By Subhash K Jha
MUMBAI: As Bollywood director Sanjay Leela Bhansali turns 50, he says he makes films on passionate love stories because he has no love in his life. His art completes what he lacks in life – love. He says he also loves making films about heroes who overcome suffering and preserve their dignity in the suffering.
I don’t believe I am 50.You are as old as you believe. My youth is something you can’t take away from me. I will remain 22 until I die.
Q: Do you feel the weight of the years?
I feel I am at that stage of my life when all my hard work , all the knowledge and experiences that I’ve gathered over the years have come to fruition. I feel more fulfilled and complete today than I did when I was 40. It’s been an eventful year for me.I started Ram Leela,a film that takes me back to my musical operatic roots of Hum...Dil De Chuke Sanam and Devdas. I’ve also turned television producer . I am also producing two other films a bio-pic on Mary Kom that I start in the middle of the year. Then there is a remake of the Tamil film Ramanna with Akshay Kumar in the lead happening at the end of next year. So it’s a very exciting time for me.
Q: Earlier you were apprehensive about apportioning responsibility in your production house?
I am more adventurous now. I am more fearless as an artiste.I am working with various kinds of talent. I want directors from the outside to bring in their aesthetics into my production house.For example Prabhu Dheva made Rowdy Rathore and my sister Bela made Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi for me which I couldn’t have directed and which I am very proud of. I directed an opera in Paris in 2008. Now I want to do more of the things that I can do if I have a team around me .Today I am working far harder than I did five years ago. I put in nearly 20 hours every day. And I am enjoying every bit of it.
Q: With Rowdy Rathore you have set a trend for cheesy C-grade titles like Revolver Rani and Bullet Raja and Rajkumar Rambo?
I’ve grown in Bhuleshwar. I’d pass through the red-light area every day looking at those theatres with those eccentric names.I’ve grown up with the rowdies and the rajas all around me. I loved those movies of the early 1970s near Alfred Talkies. The humour in my life even in my in own family was filmy.It’s a wonderful thing to go back to these titles. I am very proud of Rowdy Rathore.It’s a remake of a very major film directed by Rajamouli. The day I titled it Rowdy Rathore was the day the film’s fate changed. I love the sound of it. And I am glad other directors have started using these massy titles. Nothing cheesy about it.People erupt with ecstasy at such titles.
Q: Do you miss having that someone special in your life?
No, I have chosen the life I lead. There were relationships that didn’t work out. I am basically a nomadic loner. And I am not capable of moving ahead with the baggage of a relationship. I’ve seen relationships traumatize people. As a child, I’d helplessly watch relationships crumble around me. Every individual is a sum-total of his past experiences. Maybe that’s why I am wary of relationships.
Q: If you had to change anything in life what would it be?
Nothing. Nothing at all. All the pain, suffering, love passion and conflict have made me what I am. I make passionate love stories because I don’t have love in my life. My art completes my life. My life may be unfulfilled. But it isn’t unhappy.
Q: You are known to be quite a tantrum thrower on the sets?
Even if I lose my temper no one takes my anger seriously. Within five minutes of my outburst everyone cracks up with laughter.So you see no one takes me seriously on my sets.
Q: You wear many hats—producer, director, music composer, opera director, even choreographer. What do you enjoy the most?
Undoubtedly I am a filmmaker , and I’d die being one. But I also enjoyed directing in theatre.A lot of people say my films are theatrical.And I make no apologies about that.In fact I return to the theatrical operatic style in Ram Leela. I haven’t done that in the last three films. I love the songs and dances.Aa a child my most precious time was when I’d switch on the radio and imagine how I’d picturize those golden melodies.Vyjanthimala, Helen and Waheeda Rehman are my favourite dancers.Among the more contemporary dancers Govind and Madhuri Dixit are unparalleled.I am fortunate to have directed Helen Aunty and Madhuri.
Q: Who are the actors on your wishlist?
Rekhaji is one actor I’d love to work with. There is so much more to her than what she has done. Then I’d love to work with Shabana Azmi. She is an extremely powerful actor with a great mind and powerful convictions.I also want to work with Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vidya Balan.Sushant Singh Rajput is also promising.
Q: Your last three films were about disabled heroes.Did that represent a certain phase in your life?
No it isn’t as if physically or emotionally challenged people are unhappy. I find them very inspiring, very positive.They’re often more driven and passionate than so-called normal people. Why should we only make documentaries about the disabled? I wanted them to be the heroes of my films.And not as suffering victims. Khamoshi and Black were celebrated films about disabled heroes.These films helped me grow as artistes. Besides suffering has been a constant in my cinema.
Every human suffers. It’s a pre-condition for life. Each individual has his own suffering. I find it very fascinating to make film about heroes who overcome suffering and how they preserve their dignity in the suffering. My films don’t have social and political messages.
Q: Is it possible to make good friends in the film industry?
I think so. But as a filmmaker I often find actors feel betrayed when you don’t cast them repeatedly and the friendship ends.That is very limiting and hurtful for any filmmaker.Also, there’s a tendency among some actors to make fun of the people they call their friends. But then cruelty is part of all human beings. But yes, people in the industry do stand by one another.As long as it’s not work-based.
Q: Aishwarya and Rani Mukherjee are friends?
They are very dear to me. So are Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala. And Salman Khan is one person I’d always consider very close to my heart. But to me friendship doesn’t mean sitting with people every day .