Just like his larger-than-life portrayals and movie sets with their alluring colours and luxurious set-ups, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Mumbai studio is a study in opulence and elegance. Clad in a custard yellow kurta, SLB greets us with a smile on his face. The director is at ease following the yearlong struggle to release his film. “I leave the church and people tell me they are praying for my film. I am on the road and autorickshaw driver gives me thumbs up. What else can I ask for!” he beams. As his much controversial film Padmaavat continues to roar at the box office, in a candid chat, the director reveals his fears while making the film, his equation with Deepika Padukone, and how he can never move on from Padmaavat.
Now that Padmaavat has finally released, have you moved on from the film?
I will live with Padmaavat for a long time. It is a film I am proud of — it has taken so much of me, and demanded so much of me. I have given so much of myself to this film. And that makes it a special film. I have never got so much love from the audience from all over the world. None of my films have ever made such an impact. I can’t move on from Padmaavat — I will live with it for a little longer.
Did you feel like giving up at any point of time?
Not at all! As a filmmaker, I could never think of giving up. Padmaavat has been a challenge, but it has been worth it.
You had a tough time setting up Padmaavat. What was the biggest fear you always had in mind?
My biggest fear for the film was its release. By the grace of God, that has been achieved due to the entire team’s hard work and the prayers of the people from within and outside the fraternity. We (the film’s team) weren’t even scared of the attacks and the protests — the release was our biggest concern. Secondly, I was wondering if people would go to the theatres with the threat of violence. Today, however, I am thankful to the government because the kind of protection they have given was commendable.
When making the film, there was prevalent anxiety. But when people watched it, our intention was clear. It was just a film — there was no wrong portrayal in the film. I still don’t understand why it was banned. Why should we be scared of making a historical film? The entire nation got involved in the making of the film.
Fortunately, Pad man played knight in shining armour and postponed their film for yours. How important was that for you?
It was important for both the films to come to an understanding as we were not in a position to delay the film. I asked Akshay (Kumar) to not keep the release of our projects on the same day because loss for the both of us was imminent in such a case. I was not in a position to lose anymore, which he thankfully understood. All that was nicely done and it only shows solidarity within the industry.
You present your actresses in the most beautiful way possible. How much do you get involved in terms of presenting your actresses on screen?
My actors are very special to me — I invest so much so that I bring out the best in my actors. I am well aware of their potential and I take them to territories that they have not ventured in before. Coming to Deepika Padukone’s work in Padmaavat, I know how to show her on the screen. I know how to exactly dress her up; she is a beautiful girl, in any case. She listens carefully to the director. In fact, there are times she doesn’t need to be told what is to be done —I love her a lot. She is a brilliant actor and very special to me. In my films it’s the whole team that comes together and does magic. My actors also know that it is the team that makes them.
The chemistry between Ranveer Singh and Jim Sarbh has been highly appreciated by audiences. How did you design those characters?
We underplayed it. I was making a mainstream film, so we didn’t want to elaborate on that a lot. People have liked Jim’s (Sarbh) performance — he is a special and unpredictable actor. His spontaneity is great and I have enjoyed watching him perform. Their relationship had to have a certain dignity. We underplayed this part because the story was about Padmavati.
You have made so many actors into stars but do actors change after they become stars?
Do I need them to be grateful once they become stars in their own right? I work with them because they suit a particular character. I worked with the best in this country and I don’t expect anything out of them! It’s a nation that worships stars. My actors have always given me credit for what we created together — I have a great relationship with all of them. I don’t throw tantrums neither do I tolerate them. There is a mutual respect and sanity to the relationship.
— With inputs from Nirtika Pandita