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April 20, 2002
Subhash K Jha
One of the most eagerly awaited films of 2002 -- Devdas is ready for release.
"Thatís right," says Sanjay Leela Bhansali whose earlier diligently crafted films Khamoshi - The Musical and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam were pathbreaking creations. "I am releasing the film on June 14. The dubbing and background score are complete. Only three days of shooting remain."
The modern reworking of Sarat Chandra Chatterjeeís Bengali classic love triangle has created a lot of hype and expectations already. With Devdas, Bhansali's romantic dream unfurls with silken delicacy. He thinks love, no matter which era it belongs to, can never become outdated.
"I love this film as much as Devdas loved his Paro. I have put more sincerity and passion into Devdas than my other two films put together . I gave everything I had to give to Devdas. I knew I would never make a better love story because there is none", exalts Bhansali.
When reminded that audiences expect to see a sparring match between the filmís two ultra-glamorous leading ladies--Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai, Sanjay denies casting them to generate extra box office interest.
"I cast them because somewhere inside him Devdas looked for his Paro in Chandramukhi. The two women may appear diametrically different. But somewhere they came together in their personalities, at least in Devdasí mind. In terms of beauty grace, screen presence and commitment to the craft, I feel Aishwarya begins where Madhuri leaves off, just as Madhuri began where Hema Malini left off . They are wonderfully graceful dancers who never look unbecoming, no matter how cheap the movements."
Bhansali denies there was any sense of oneupmanship involved between the two divas, " I never felt it. I am not saying they werenít conscious of each otherís presence or abilities. When one of them would come out of her van the other would look her over, but not in any negative way. Ash (Aishwarya Rai) and Madhuri got along together like two sisters sharing the same house. Of course there was an edge of competitiveness between them, like there was between Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. But my actors never play games with each other. I guess I am lucky."
Bhansali's eyes beam with passion and pride as he unveils his screen Devdas -- Shah Rukh Khan. "I have fallen in love with his performance. He is flawless. Shah Rukh understood the character without losing his spontaneity. Obviously the pressures of matching up to Saigal Saab (K L Saigal) and Dilip Saab (Dilip Kumar) were there. But he never allowed them to bog him down. I donít know what to say about him. He has left me speechless. I had my doubts before working with him. But it's his most endearing and honest performance. After seeing him you would want to embrace him. The performance came amidst all his personal problems. He was able to project the personal turmoil on screen. If I were to make Devdas again I would still cast only Shah Rukh."
The sheer doggedness of Bhansaliís creative vision appears incredibly grand in todayís cinema of the bold and yet bland.
Says Bhansali, "Many people ask me why I chose to remake Devdas. I wanted to make a film that celebrated grandeur and grace. Gandhiji (Mahatma Gandhi) was a very frail man. When he walked on the road everyone turned around to look at him. Why does everyone stand up the minute Lataji (Mangeshkar) enters a room? It's her aura which commands respect. Itís what is inherent in her that makes people worship her. Likewise the qualities in Sarat Babu (Sarat Chandra Chatterjee)'s novel are timeless."
The risk factor involved in unravelling a classic in times of masala potboilers do not deter Bhansali. "Our primary purpose wasn't profit. It was to create something we believed in . Even a minor musical piece has been treated elaborately with a huge orchestra and chorus. Some songs are so lavishly mounted, they will leave the audience spellbound. I feel this kind of conviction and honesty cannot go to waste."
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