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September 6, 1999

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'I like women behaving like women'

Sanjay Leela Bhansali Sanjay Leela Bhansali is like a man possessed. As he himself confesses, he can do nothing apart from making films. Being a Bollywood director is not easy. He knows he has to please all sections of the audience to be successful, but at the same time, is determined not to make too many compromises.

Here, he tells Sheela Bhatt, about his troubled childhood, his anger and pain, and about the women who have had profound influences on his life -- his mother and sister.

How is life after a mega success?

Feels good. I am in a position to sing Aaj main upar, aasmaan nichey. I feel on top of the world. I have made a film (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam) that has finally made it. One can put emotions, craft, and hard work into films but without the audienceís approval, the art of filmmaking is incomplete. I made Khamoshi which had emotions but lacked colour and glamour. In spite of a good story, the response was missing. So this time, I worked for it and managed to tell a good story.

How did you manage to woo the audience after the failure of Khamoshi?

After Khamoshi, I decided I had to bring the audiences to the theatres, but without compromising. I have not included comedians to hold the second half of the film. I haven't sold the soul of the movie to draw crowds.

Hindi filmmaking is a difficult business. The overseas market is more or less uniform, thatís why Khamoshi did well abroad. But in India, the cinematic aesthetics of the classes and the masses vary. A filmmaker with a good story has to add diabetic warmth, sugary sweetness to reach out to the audience.

Even Steven Spielberg will run away from this kind of pressure from distributors, producers, stars and the audience. They will see the film and just say Gaana thanda hai. Some critics commented on the Nimbuda song, saying that Kya Aishwarya se mujra kara diya hai (Aishwarya was made to do a mujra). Though we have the best technology, there is total chaos here. All of us are caught up and confused because of such pressures.

How did you get your first break?

Salman Khan and Manisha Koirala in Khamoshi It was my sister Bela, who introduced me to Vidhu Vinod Chopra. A three-minute song directed by me in the Pune Film Institute helped me get my first break in Bollywood. It was a Kathak dance where I had used Pandit Birju Maharajís song. The dancers were attired in black. It was a very traditional, yet modern dance.

I got my first assignment as the director of a song in Parinda. I have learnt dancing in Asha Parekhís Dance School. The appreciation came with my songs in 1942 - A Love Story. I was also involved in script-writing. On the basis of success of those songs, I got a call from Shashi Patel of Polygram. When I narrated the story of Khamoshi, he liked it so much that he said, 'Yes, we are making this film.' Today I am a filmmaker because of him.

What led to Hum Dil...?

The overseas distributor of Khamoshi recommended my name to Jhamu Sughand. When we met, he offered me this opportunity in just 10 minutes. I got everything I wanted. After the failure of Khamoshi, for full two months, I was sleepless and angry. I was dying to reach out to the common man and I had failed.

Did this anger help in any way?

In this industry, some people celebrate other peopleís failures. My anger gave me confidence. Khamoshi was dear to my heart because it was a gutsy move to take up such an offbeat story. When it failed, my mother said, 'Donít worry, tap your potential. You must keep fighting all the time.Ē She was right. I needed motivation to fight. In a way, Khamoshiís failure gave me that motivation.

I believe I can only make movies. I canít drive, I canít type, I canít use a computer. To be frank, besides filmmaking, I can only fry eggs and make tea! I am dead if I donít make movies. So when Jhamu offered me a second chance, I had to push myself from the first to fifth gear.

Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam Tell us about the making of Hum Dil...

I channelised my anger positively. I was like a possessed man burning from inside and full of energy. I worked 24 hours a day and I drove my whole unit crazy. I personally went to Bhuleshwar to pick up dresses for all my artistes for the garba dance. Smita Jayakarís smallest of jewellery was selected with care. The colour of the curtains, the texture of the sofa etc were carefully chosen. I was particular even about the thickness of Aishwaryaís kajal.

Once you become positive, everything falls into place. Filmmaking is a difficult job. Basically, you are handling a hundred-and-fifty egos. You have to take care of the spot boys too. Even the kachra on the carpet bothers.

Where does all this energy come from?

I am a troubled man. I had a traumatic childhood. My youth was non-existent. I am from a lower-middle class family. In this class, you canít beg, you canít borrow and you canít steal. You have to suffer humiliation.

I had the mind of a dreamer. I used to live in the CP tank, Gulal Wadi area. I dreamt of space and a bigger house. Since then, I have been looking for my own space. And since childhood, I have been visualising. I also love the radio and I am a natural dancer.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali with Salman Khan So, what is the connection with films?

My visualisation of film songs has some connection with my childhood anguish. There is a kind of an emotional chord between my sufferings and my visualisation. During my early years, I suffered from an immense inferiority complex. To achieve anything in life looked like a Himalayan task.

