It was not easy making Devdas: Bhansali
Legendary director Sanjay Leela Bhansali opens up about his film's premier at the 70th Cannes festival
Filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali, whose 2002 romantic drama Devdas was screened at the 70th Cannes Film Festival, 15 years after its release, says Indian films are now being increasingly embraced internationally due to the warmth they exude with their heavy dose of emotions.
Excerpts from the interview:
What aspect of our films do you think international audiences enjoy the most?
I think our cinema is being appreciated for its melodramatic warmth. Even in the West, people are now eager to express themselves more openly. They aren't abashed by open expressions of emotions. Indian films exude a lot of warmth. At a time when the world is filled with bitterness, it's reassuring to experience a cinema where the smallest of emotions matter.
Also Indian cinema is very celebratory in mood. There's a song for every occasion. That's again a novel experience for western viewers. Our films are great fun to watch. When I showed Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam in Berlin, they were thrilled to see the musical celebration of universal emotions. They find the novelty of it all very endearing. They have seen and appreciated other cinema from Asia. Now it's our turn.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has presented your Devdas again at Cannes, 15 years after its release. Your thoughts?
It fills me with immense pride and amazing memories of the times when we made the film against all odds, and took it to Cannes. Devdas was screened in the non-competition section of the Cannes Film Festival back then. It was not easy making the film. I suffered a lot.
When we were invited to Cannes, it felt like my two and a half years of penance had paid off. But, I had to move at twice my normal speed to get the film ready in time for the screening. We were caught completely by surprise. We had sent them an almost-finished film on BETA video, but there was no time for fine tuning. Devdas was meant to be seen on the large screen. That the Cannes jury appreciated it on the small screen is a miracle. When the e-mail arrived from Cannes, it was a very important moment in my life. For the first time in those two and a half years, I was excited about something other than making the film.
Is it true that Devdas was the first mainstream Hindi film to be selected for Cannes?
Yes, that's true. Cannes is more into avant-garde, cerebral, non-mainstream cinema. It is a platform for committed filmmakers who get a voice and a market through the festival. Devdas' selection made me very happy. To me, it seemed like an opportunity for a completely new kind of audience to see our cinema.
Like your earlier work Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Devdas also stressed exotic Indian culture. Do you think the earlier film paved the way internationally for the latter?
Not really. Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam did make quite an impression internationally. But I don't think that film played any role in the impact of Devdas. The importance of the selection of Devdas for Cannes lay not just in it being a mainstream Hindi film, but also its classical presentation. It was not about universal sentiments designed to cut across the world. My film's sentiments and emotions were very peculiar and specific to a certain part of our culture and period in history. The songs, dances, costumes, performances and sets all revealed a culture that existed a hundred years ago.
We had Satyajit Ray's cinema, then Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay and Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan. Do you think these paved the way for your Devdas in the west?
Obviously a film representing our country abroad creating an impact, makes a difference to the way our cinema is perceived internationally. However, when the Cannes representatives saw the film, Lagaan hadn't become a big event outside India. Today when we look at Lagaan, we feel it created a space abroad for Indian cinema. We now feel our content, style and mood of moviemaking are being given a fair chance abroad.