EASTERN EYE LOOKS BACK AT THE CAREER OF ONE OF BOLLYWOOD’S GREATEST FILMMAKERS
by ASJAD NAZIR
THE number one director of commercial Bollywood cinema is big-thinking filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali – and that is why his soon- to-be-released historical Padmavati is expected to clock up huge numbers at the box office.
Shahid Kapoor, Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh play the lead roles in the mega-budget movie, combining the director’s trademark grandeur with music, colour and spectacle.
This will be the latest chapter in an amazing journey for a multi-award-winning filmmaker who has brought the magic of cinema to modern audiences like no other.
Eastern Eye went through the life of Bollywood’s most bankable director to provide an all-you-need-to-know A to Z of Sanjay Leela Bhansali…
A is for Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: Although Deepika Padukone has headlined his recent films, Aishwarya will always remain the director’s muse. They helped one another become big stars by working together on their breakthrough international hits Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) and Devdas (2002). They both respectively won a load of Best Actress and Best Director awards for those movies. They later also worked together on Guzaarish (2010) and share a warm relationship today.
B is for Bajirao Mastani : The passion project took the filmmaker 12 years to make. The historical romance starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Priyanka Chopra was widely regarded as the finest Bollywood film of 2015. That was reflected at all the award shows, which included Best Director accolades for Bhansali at ceremonies including the IIFA, National and Filmfare Awards.
C is for Composing: After working with other music directors, the filmmaker started composing his own songs with the movie Guzaarish. Bhansali has since delivered the music for all of his directorial ventures, including his latest film Padmavati.
D is for Devdas : The most lavish adaptation of the 1917 novel by Sarat Chandra was the highest grossing movie of 2002. It won all the major accolades and had a grand premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie went on to win a number of honours, including five National and 10 Filmfare Awards. It also received a BAFTA nomination for Best Foreign Language film and was India’s official entry into the Oscars, but was not nominated.
E is for Euthanasia: Bhansali’s 2010 drama Guzaarish was the first commercial Bollywood film to deal with the sensitive subject of euthanasia. Although the movie underperformed at the box office, it opened up an important debate and boasted a stand-out performance by lead star Hrithik Roshan.
F is for Filmfare Awards: Bhansali’s universally acclaimed drama Black (2005) broke the record for the most Filmfare Awards when it released by winning an unprecedented 11 trophies, a feat which still stands today. These included the Best Film, Director, Actor and Actress prizes. The landmark drama starring Rani Mukerji and Amitabh Bachchan swept the board at the other award ceremonies too.
G is for Gabbar Is Back: The 2015 action drama is one of many films Bhansali has produced away from his own directorial ventures. Other movies he has produced with mixed success include MyFriend Pinto (2011), RowdyRathore (2012), Mary Kom (2014) and Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi (2012), which was directed by his sister Bela Bhansali Sehgal.
H is for Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam: The filmmaker bounced back from the relative failure of his directorial debut KhamoshiThe Musical with this 1999 international super-hit. The unique love triangle starring Salman Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Ajay Devgn clocked up huge box office figures around the world. It elevated the filmmaker into the Bollywood A-list and he hasn’t looked back since.
I is for Inspiration: Look closely at many of his releases and it is apparent the big-thinking filmmaker isn’t shy about taking inspiration from elsewhere. Khamoshi – The Musical covers the same themes as Indian film Koshish (1972), Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) has shades of Woh Saat Din (1983), and Black (2005) is inspired by the Helen Keller story. Devdas (2002) and Goliyon Ki RaasleelaRam–Leela (2013) are based on literally classics. Meanwhile, Bajirao Mastani (2015) and Padmavati (2017) are focused around historical myths.
J is for JhalakDikhhlaJaa: The filmmaker was a judge on the first series of the reality show in 2006. The celebrity dance smash has become massively popular since. He was also a judge on TV series X Factor India.
