Sanjay Leela Bhansali: The maestro of pain

Source : COLUMNS
By : Subhash K Jha
Last Updated: Tue, Jan 25, 2005 11:26 hrs

Black is his favourite colour. And you don’t have to look too hard for the reason. It defines Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s mood and temperament. But being black is nothing negative for this master-creator who according to me, is the single finest filmmaker in Bollywood today.

SLB, as I call him, and now he does too, loves to stay away. But he also loves to talk. So there’s a constant friction in his mind regarding the two extremely contradictory urges. “Which is why I talk so much when I finally do meet up with someone, with much reluctance, I might add,” he guffaws grandly as only SLB knows how.

Everything about SLB’s cinema is many sizes larger than life. The pain and pleasure, the work and leisure…are all undertaken with tremendous passion. This passion is often misconstrued, hence there’s a citadel of privacy erected to keep hurt and pain away.

“I don’t want to expose myself to that kind of anguish. I’d rather devote my energies to creating life on cinema.”

Human contact isn’t a light matter for SLB. If you look closely at his work, you’ll see damaged and passionate humanbeings reaching out desperately over spatial distances to create the music of the harmonies. This is as true of the tumultuous relationship between Nana Patekar and his screen daughter Manisha Koirala in Khamoshi: The Musical as it is of Rani Mukherjee and her guru Amitabh Bachchan in SLB’s latest work of art Black.

Whether it’s the music teacher Vikram Gokhale’s interaction with his student Salman Khan in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam or Jackie Shroff’s blow-hot-blow-cold bonding with bandhu Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas….. there are no ‘normal’ tranquil comfort levels between characters in SLB’s cinema.

“That’s because it’s so hard for me to find that comfort zone in my own dealings with people,” he tells me. “I cannor bring myself to trust people easily. When I said I don’t have friends within the film industry on Karan Johar’s chat show, a lot of people felt I was being arrogant. But I’m not arrogant, just cautious about my feelings being hurt.”

I remember just after the release of Devdas when the entire world was toasting the grand storyteller, SLB was invited for a talk show .

He was traumatized and torn for weeks thereafter. “I was asked about my father. I don’t like that. It’s an invasion of the most private space in my life.”

SLB’s most precious friend is his mother. A feisty, plucky, doughty happy-go-lucky woman who effortlessly countermands her creative son’s black moods.

Everyone knows SLB’s dad‘s spirit hovers over all his films. He dedicated Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam to his father. The troubled relationship between Anna and her raging father in Khamoshi, and between Devdas and his disciplinarian dad in Devdas have direct links to SLB’s troubled relationship with his father.

Not too many know SLB’s mother also has a prominent place in his extraordinarily expansive creative orbit. In Khamoshi Seema Biswas going from door too door selling consumer items with her two children was a scene straight out of SLB’s childhood.

Kirron Kher’s fey-mama act for daughter Paro in Devdas is directly inspired by Leela Bhansali and her efforts to keep her family’s spirits up in spite of looming poverty.

And that stunning sequence where Paro’s mother is made to dance at a social gathering is a manifestation of SLB’s large and lurking fears of his mother being humiliated that haunted his childhood.

No one can do that, and get away with it. The ghosts of the past haunt Sanjay and his very precious world of mother and son that he has created. Others with a traumatized past have gone insane with pain. SLB has alchemized his suffering into high art. His films are the highest artistic expression obtainable in cinema. Though pain remains predominant in his passionate art it’s a procreative rather than a destructive pain.

SLB loves to hear compliments about his work. In spite of having created four of the finest films of this country, he constantly pines for approval–from his deceased dad who never said he loves his son, to the world at large whose approval of his work in some way, gratifies his sense of incompleteness as a son.

SLB makes films for his father. And when the world raves about it he can hear his father’s voice in that multitude.

To me and the admirers of his work his cinema stands poised at the highest level of creativity.

I feel Black will endorse SLB’s position in the world market as one of the finest creator on celluloid. The film’s passionate portrayal of incomplete, hungering raging people is unparalleled by anything I’ve seen from any part of the world.

The other day Mr Bachchan who’s more excited and charged about the release of Black than I’ve ever seen him before, happened to show a few of the sequences from Black on his laptop to Bengali filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh.

Ghosh wept like a baby. “He wept and wept forever,” Mr Bachchan is both stupefied and gratified.

“I hope the audiences too weeps for the same reasons as Ritu,” chortles SLB. He has a roaring sense of humour, and an extraordinarily visual sense of the comic. I’ve learnt to laugh out loud from my belly rather than my throat from SLB.

I sincerely believe he should and will make a full-fledged comedy. It would be as pioneering as his serious films. Right now there’s Black, which will take SLB to heights which even he doesn’t know exist.

The music soundtrack by Monty is playing as I write this. Every selection is like fragmented piece of the heart, caught in mid-air before it falls and shatters on the ground.

Right now SLB is looking at no life beyond Black. He has already concretized what he wants to do next. But for that you’ll just have to wait.

Right now SLB is amused and baffled by a Sunday paper’s profile which portrays him as neurotic and fastidious. “It says I make my assistants on the sets stand out in the sun as punishment. Where in the sun? I shoot all my films inside studios.”

And then, that loud pleasurable laughter. Pain has again been shown its place. It’s in Shah Rukh Khan’s eyes as he dies in front of his Paro’s home in Devdas. It’s in Amitabh Bachchan’s eyes in Black as he tries to recall his times with his favourite student. But the memory has dimmed.

So has the lights in the theatre. And the maestro of pain is about to begin again.

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