, written by Bilal Siddiqi, on which the seven-part web series is based. “I read the book when it came out in 2015. The show takes it up and lifts it up a notch,” says the actor, who is making his digital debut with the show.
The show, which features an ensemble cast, is being helmed by Dasgupta. The book was given to him by Gaurav Verma, executive producer of the show. “It was a fast read, and I could feel the arid climate of Balochistan as I read it. And we wished to recreate that for the show. With the final script in place we heightened it all,” says Dasgupta, who has earlier helmed the TV show, Yudh.
With Bard of Blood, the director has a veritable casting coup on his hands, and which in his own words, “made his job very easy”. “Casting is a process, and we had rigorous auditions. No one would have imagined Viineet (Kumar ) as a spy, and Sobhita as a secret service analyst. You need the right actors to back you up in an expansive project like this,” adds Dasgupta. But Hashmi feels it’s the other way around. “Ribhu should get an award just to deal with all of us. And he single-handedly directed all seven episodes. Normally most big web shows have two or more directors. Ribhu was too calm and led by example. There would be an action scene being shot somewhere, and one kilometre away, a dialogue heavy, dramatic scene would be taking place, and he dealt with all of this,” says Hashmi.
There has been a lot of talk about the digital space being the last bastion for original narratives and stories as it is not encumbered by the pressures of censorship, box office and a short shelf-life decided by a cinema hall. While Hashmi and Singh are making their digital debuts with the show, Dhulipala is already a household name, courtesy her role in Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti’s popular series, Made in Heaven. “ We should all be taking tips from her, as she is an expert of the medium,” chuckles Hashmi. “I was curious about this format as an actor, curious about the process. But given the natural greed of an actor, I was quite happy to have such a long developmental arc for my character,” states Hashmi, who was last seen in Cheat India. “I feel that some stories are better suited to be told through a digital medium. As it has space, the medium allows for silences, which otherwise is not possible in a two-hour film,” shares Dhulipala.
There are rumours afloat about the show and how it has been made with a total cost of Rs 50 crore. “Throwing money at anything is never the answer. Look at Fauda, the Israeli show. It’s a masterpiece of a show, done very simply, but the narrative holds you,” adds Hashmi.
Bard of Blood streams on Netflix tomorrow.