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Sanjay Leela Bhansali: In Conversation With The Film & Music Prodigy

Award-winning Indian filmmaker, director, screenwriter and music composer Sanjay Leela Bhansali has been on a promotional spree as the major awards-seasons lineup. One of India’s most prolific filmmakers, Bhansali has a career spanning three decades and whilst his contribution to cinema is celebrated for its grand spectacle, it is also culturally rooted, often offering social commentary on the Indian way of life. His most recent work Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022) is a clear example of that.

Bhansali’s credits also include Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), Devdas (2002) Black (2005), Saawariya (2007), Ram Leela (2013), Bajirao Mastani (2015) and Padmaavat (2018). In fact, ever since Guzaarish in 2010, the director is also the composer of his own pictures. Now, however, he launches Sukoon an album of his original songs. This is the first time he has released a non-filmy soundtrack. Consisting of Hindustani classical styles, it assembles musical youth icons like Shreya Ghoshal and Armaan Malik. Legends like Ustad Rashid Khan also lend their voices. He created music during the lockdown.

Gangubai was already halfway in production and we were stuck for eight months, so I was very saddened and frustrated by it. There were so many thoughts about what was happening in the world [what’s happening and where are we heading]. To drown all that away, I started composing these songs. Called my lyricist and asked for some nice Ghazals and Geets. He said: ‘Who listens to Ghazals and Geets anymore?’ I said that’s what we think. Because the audience is very clear and wants good music,” Bhansali exclusively tells Filme Shilmy. “It doesn’t matter. As long as it’s original and something which is heartfelt and done without the aid of bringing in the box office. It is pure music.”

He adds: “I sat down to calm my mind, being in a continuous stage of doing something creative. I immersed myself in Sukoon. I found some ‘Sukoon’ [meaning peace] and tranquillity in it. The peace you can’t find in today’s time. We hope to find, I tried to find. But it’s a piece that I’ve worked relentlessly on for two years. It’s an album that I’ve heard every day of my life after being recorded, to see if I can correct or improve it. It’s a lot of hard work. I have given it my all because I just love this album. I hope the world loves it as much.”

Meanwhile, Bhansali has been occupied heavily with the BAFTA campaign of Gangubai in London. The filmmaker launched the campaign by speaking at a special, BAFTA Masterclass on 28th November at the iconic home of British Cinema. In this, he discussed his career trajectory over the last 25 years. Marking the first-ever masterclass the director has delivered. At the event, he also spoke about his digital debut, Heeramandi which will be streaming on Netflix.

His films, though often opulent and colourful, have a dark core attached to them. Themes regarding loss of innocence, dignity and female empowerment are common. But there is an essence of divinity embodied within his works too. We asked him about his representation of culture through symbolic storytelling:

“When I make a film, it’s always going to be Indian, whether it’s based on Bengali, Rajasthani or Marathi cultures. That if you decide to place a story and where it comes from. When K Asif makes Mughal-E-Azam, he talks of Delhi. So there are so many different places for me. I believe a person should make a film from the heart. If it’s placed anywhere that you want and wherever it should be, rightfully the correct placement. But does the story move you? These are what I choose before I make a film. Do I want to talk about the character’s life or feel like telling their story to you in words? Then I go completely mad when I have to make a film with images because that is my way of communicating whereas I’m not a good conversationalist.”

Sanjay then participated in a special conversation for the next generation of the world’s leading creatives at Central Saint Martins, University of Arts London on 29th November. He has become the first Indian artist invited to speak at the world’s highest-ranked fashion and art school. Attended by hundreds of students, the session took place in the eminent LVMH Theatre. It focused on Bhansali’s focus on Fashion, Creative Direction and Costume Design in his films were explored in detail followed by a Q&A session with students.

With Gangubai submitted for BAFTA members’ consideration in all categories, a special screening took place on 30th November at The Prince Charles Cinema. The Prince Charles Cinema is the last and most famous of the independent cinemas still operating in London’s cine-famous ‘West End’. The cinema was transformed for the special evening and was attended by hundreds of fans, social media influencers and British Asian artists.

Listen to our podcast interview with Sanjay Leela Bhansali here:

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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