K isfor Khamoshi – TheMusical: Bhansali made his directorial debut with the 1996 drama starring Nana Patekar, Salman Khan and Manisha Koirala. Although the movie received universal acclaim and awards, it was seen as a commercial failure in India. The cult classic did much better overseas and introduced international audiences to the filmmaker.
L is for LaalIshq: Bhansali ventured into regional cinema with the 2016 Marathi language film. The mystery thriller named after a song in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela was the first time that Bhansali attempted a suspense genre. Although it was only a moderate success, he remains proud of it.
M is for Mother: The director had a troubled childhood with an alcoholic father but always shared a close bond with his mother Leela, who has been his biggest support. He added her first name to his. He said: “My interest in music and dance comes from my mother.”
N is for Newcomers: Bhansali has launched a number of newcomers in Bollywood. They include Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor in Saawariya (2007), director Omung Kumar with Mary Kom (2014) and singer Shreya Ghoshal.
O is for Opulence: The filmmaker has a reputation for lavish spending on the projects he directs and is afforded bigger budgets than his contemporaries. No expense is spared on his sets, costumes and other aspects needed to bring the story to life. He said: “I believe that I have spent every rupee deservingly, on every inch of my frame. When a film deserves the budget, we give it that much.”
P is for Padmavati: The high-profile film started off life as an opera that was performed in Paris in 1923 and then a version directed by Bhansali was staged in 2008. The story, based around the conflict between a legendary Hindu Rajput queen and rival ruler laying siege to her kingdom in 1303, stars Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Singh. The cast of the lavish epic have collectively praised the director.
Q is for Queen: Bhansali has helped turn Deepika Padukone into the current queen of Bollywood. He is set to make it a hattrick of superhits with his current muse when Padmavati releases globally. Other bonafide Bollywood queens he has worked with are Madhuri Dixit, Aishwarya Rai and Rani Mukerji.
R is for Ranveer Singh: The actor has had his biggest successes with Bhansali and says the director always brings out the best in him. With Padmavati, he will have his third lead role with the ace filmmaker, which is more than any other leading man in Bollywood.
S is for Shreya Ghoshal: The current queen of Bollywood music was discovered by the director and made an award-winning debut in commercial cinema with Devdas (2002). Ghoshal had come to the attention of Bhansali’s mother, who spotted her singing on a children’s special of reality TV show Sa Re Ga Ma and told him to watch. After, Bhansali got Shreya to sing songs and helped launch the most extraordinary Indian music career of the modern era. He has regularly used Shreya’s voice since.
T is for TV series: The filmmaker produced the award-winning television series Saraswatichandra, which was based on a novel of the same name, with Gautam Rode and Jennifer Winget in the lead roles. The series was broadcast around the world and gained a cult following.
U is for Uncomfortable: Bhansali has described himself as an outsider and said he is slightly uncomfortable with people. He said: “Even if I love them, I don’t know how to express it to them. I have realised that one should just stay quiet and do one’s work.”
V is for Vidhu Vinod Chopra: Bhansali started off his career by working as an assistant director to ace filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra on films including Parinda (1989) and 1942: A Love Story (1994). He then decided to branch out on his own with Khamoshi – The Musical.
W is a workaholic: The filmmaker is known to be a workaholic and gets consumed by each of his projects. This has led to him being labelled a perfectionist, hard taskmaster and obsessive. That ethic has resulted in an incredible body of work.
X is for X Factor India: In 2011, keen musician Bhansali appeared as a judge on the only Indian series of X Factor alongside Sonu Nigam and Shreya Ghoshal.
Y is for Youngster: Bhansali describes his childhood as claustrophobic. He lived in a small house because of the families impoverished circumstances. He grew up connected to cinema and was exposed to the arts by his parents. He said: “My childhood wasn’t about playing; it was about the fight to survive, only to be able to make films. I knew in the second standard that I had to be a director.”
Z is for Zodiac: Born on February 24, 1963, the director’s star sign is Pisces. He used Pisces traits of being deeply romantic, compassionate, artistic, intuitive, wise and musical to create movie magic.