One of the most prolific directors of Bollywood, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, recently completed 25 years in the movie industry. His directorial debut was with the film Khamoshi: The Musical in 1996.
Known for his larger-than-life stories and lavish sets, this filmmaker-music director was born in 1963 into a Gujarati Jain family based out of Mumbai. An alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Bhansali is also a movie producer with his own house Bhansali Productions and has received multiple accolades and awards over the years.
Here’s taking a look back at some of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s work over the years –
Khamoshi: The Musical
Bhansali made his directorial debut with this film in 1996. This film featured Salman Khan, Manisha Koirala, Helen, and Nana Patekar as a romantic musical drama.
The story follows a deaf and mute couple who live in Goa. They give birth to a girl Annie (Koirala), and then later, a boy – both of who can hear and speak. Annie develops an affinity towards music, guided by her grandmother (Helen). Her life shatters when her younger brother dies a few years later, and she stops all musical involvement. Her life changes when she meets Raj (Khan).
Though not a commercial success, the movie was appreciated by the critics and is considered to be one of the best musicals of Bollywood. It also received multiple awards.
Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam
Bhansali made his mark as a reputed director with the release of this film in 1999. Another romantic musical drama featured Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn, and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in the lead.
This film, which has often been called a loose adaptation of the Bengali novel Na Hanyate, is based on Rashtriyashayar Jhaverchand Meghani’s play Shetal ne Kathe. It follows the story of a newly-wed couple (Devgn and Rai Bachchan), whose lives are upturned when the husband discovers that his wife is in love with another man. Initially enraged, he later decided to reunite his wife with her lover (Khan).
This movie features the first of Bhansali’s signature grandiosity and visual splendour. It was successful both critically and commercially.
This film of Bhansali’s probably needs no introduction. In lead roles, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s novel was released in 2002, starring Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
The story follows Devdas (Khan), a young lawyer from a powerful and wealthy family, returning to London. He plans on marrying his childhood sweetheart Paro (Rai) but is not allowed by his family, which leads him to descend into the dark world of alcoholism. His dejection and emotional disintegration lead him to seek refuge in the arms of a courtesan, Chandramukhi (Dixit).
Regarded as one of Bhansali’s best works, the film received mixed reviews from critics but was successful commercially.
Possibly Bhansali’s most critically acclaimed film, this movie featuring Rani Mukerji and Amitabh Bachchan, was released in 2005.
Bhansali was inspired by American activist Helen Keller and her biography The Story of My Life. The film revolves around Michelle McNally (Mukerji), a woman rendered deaf and blind following an illness that had affected her at the tender age of two.
She grows up to be a frustrated, violent, and rude child with parents who are at their wit’s end because they don’t know how to control her. Enter Debraj (Bachchan), an alcoholic teacher with harsh methods, works his magic on Michelle and helps her navigate her life as a deaf-and-blind woman. He then, later on, starts succumbing to Alzheimer’s.
The movie was also a commercial success and won many accolades, including three National Film Awards.
Another critically acclaimed film was released in 2010, featuring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan.
Ethan Mascarenhas (Roshan) was a magician before an accident left him paralysed. The story follows his life as a quadriplegic radio jockey who appeals to the court for mercy killing on the fourteenth anniversary of his accident. His mother and lawyer support him in his quest, and so do his long-time nurse Sofia (Rai Bachchan).
His plea, however, is rejected by the court, but Sofia assures him that she will forego all consequences to help him with his euthanasia. Realising their love for each other, Mascarenhas proposes to her, and she accepts. The film ends with Mascarhenas’ farewell party.
The film was embroiled in controversy as writer Dayanand Rajan accused Bhansali of plagiarising his unpublished novel Summer Snow. The film, though nominated for various awards, failed t make a mark at the box office.
Based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s short story White Nights, Bhansali’s 2007 film marked the debut of Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor in Bollywood.
The story follows Raj, a shy young musician at RK Bar, who falls in love with Sakina, is caught unaware when Sakina reveals that she’s in love with Imaan (Salman Khan), and is awaiting his return. The story is narrated by Gulabji (Rani Mukerji), a prostitute who visits the bar.
The film received mixed to negative reviews from critics and audiences alike and was a box office disaster.
Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013), Bajirao Mastani (2015), and Padmaavat (2018)
These three films perhaps will always be the highlights of Bhansali’s career. All three films featured the Ranveer Singh-Deepika Padukone pair in lead roles. They prominently encapsulate Bhansali’s signature grandiosity – elaborate visuals, majestic sets, and an overall impressive impact. Bhansali also served as the music director for these films.
While all three films were huge commercial successes, critics were divided in their views about Padmaavat; Ram-Leela mainly received positive reviews. Bajirao Mastani has been called a “masterpiece”, “a cinematic gem”, and a “historical leap” by various critics.
Priyanka Chopra Jonas received widespread acclaim for her performance as Kashibai. Critics commented that she had “maximum impact despite fewer scenes” and, “while not in the title, owns Bajirao Mastani”.
All three films won various accolades, including ten National Film Awards (Bajirao Mastani – 7, Padmaavat – 3). The films were also embroiled in multiple controversies and protests.
His upcoming films as a director include Gangubai Kathiawadi, Heeramandi, and Izhaar.
Bhansali has also served as a producer for films like Rowdy Rathore and Mary Kom, and the hit TV serial Saraswatichandra.
Edited by Urvashi Gupta