Star of the week: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
The questions are many, the topic just one in the Mumbai film industry these days -- and they're all about Sanjay Leela Bansali's "Black".
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
The clamour is the same all around in industry circles. When is "Black" being released? Have you seen the film? Is it as good as the director's earlier works "Khamoshi: The Musical", "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam" and "Devdas"?
The answer to all these is the same: the magic of Sanjay Leela Bhansali is about to unfold again.
In fact, Amitabh Bachchan, who as a passionate teacher to the deaf-and-mute character played by Rani Mukherjee gives his career's best performance in "Black", says as much.
"The magic is about to begin," his character bellows in "Black" before launching into a seemingly impossible journey.
To me that's the archetypal Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Always raging against convention and yet, time after time, emerging with films which have defined and qualified standards for mainstream Hindi cinema.
Without doubt Sanjay's three films so far have been true highpoints for Hindi cinema. It would be no exaggeration to say that post-"Devdas" he is considered the true inheritor of the legacy of Raj Kapoor, Mehboob Khan, V. Shantaram, K. Asif and Bimal Roy.
There's a bit of all these filmmaking legends in Sanjay. And yet he's his own creator, raging tempestuously like Nana Patekar in "Khamoshi", Shah Rukh Khan in "Devdas" and now Amitabh Bachchan in "Black" against the laws of man and nature that conspire to restrict the truly creative from acquiring wings.
I've watched Sanjay Leela Bhansali at work and I've watched his work. Without a moment's hesitation I must declare he's the best filmmaker this country has produced in the last 30 years. His ability to touch the very essence of life through his maladjusted characters, or his penchant to scale the most passionate emotions of existence without losing the tenor of his creative voice, isn't just unique, it's unmatchable.
Bhansali's creative pursuits are akin to what Vincent Van Gogh attempted in his paintings. Or nearer home, the pinnacle of excellence that Lata Mangeshkar achieves in her songs. Creative purity cannot get any purer than this.
I remember the first thing that Sanjay said to me was, "If you're a fan of Lataji, I'm twice as big her fan."
That sentence said everything about his character... his insatiable quest for excellence and his childlike eagerness to go beyond what you or I would prescribe for his creative endeavours.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali never ceases to surprise you. His cinema is so sublime, pure and passionate that you know that if he weren't making movies he would be building the most flawless bridges over the most turbulent waters of this universe.
Compliments delight him. Criticism kills him. And now as he sits before me in his exquisitely done up home, Sanjay sighs: "I've always done what I think to be instinctively right. I can't let others, be they individuals or moral codes, decide what I should do. When I made 'Khamoshi', everyone said who would want to see a film about a deaf-and-mute couple? Perhaps some people are saying the same about 'Black'? Who would want to see a film about a severely handicapped girl and her teacher?
"Well, I've news for the doomsday prophets. There's an audience out there that wants to experience a cinema that takes them beyond the expected. I want to surprise, enthral and seduce the audience. Yes, I want to be a magician on celluloid."
That's exactly what Sanjay has done in "Black" once again. The film will transport audiences into a realm where average 'filmy' emotions lose their relevance. In his cinema, this celluloid sorcerer creates his own raga of relevance, re-aligns and re-allocates the music of the soul to fit it into the conventional commercial mould without resorting to any gimmick that are cheap or old.
"Yes, the masters matter," he tells me. "But we need to go beyond them, use the great filmmakers' vision to take Hindi cinema many steps ahead. I don't think our cinema is opening up enough doors. There's too much stagnancy." A worried look creeps into his eyes.
"Black" takes cinema beyond frontiers that have been set for entertainment-oriented mainstream cinema. It grips without clamping the audiences' necks in breathless excitement. The excitement we feel while viewing a Bhansali creation is what we experience when a sudden meteor becomes visible in the sky... or when Lata Mangeshkar sings, "Sirf ehsaas hai yeh rooh se mehsoos karo pyar ko pyar hi rehne do koi naam na do."
Sanjay smiles at the simile. "It would take me seven lifetimes to attain the heights of Lataji, or Mr Bachchan. But, yes, that's the quality of excellence I'm looking at in my cinema. When magazines write about me launching this or that actor in my next film, I don't know how to react. Right now my mind has gone completely... 'Black'!"