'Shirin Farhad... is superior than my first film Khamoshi'
As Bela Sehgal's directorial debut Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi gets ready for release on August 24, Sanjay Leela Bhansali opens up to Subhash K Jha about the agony of watchig his sister's directorial plans being delayed, among other things.
It has taken Bela a good 10 years to direct her first film. A lot of people blame you for the delay.
Things happen when they are destined to happen. I am aware that people thought I was the banyan tree which doesn't allow any other tree to grow in its shade.
The thought that people held me responsible for my sister's directorial career not taking off killed me from inside. You'd be surprised to know that she introduced me to the wonders of cinema.
She took me to FTII (Film and Television Institute of India) and introduced me to the film industry. I owe everything I am today to her. I was fortunate to have directed a film before her but rightfully, she should have directed before me.
Image: Movie poster of Shirin Farahd Ki Toh Nikal Padi. Inset: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
'I really missed her editing in Saawariya and Guzaarish'
You could have encouraged her to direct long before.
At times I wondered if she was taking so long to direct a film because most of her time was spent editing my films. But there was nothing I could do.
Bela was always a part of my creative process. She edited all my films until Black and then she decided it was time for her to direct her own film.
She was always very clear that she wanted to start as an editor and then direct a film and she decided that she would make a film only after I made Devdas.
But there was a nagging thought in my mind that I may be slowing down her creative journey by holding on to her in the capacity of an editor for my films. I really missed her editing in Saawariya and Guzaarish.
Image: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Hrithik Roshan in Guzaarish
'We've gone at each other's throats like two cats'
I believe Bela and you had physical fights over the editing of your films.
Oh yes (laughs). I used to protect every inch of my footage like a tigress protects her cubs and she was ruthless.
She would tell me bluntly that certain things had to go. She ceased to be a sister and became an editor at work. We've gone at each other's throats like two cats, with our horrified assistants trying to separate us.
But she made the right decisions. Now you can see that same ruthless economy of expression in her film. Her film is just an hour and 45 minutes long, and it didn't need to be longer.
Image: Bela Sehgal Bhansali, Boman Irani, Farah Khan and Sanjay Leela Bhansali
'Some actors walked out of Shirin Farhad...'
How does it feel to see her finally ready with her first film?
Bela's film is superior than my first film Khamoshi: The Musical. I wish I had made Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi.
I am too numb to react. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activities. I am in the process of starting my own film too. So it's like the birth of twins. I am super-excited, super-happy and super-nervous.
We were planning Bela's film Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi for eight years. The delay wasn't only because she was busy editing my films.
Some actors walked out of Shirin Farhad... I'd rather not talk about these unpleasant things because we finally succeeded in getting the perfect cast. Now, I can't imagine Shirin Farhad happening with any other two actors except Boman Irani and Farah Khan.
Image: A scene from Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi
'Ram Leela is not the final title of my new film'
Are you making a film on Mary Kom?
Yes. This is my first biographical film. It's the story of someone very special, someone who has done our country proud. Even cinematically, no Indian film on a woman boxer has been made so far, though in the West, Clint Eastwood directed that wonderful film Million Dollar Baby.
My art director Omang Kumar came to me with the subject. He had been researching Mary Kom's life for over a year. A female boxing world champion, a housewife and a mother of two. It's amazing how many roles women can juggle. I've seen my mother play so many roles. Mary's story is very inspiring. When I read Omang's script, I connected to it immediately. But it would be very difficult to cast an actress as Mary Kom.
Your sister's film releases just when you're ready to direct your next film Ram Leela.
First, the title is not final. Secondly, yes it is a hectic and I am over-worked but I am enjoying every minute of it. Bela's film is as much hers as mine.
Image: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
'Devdas, Black and Guzaarish were not serious films'
Coincidentally, you, too, are going to make a light-hearted film, a departure from dark themes of Devdas, Black and Guzaarish.
My next film is very young and breezy. It's a different take on Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet.
But Devdas, Black and Guzaarish were not serious films. Yes they dealt with alcoholism, death and self-destruction. But they were happy films. They raised serious issues but never forgot the laughter and sunshine. During Black, Rani and I would laugh so much between shots we'd have tears rolling down our cheeks.
Watching Bela shoot with Boman and Farah was equally entertaining. For all those who are wondering why we chose Farah Khan for the lead role even though she has no acting experience, my answer is, 'Watch her comic timing with Boman'. Farah is as entertaining on screen as she's in person.
Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi recommends love past an age not socially permissible in our society. Do you think love is possible after 45?
Why not? I love Bela's concept of love striking two people who are seen as past the age of marriage. Love can strike at 45 or 85. I am 49 and I am still waiting for love to happen.
Image: A scene from Devdas