New Delhi: Critics find his film Saawariya slow and dreary. Fans seem to have rejected it as dull and depressing. But director Sanjay Leela Bhansali can take heart, for history offers him hope.
He has company in the likes of Guru Dutt, Kamal Amrohi and even Raj Kapoor whose passionate works bombed initially - only to be considered cult classics later.
Based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's story White Nights and starring two newcomers - Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor, Saawariya was an effort to merge art with commerce. It witnessed a good opening and collected an estimated Rs.500-570 million in India over its opening weekend, but couldn't sustain the frenzy in the days that followed.
"If today Bimal Roy made Sujata or Do Bigha Zameen he'd be slammed by critics. They'd destroy him," an upset Bhansali was quoted as saying.
But Bhansali can draw consolation from the fact that in the history of Indian cinema, commercial failure was associated with many renowned directors and their works.
Kamal Amrohi, Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt had to bite the dust when they respectively churned out Pakeezah, Mera Naam Joker and Kaagaz Ke Phool. But today these films are considered no less than masterpieces.
In fact, Kaagaz Ke Phool, which was perhaps Dutt's finest film, failed to make any sense to the audience when released in 1959. As a result, the film starring Dutt himself and his muse Waheeda Rehman sank without a trace. Dutt was so crestfallen after the film's failure that he never officially directed a film again.
Bhansali is probably going through the same crisis. Critics allege that while making Saawariya, Bhansali ignored the audience's likes and dislikes.
Bhansali argues: "I think the magic of cinema lies in the director's ability to create his own world. And that's the abstract world, which audiences are connecting to in Saawariya. Even in Satyajit Ray's masterpiece Pather Panchali, realism is finally only an illusion."
In Saawariya, while maintaining heightened emotional fervour, Bhansali mixes romance with disappointment and dejection in the climax. The same kind of emotion and tension was reminiscent in Raj Kapoor's Mera Naam Joker and that film was not accepted either.
Mera Naam Joker was the showman's most ambitious project and took nearly six years to complete. The film's failure was a major setback for Raj Kapoor, who had invested his personal fortune in the film. It spelled financial doom for the Kapoor family, but he managed to recover the losses with the teenage love story Bobby.
Many years after its release, Mera Nam Joker was acknowledged as a classic. Something similar happened to Kamal Amrohi's Pakeezah. It took him nearly 14 years to shoot because of his troubled relationship with wife Meena Kumari.
Kamal Amrohi married Meena Kumari when Pakeezah was first conceived but it was not a successful union and after lots of trials and tribulations they parted ways and the film was shelved.
Quite a few years later when Nargis and Sunil Dutt saw the rushes of the film, they convinced Meena Kumari to complete it. When released in 1972, it opened to a lukewarm response and was declared a flop.
However, after Meena Kumari's death a month later, people flocked to the theatres screening Pakeezah and it became a cult classic.