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Verve People
March 18, 2005

Master of His Universe

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographs by Meenal Agarwal

The reclusive film-maker who has moved into the spotlight with his latest box-office offering, the critically acclaimed Black, is known to explore his private anguish in his silver screen extravaganzas. Verve meets the maverick Sanjay Leela Bhansali, to discover his muse and delve into the innermost recesses of his mind

In the world of celluloid, suffused with Technicoloured dreams, he has – with one masterstroke, in an almost monochromatic hue – reinvented the phrase ‘Black is beautiful’. Savouring the sweet taste of success in the light of day, as appreciative audiences stroll out after shows of Black in darkened theatres, A-list director-producer, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, is one happy…and exhausted man.

I meet him a few days after the film’s release, in his simple home in a suburban high-rise. The watchman directs me to his floor and, no sooner have I stepped out of the lift, than I am greeted by framed paintings of maestros (Federico Fellini, for one) and masterpieces that make it obvious that an artistic mind dwells behind the doors.

Looking beyond his assistant, who hovers welcomingly at the open door, I can see Bhansali sipping a cup of chai, preparing to start his day. Waving a hand to bid me be seated, he disappears swiftly into his blue-walled bedroom and I spend the minutes waiting, talking to his mother, Leela, a gracious lady, who has been the bedrock of her children’s lives. She shyly agrees to pose with her son – “He has done well, hasn’t he?” she says softly.

The conversation takes off, naturally, with his newest box-office offering, Black, a revolutionary project that has turned him into the industry’s latest trendsetter. Admitting that Black – the tale of a blind and deaf girl who is taught ‘words’ by her mentor, a reformed alcoholic – with none of the norms of mainstream cinema, has been his most difficult creation yet, Bhansali says self-deprecatingly, “I will not call myself a trendsetter. I make my films with honesty and sincerity, granting a great deal of intelligence to my audiences. I do not manipulate emotions or compromise in any way just so that I can create a complete package of entertainment. I do not try to sell my dreams…I share my dreams with my audiences.”Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s name is an open expression of his love and appreciation of his mother, the woman who sustained him through life’s early hardships. “My soul is still in the chawl where we used to live,” says Bhansali. “Life was hard then. It is entirely due to my mother that I and my sister, Bela, have survived. She knew how to preserve what she had created with a lot of love. She never grudged any sacrifice as she focussed on her children. Today, I bring that same attitude to my movies.”

His films often delve into memories of his childhood spent in a cramped space. The family lived in Bhuleshwar, a congested locality of Mumbai, “in a 200 sq ft room in a chawl that had rats and cockroaches scurrying around in the darkness. I used to feel terribly cooped up in my chawl,” the director recalls, admitting that his soul is still caught up in his old home. “I was constantly rearranging spaces. I wanted a larger space, felt terribly deprived and claustrophobic. I was more of an architect in my mind than a film-maker and that explains my obsession with sets as well.”

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