In an interview with Subhash K Jha filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali breaks his silence on Black.
Black takes you completely away from Devdas.
Itís a conscious process of rejuvenation as a filmmaker. I had to reinvent myself as a creative person. For example my camera-person in Black is Ravi Chandran. I had to work extensively with all my actors before shooting started. With Amitji I had to get over my awe of him before I can go to a comfort level. I had to learn to take him into confidence rather than look up to him. Because neither he nor I had done anything like Black before. Fortunately heís one of the finest humanbeings I know, so communication was easy.
The film gives Mr Bachchan a completely new persona and impetus.
Iím grateful to Amitji for accommodating my film into his busy schedule. Itís fascinating to know that even today filmmakers are devising projects with him in mind. I think that makes him the greatest star-actor of our country. Iíve been his diehard fan from childhood. Ever since I started making movies it was my dream to work with him. Even my first film Khamoshi was written for Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan. But at that point of time he had taken a break from acting, and I felt with a baritone like his, heĎd never come back with a role that required him to be mute. For the fear of rejection I never approached him. But let me tell you, during Khamoshi I had already started to plan Black.
Black is ready for release. How does it feel?
Like delivering another baby (laughs). Iím relieved, ecstatic and tense as it goes into the world. Initially it was very tough making a film without songs. I canít survive without songs. I listen to Lataji at least four-five hours a day. For me a film without songs was inconceivable before Black. But I wanted the challenge of attracting audience without my habitual leitmotif. The presence of Indiaís greatest star-actor Amitabh Bachchan helped me immensely. Iíve realized thereís no actor like him in Indian cinema. Iíve three idols Lata Mangeshkar, Birju Maharaj and Amitabh Bachchan. And Iím proud to say Iíve worked with two of them.
Isn't Rani outstanding in Black?
Yes, I signed her for both Black and Bajirao Mastani. Sheís a fabulous actress. It was wonderful to put her on screen with Amitji. Black offers her a range that actresses only dream about. Rani and I are very good friends. That helped in getting a quality performance out of her which I cannot describe in words. It's arguably the best performance I've got from an actor, after Amitji.
And what about Aishwarya Rai?
What about her? Of course weíve met socially, and weíre very close friends. It was very generous of her to drop in to see me so casually once when I was shooting Black. She came to me without an agenda, as a very dear friend who had somewhere gone away. But we both knew we couldnít sulk with each other for too long. Frankly, it felt like a load off our back when we met.
There was no awkwardness because we were both clean in our hearts. We reached out honestly as two friends who needed to reach out to each other. I realized my love for her remains unchanged. We can never be parted for long. After the fire on the set of Black, Aishwarya was one of the first people to call me up and I respect her all the more for that. She put aside our differences and connected with me when I was in distress, although she knows very well that Salman is and always will be my dearest friend and my brother.
Black departs from Devdas almost diametrically.
It was a spontaneous decision. After Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Devdas I couldíve easily planned another film in the romantic genre. But I felt like moving away. My audience wants me to move on. Black is a subject Iíve lived with for six years. I just had to make it. Though Black has no songs itís treated musically. The lyricism is inherent in the scenes which look like song sequences. A song isnít the only way to interpret the lyricism. I didnít miss songs in Black. They wouldíve been a hindrance to the narrative.
Your Devdas was selected as one of the best musicals by Sight & Sound magazineÖ
Finally the hard work we put into creating the music seems to be paying off. I feel filmmakers need to create and cultivate tastes rather than pander to what the market thinks is the right product. For all the efforts that Ismail Durbar, Monty, Birju Maharaj and I put into creating the sound of Devdas everyone felt the music score in my earlier film Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was better.
But I feel we tend to revere the past unnecessarily. `Jo pehle hua wohachcha hai, jo ab hai wohtheek nahin haiÖ` We canít cling to the past and rubbish the present. Film music needs to grow up. Songs donít need to be designed for the television promotions. They must suit the film. Success on every other level must follow from that source. Images from the music should reflect the reality about the film. To get recognition for the music whose language is not accessible to the West is amazing.
Do you think Devdas got the recognition it deserved?
I feel Devdas has come a long way. It was premiered at the Cannes film festival Ėthe first Indian film in years to get this chance. It got a BAFTA nomination. It got released in a dubbed French version in France with 50 prints with all the dances and songs. And people loved it! Everything went wrong during the making of Devdas. But it finally came out so right.
Why hasnít Ismail Durbarís career taken off?
I wouldnít want to comment on that. We worked for months and years to create the sounds for Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Devdas. Others want overnight scores. That could be a problem for any composer. I think the honesty and passion of the filmmaker motivates the music director. Whatever work I did with Ismail I enjoyed. I wish him all the best. But now I feel I need to explore another sound.
Movement is very essential for creative growth. In spite of working so well with Salman Khan in Khamoshi and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam I chose to work with Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas. Monty is giving me that. His background score in Black is comparable with any international counterpart. Itís not as Indian as Devdas, but a more global sound. WeĎve used whatever instrument and sound seemed right for the occasion. `Music ka koi dharm nahin hota hai`.
Do you think Black has the potential to create the same impact as Devdas?
When Lataji sings she doesnít know sheís creating a monumental melody. Creation is about being fully alive. The whole nation has a heart. If a film has a heart it will reach out to everyone. Contrary to the title Black isnít depressing at all. Itís an uplifting tale on the triumph of the human spirit.
Incidentally black is my favourite colour and itís got a universal resonance. I think itís a powerful striking colour which describes the filmís sensitivities. Let me add that Black isnít a small project that Iíve squeezed into my schedule. Certainly not! How can any film with Amitji be small? Itís going to be a very important film in my oeuvre. And Amitjiís and Raniís performances will be remembered for a very very long time. That I'm very sure of.