Scheduled to open in December, and not as niche art-house film but a full-on commercial venture, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black is arguably the most eagerly awaited film of the year.
It’s the maverick movie- maker’s first film since the dizzyingly extolled Devdas in 2002. The magnum opus fetched Bhansali every critical and commercial award in the country and established Bhansali as the most magical movie-maker in Bollywood.
So what level of magic has Bhansali moved to now? Having made two earlier films, the critically acclaimed commercially failed Khamoshi: The Musical and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (considered by many Bhansali fans as his best work to date) Devdas designated Bhansali the epic storyteller of Hindi cinema with a vision to match his emotional depth.
Bhansali’s next project was meant to be another grand musical period film. However the historical Bajirao Mastani which was to star Salman Khan (a very close friend of Bhanasli who played the lead in the director’s enchanting love triangle Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) and Kareena Kapoor, got delayed for various reasons including Khan’s dates.
The creative restless spirit that he is, Bhansali decided to make a small bi-lingual non-musical which would allow him to break free from the epic mould of Devdas.
Black turned out to be neither small nor a bi-lingual. Budgeted at nearly 20 crore rupees (“This is as small as I can get,” laughs the director) and made only in Hindi (“I dropped the English version because the emotions sounded right only in Hindi”) Black is expected to take its director to an altogether new plane of passion and perfection.
Originally designed as an initimate epic depicting the unlikely but passionate relationship between a physically challenged girl, played by Rani Mukherjee, and her volatile teacher, Amitabh Bachchan, Black has turned out to be historical on many counts.
For one it brought together Bhansali with his childhood idol Bachchan, just as it gave Bachchan a chance to work with one of his absolutely favourite filmmakers.
If the truth be told Bachchan has been a Bhansali fan ever since he saw Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and has been craving to work with him. Many ideas were thrown forward since Hum Dil….. Nothing worked until Bhansali went to Bachchan with Black, a script written only for Bachchan.
The mega-star was bowled over. Working with a dream director has opened up corridors in his mind that he didn’t know existed.
Watching them shoot together for Black I knew history was being created. Now that the song-less emotionally surcharged epic is complete it‘s clear that no living filmmaker can match the power and glory of Bhansali.
Mr Bachchan is already pining to work with Bhansali. But right now the director isn’t thinking of his next project. Neck-deep in the post-production work of Black Bhansali seems uncharacteristically satisfied with the end-product. He feels he has made a film that does full justice to the Bachchan’s presence, and also offers Rani Mukherjee a chance to join the ranks of all-time great actresses.
The film (of less than two hours running-time) is supported by some powerful actors, most notably there’s Bhansali’s discovery a girl from Pondicherry of mixed parentage named Ayesha Kapoor. Playing Rani Mukherjee as a child, Ayesha rips the screen apart with her startling sensitivity and poise. But it’s Rani Mukherjee whose career would zoom into another stratosphere after Black. Playing a deaf and mute girl she delivers a performance that makes Indian cinema proud.
The cinematography (Ravi Chandran) and the sound quality are of an international quality. And the background score by Monty lifts the films beyond words. Not for a second do we miss those incomparable musical pieces from Bhansali’s earlier works.
It’s very hard to judge which way the boxoffice winds are going to blow for Black. But it has the potential to breakthrough into mainstream cinema as the first songless emotion-enthused blockbuster.