Charlie Chopra: An Interview with Vishal Bhardwaj

Inline Charlie Chopra Cast Board

We speak to Vishal Bhardwaj, director of Charlie Chopra, about Agatha Christie, his new TV show for Sony LIV, and his inspirations.

When did you first discover Agatha Christie’s stories?

I used to find myself immersed in Agatha Christie’s stories as a child. They brought out the inner detective in me. Beyond the element of mystery, I found it fascinating how she populated each world with interesting and nuanced characters.

Why did you choose to adapt this story, The Sittaford Mystery?

It was the character of the protagonist Emily that drew me towards this narrative. Her wit, resilience and resolve created a rich character which I felt hadn’t been explored in this genre and in Indian cinema.

The book has plenty of supernatural elements to it. How did this inspire your plot?

India is suffused with urban legends and folklore. It was serendipitous to complement this cultural similarity between the book and eastern culture by employing powerful soundscapes and visuals, through which we have attempted to keep the supernatural alive. We want the audience to ponder the possibility of a supernatural power attempting murder.

Did you hide any Agatha Christie easter eggs in the show?

Yes. Happy searching.

Can you tell us a bit about our lead, Charlie?

Our protagonist, Charlie is naturally curious and has the mind of an investigator. Her complexity comes from a childhood that was marred by a mysterious and painful incident.

Charlie is our key to understanding the case, with plenty of pieces to camera. Can you talk about this style of narrative?

Breaking the fourth wall has not been done extensively in India. Since Charlie hails from Punjab, we wanted her to break the fourth wall in her mother tongue – Punjabi, bringing an authentic newness to this approach.

How did you decide on the setting for the show? What atmosphere did you want to create for the show?

Snow is a strong motif in the story, along with cable cars. Owing to this requirement we decided to shoot in Manali which is an extremely popular tourist destination. Yet, we have tried to capture it from a novel lens.

There are some great comic moments in the show. How important is humour to a mystery?
I like to explore humour at the places where you will least expect it and that’s what makes any narrative unique.

Like lots of Christie mysteries, this show has a complicated family at its heart. Could you introduce some of the key players?

Our protagonist Charlie embarks on solving the murder of Meherbaan Rawat aided by journalist Sitaram Bisht. In the process, she uncovers long buried family secrets, stories of friendship, betrayal, love, and greed. These surface via longtime Rockford tenants - the old Ms. Bharucha, middle-aged Janki Rawat, wife of Mohan Rawat, along with the mysterious new tenants - Wilayat Hussain and her daughter Wasima. The long-time caretakers of the estate are Mr. and Mrs. Negi, and the manager of the local ski resort, old Colonel Barua who is a long-time friend of Brigadier Rawat.

There are plenty of shocking twists in the show. What do you think is needed to write/film an epic twist?

As long as a twist has an escalating graph that is justified, it works. And if it doesn’t have one it feels inorganic.

We see two sides to the victim in this story. How important is this to our understanding of the show?

Making both sides of a story believable and the dualities logical make the story engaging and the audience hooked for the final reveal. This also helps propel the plot forward.

Can you summarise the show in one sentence?

The making of a young detective.

Outset Vishal Bhardwaj
Vishal Bhardwaj on set of Charlie Chopra & The Mystery of Solang Valley, 2023

About Vishal Bhardwaj

Vishal Bhardwaj is an Indian film director, writer, composer and producer. He has directed ten feature films, produced five and composed music for more than forty. His directorial work includes Makdee, The Blue Umbrella, Kaminey, 7 Khoon Maaf, Matru Ki Bijli Ka Mandola, Rangoon, Pataakha as well as the internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Trilogy - Maqbool, Omkara and Haider (adapted from Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet, respectively). In 2021 he also directed and received applaud for an episode of the Indian Adaptation of the critically acclaimed show, Modern Love: New York. He has received 3 international awards and 8 national film awards for his work and began his stage career in 2014 by directing A Flowering Tree in the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, and composing music for the Monsoon Wedding musical in Berkeley, California.

Moreover, Makdee has won the Best Film award at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, Omkara has received the Best Artistic Contribution in Cinema award at the Cairo International Film Festival, and Haider has won the People’s Choice Award at Rome Film Festival. In 2018, Vishal published his first book of poems, Nude, a collection of 50 poems written over the past two decades. Vishal won his 8th National Award for Music, for the documentary 1232 KMs, which showcased the hardships faced by migrant labourers during the COVID-19 Lockdown. Most recently, he won the Cannes Lion - Bronze for Music, for his film Fursat, a musical for Apple.

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