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Subhash K Jha
"If the film goes wrong, I’ll kill you," one of my favourite directors says jokingly.
I don’t know if he means it, or if he’s just being kind. But Sanjay Bhansali insists that he made Devdas because of me.
An evening two years ago, while I was watching Hum Dil Chuke Sanam, I realised that if there was anyone who could make Devdas today, it was Sanjay. He had the vision and the sensitivity, the epic sweep and the intimate characterisations.
Yup, Sanjay was the guy for the job. When I telephoned to congratulate him for Hum Dil..., I told him his next project ought to have been Devdas. There was a thoughtful silence at the other end, which I then presumed to be scepticism. It was actually a ratification of his own convictions.
When I compared Sanjay with Bimal Roy in my writings earlier, I received a barrage how-could-yous from tradition-centric cineastes. They all came round, later. A leading movie-critic in Bombay even confessed, "I gave it a 3-star rating. I should’ve given it more."
Critics will have to invent a new six-star rating for Devdas. For, every frame of the film will be a work of art. I know how Sanjay suffered through the screenplay. One thought the main pain had ended on paper. Who knew the trauma that would accompany the shooting of the film?
Every schedule of this lavishly mounted film, has been a battle of survival. Threats from both the anti-social and legal elements, Bharat Shah’s arrest, the lack of funds, Aishwarya’s personal troubles (courtesy a certain Mr Khan) and Madame Dixit, who I now hear has given Sanjay a deadline to complete the film.
I haven’t had the courage to ask Sanjay about this latest crisis in his film. But I never cease to marvel at how well the man is holding up, determined to see his dream to the end; to prove all those who say Devdas is ‘jinxed’ , to be liars.
Sanjay's passion for the smallest things in life is well-known. A telephone conversation with him is never casual, it’s an ocassion. His hands fly like windmills in the countryside, his eyebrows arch like dark rainbows, his mouth breaks into multi-mooded grins and smiles… You have to see him standing by his French window in his tiny neat appartment in Andheri, where he stays with his lovely mother, to know how much Devdas must mean to Sanjay Bhansali, and how determined he is to translate his passion on screen.
Ever since Devdas went into production in January 2001, this lavishly mounted period epic chronicling the fatal love of Devdas for the unresponsive Parvati and the sympathetic and devoted Chandramukhi, has been besieged with rumours and allegations. I jokingly tell Sanjay that a book on the making of Devdas would be a far bigger success than the film.
Sanjay’s devotion to bringing Saratchandra Chatterjee’s epic to new life has to be seen to be believed. The film, which is 90 per cent complete, looks like a dream. The frames appear to be a collage of freeflowing Rembrandt paintings, fused into a work of art, as timeless as it is timely.
The filmmaker is very aware of the responsibilities that rest on his shoulder . Several versions of the Bangla epic novel have been attempted before. Most important among them is the films by P C Baruah in 1935 and Bimal Roy in 1955 featuring K L Saigal and Dilip Kumar as the tragic hero who fades into a romantic death in a haze of alcohol.
"My Devdas is very different from both the Baruah and Bimal Roy films. Shah Rukh Khan has played him differently, but stunningly. He has surpassed all my expectations. You can say mine is the new-millennium Devdas." The film was shot completely on sets recreating Calcutta, erected at the Film City in Bombay, to represent Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai’s haveli and Madhuri Dixit’s kotha. Art director Nitin Desai erected 10 massive sets which cinematographer Binod Pradhan has shot like a dream.
Besides the three principal actors, Sanjay has assembled a very interesting supporting cast toplined by Jackie Shroff, who plays Devdas’ jaunty friend Chunnilal. Vijayendra Ghatge has been cast as Aishwarya Rai’s husband and Dina Pathak as her mother-in-law. Kiron Kher plays Aishwarya’s mother. Arpa Mehta (the Gujarati stage actress seen in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi) has been cast as the Madame at Chandramukhi’s brothel. Sanjay has also cast two movie debutants in crucial supporting roles. Veteran stage actor Vijay Crishna stars as Shah Rukh Khan’s father, while the lady from the Ayurvedic Concepts ad, Abha Mukherjee, plays Shah Rukh’s grandmother.
As always, music plays a very important part in Bhansali’s narration. Devdas contains nine songs composed by Ismail Durbar (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam).
Sanjay has also discovered a new female voice for his film. The Devdas soundtrack will soon hit the shelves under the Universal label.
All the songs are ready. Sanjay sometimes sings the tunes to me. I’ve found the Bimal Roy in my own life.
Sanjay and I are hardcore Lata bhakts. His day never begins without listening to her songs. Lataji’s Sajda occupies pride of place in Sanjay’s abode. "I listen to it every day while going to work. Work nowadays hasn’t been easy. Devdas is a bitch. The film’s epic period look wasn’t easy to achieve."
Devdas has gone over-budget. But every frame of the film exudes class and a heightened aesthetic sense. The film, being readied for release in April 2002, is destined to be a landmark.
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