Why Devdas is a troublesome, but dear child
Sanjay Leela Bhansali on fulfilling a dream at Cannes
For Sanjay Leela Bhansali, it is a case of third time lucky.
Devdas [his earlier two were Khamoshi -- The Musical and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam], did what perhaps no other mainstream Indian film has ever done. It got selected for the Cannes International Film Festival, the largest gathering of the film industry in the world.
His third film
Bhansali now in Cannes with his Devdas stars Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai, basking in the glory of a thumping out-of-competition screening at the Grand Theatre Lumiere, spoke to Kryztoff de Breza about Devdas and his own journey as director:
How has the Devdas experience been?
It was like going through a nightmare to fulfill a dream. It took us two-and-a-half years. I think it was the most troublesome child but very, very dear, too.
Were you surprised by the reception that Devdas got here at Cannes?
Yes because it was a very big moment, a very happy moment.
Right from the time the film was selected for a Cannes screening, I knew it would work. But it was the first screening of the film, and that too at a big film festival. So I was anxious about how it would be received. Would people be uncomfortable with the film? Would they find it too long? Many doubts nagged me.
Then I decided to flow with the time and see how the movie was received. It felt nice when we got a standing ovation that lasted several minutes.
What is the trade response to your film?
I understand from the distributors that there has been a very strong reaction from the wires. We have been flooded with trade enquiries. People realise that this is the right opportunity to view this film as a crossover film. Once a film is selected at Cannes, the crossover becomes very easy, thanks to the prestige and dignity it gains at Cannes.
Which markets have you already sold the film at?
The screening of the film is all that has occupied my mind the last few days.
For me, the honour is in the applause that follow a film and people telling me that they loved it. That matters to me. Not how much will it make or lose.
I think caring too much about the economics starts affecting the creative aspect of the film. That is a dangerous process for a filmmaker. He should make his film without having to worry about how much it has cost or how much it will be sold for.
You cannot deny that it is one of the costliest Hindi films made. What was the cost of the film?
Between $12 to $13 million. I have not yet budgeted the film. The sets [by Nitin Desai] were expensive; the costumes [by Neeta Lulla for Aishwarya Rai, and Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla for Madhuri Dixit and Shah Rukh Khan] were, too.
We shot for 275 days and that cost us a lot of money. Each song took us 13 to 15 days to shoot. It took us hours and hours to light up each frame. But we were very excited.
We had to get it right. You will get something right only if you worked hard. We spent money without thinking that we were wasting money. We had to spend money for the right cause. We enjoyed spending it since we thought it was worth it.
But the biggest investment that we have made in the film is of human effort. My team has put in a lot of hard work in the film. And that is the biggest cost, one that cannot be valued.
We had accidents, financial crises --- all kinds of troubles.
There were moments of incredible negativity --- would be film be shelved? Will it ever see the light of the day?
Where does this film figure on your career graph?
Well, very important. That this is the first Indian commercial film at Cannes meant a big responsibility on my shoulders. For a middle class family man to have his film premiere at Cannes is a big achievement.
But it becomes a little dangerous for me. From now on I will have to work harder. I always thought success would make it easier and I could get more comfortable. On the contrary. I have to put in thrice the effort of I did earlier to measure the level of excellence I have reached so far.
It will also set a standard for a lot of filmmakers and for actors. Where do they go from here?
It is a big achievement for Aishwarya. Where does she go from here?
So here on, it is a difficult road.
I have to be very alert. Maybe I will make a small film. But I don't want Devdas to be the ultimate thing in life.
How do you think the film will be received in India?
It is very difficult for anyone to predict how a film will do. It depends on so many things. The mood of the audience, the state of their mind at the time, how they have reacted to the whole treatment.
If I had any doubts about their reaction to the film, I would not have made it. They should react positively.
I am offering them many things within the package. It is important since it is an adaptation of a very good novel [by Sarat Chandra Chatterjee] which is now reaching out to the new generation of Indians. The old generation will see it treated differently by a new generation filmmaker.
So there are many emotional attachments to it.
Most important, it is the story of every Indian man who is self-destructive, pining in love and wanting to be mothered.
It is very important for us to recover the huge costs of the film. Being shown at Cannes has also helped since the common man is very proud that an Indian film has been shown here --- he would like to see the film. But finally, I leave it to the Gods and the people to decide.
What next? Where do you go from here?
I go back to Mumbai. I go back to my struggles. I go back to working on this film and I go back to forgetting this wonderful experience since it is not right to keep thriving on past achievements.
So I want to put my rubber chappals again and go back to my next film.
I have no idea. It will be at least another six months before I decide what I want to do next. I make one film at a time. I have just made Devdas and till it is released, I have no force, no energy to work on anything else.
I don't want to plan my career. That would be a business plan. Filmmaking is not a business plan.
But you will need finance?
I don't think I will have trouble getting finances any more. All the hard work that I and my team have put in so far should ensure that much.
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