In a never-before tete-a-tete, Sanjay Leela Bhansali opens up on the agony of watching his sister's directorial debut being delayed and why he is very happy with the film.
It has taken your sister Bela a good ten 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 career not taking off killed me from inside. You'd be surprised to know that she held my hand and introduced me to the wonders of cinema. She took me to the FTII and she introduced into the film industry. I owe everything I am today to her. Maybe I was fortunate to have directed a film before her. But rightfully she should have directed before me.
You could have prodded her to direct her film long before?
At times I used to wonder if she was taking so long to direct a film because she spent so much time editing my films. But there was nothing I could do. Bela was always part of my creativity. 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. She wanted to direct a film only after I made Devdas. Still, there was a nagging feeling inside me 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.
Oh yes (laughs). I was like a tiger protecting inch of my footage. She was ruthless. She would tell me on my face that certain things had to go. She ceased to be a sister and became an editor. We've gone at each other like two cats with our horrified assistants trying to separate us from both sides. We were obnoxious in the editing room. But she made the right decisions. And now you can see that same ruthless economy of expression in her own film. Her film is just 1 hour 45 minutes long, not a minute longer than it needed to be. I miss her in the editing room. But when I saw what she had directed I am glad she has moved on.
How do you feel when she is finally ready with her film?
Bela's film is infinitely superior to 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 8 years. Only I know what I agony I've suffered in these 8 years. The delay wasn't only because she is my sister. Some actors walked out of Shirin Farhad…I'd rather not talk about these ugly things. Because we finally succeeded in getting the perfect cast. We all worked with the courage of conviction, so no grudges against those who let us down. I can't imagine Shirin Farhad happening with any other two actors except Boman Irani and Farah Khan. They are so entertaining that I was tempted to cast them as my Romeo and Juliet, if only Rome and Juliet were a little older.
You're also producing a film on Mary Kom?
This is my first biographical film. And it's the story of someone very special, someone who has done our country very 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. So I am really looking forward to it. My art director Omang Kumar came to me with the subject. He had been researching Mary Kom's life for over a year. She is phenomenal. A female boxing world champion, a housewife and a mother of two. It's amazing how many roles women can juggle with. 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 any 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. And Bela's film is as much mine as hers. But yeah, I'm also working on my film. And that's not easy when my sister is venturing out with her first film.
Coincidentally you too are venturing out with a light-hearted film, very far removed from the grave issues of Devdas, Black and Guzaarish?
My next film is very young, very breezy. It's a very different take on Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. I am really looking forward to getting to it. 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 Farah Khan when 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.