I have studied in St Xavierís Academy and graduated from Lala Lajpat Rai College. Believe me, in those years, my existence was insignificant. I had a girlfriend with whom I used to talk in the evenings and I used to listen to music. Western music is alien to my ears. I am a great fan of Marathi, Gujarati and Hindi film music. This led me to make musical films.

Why do you use your mother's name as your middle name?

My mother is special to me. She understands me. She has no expectations from me. Her attitude is, 'I will do what I want to do for you. You live your own life.' She has lived for us without demanding anything in return. Sometimes, I feel guilty. She has gone through such bad times in the last 25 years.

I remember her strength when my father was dying. She held his hand just for a few seconds. I will never forget those moments. She was dignified enough to save his last moments. She stood by him because she loved that man. Here was a woman who could have lived life on her own terms, but she didnít do that. Instead, she fought life with dignity. I like my motherís feminine grace.

I believe women should not lose this grace. The equality of men and women is not possible because both are different. A mountain is a mountain and a river is a river. A man is not capable of giving the way a woman gives. She is stronger. When a woman sacrifices, it lends her grace and beauty.

Were you inspired by your mother?

My mother thought that bad times are just a nightmare and she fought it positively. That has become my biggest inspiration. My mother did not lose grace even when there was no money, no food at home and when we had to deal with an alcoholic father who couldnít handle life. I have seen my mother fight life beautifully when we were surrounded by violence and poverty.

What is your fatherís name and what did he do for a living?

Navinbhai. He was an intelligent man. He was in the film industry. He never did well. He made two films, Jahaji Lootera and Paak Daaman. The residue of failed films lingered in our house. I remember distinctly that a trunk -- full of sarees, make-up boxes, jackets and so on -- used to come to our house after the shootings. I remember the smell of those make-up boxes. And for a child like me, wigs were really fascinating. Actually, these items played a violent game on my mind.

Do you have a mother fixation?

Thatís not quite true. More than my mother, I love my sister Bela. She has a great influence on me. Till I graduated, I hardly had any friends. I was a quiet and introvert person. Bela guided my entire career. She went to the Pune Film Institute for a course in film editing, and I did the same. Bela took me to producers. My father was aggressive, but my mother was strong and my grandmother a woman of substance. She became a widow at the age of 24. I have seen women going through difficulties and facing the world alone. All these women have influenced me.

In Hum Dil..., why is your heroine so traditional?

I like the quality of shringar. I like women behaving like women. I see women from a manís eye. I donít like women with short hair. The burden of the bun is important. You know when a woman combs her long hair, there is a kind of thought process she undergoes... I remember my mother singing and humming a song while combing her hair. Beauty adds value to life. Have you seen women in Kutch walking gracefully in spite of the burden of five pots on their heads? City girls will never have that grace.

Why do you want to burden a woman?

The burden of life is important. And that burden gives you grace. I have seen my mother being so graceful in her struggle with life. I want to tell the world that these kind of women do exist. Seema Biswas, Helen and Manisha represent such women in Khamoshi.

But Hum Dil... has unrealistic characters. Why?

Yes. Sachhai bahut dekh liya (I've seen enough of reality). I want to meet nice people and see nice people. The characters of Salman and Ajay are that of nice people. I show what should happen and not what happens in life. You know, I donít read newspapers because I donít want to start a day with anguish. Bad news disturbs me.

Which are your favourite films and stars?

Ritwik Ghatakís Meghe Dhaka Tara, Ketan Mehtaís Mirch Masala, Bimal Roy's BandiniSujata, K Asif's Mughal-e-Azam and M S Sathyu's Garam Hawa. My favourite actor is Balraj Sahani and favourite actresses are Nutan and Meena Kumari.

On the sets of Khamoshi What are your plans regarding marriage?

That will be something. I do have a vacuum in life. I miss having a partner. I parted with my girlfriend of six years long time back. I can only do one thing in life at a time. If I get married, then Iíll be sucked into reality. I am not geared for reality. Filmmaking is unreal, it's a dream. Itís my passion.

I fear I'll compromise if my attention gets divided. Today I have so much energy. A kind of volcano is erupting in me. A marital life might take away this energy. I have gone too deep in my love for filmmaking. Living a normal life will be difficult. Though I know I should fulfill my motherís dream, but I will be just a flesh and bone person.

What kind of films do you want to make?

I want to make films with a lingering quality. Along with the popcorn bag, people should not throw my film behind. I am very ambitious.

What is your greatest strength?

I think I know how to express pain on screen. I like the scene in Hum Dil... where Ajay keeps asking his wife for permission to express his love. My characters are constantly finding harmony in life.

Tell us what you think of this interview

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