COUNTDOWN OF ACE PRODUCER-DIRECTOR SANJAY LEELA BHANSALI’S BOLLYWOOD FILMS
A great body of work has turned Sanjay Leela Bhansali into one of the most successful filmmakers of the modern era.
The multi-talented moviemaking genius recently commenced a BAFTA nomination campaign for his 2022 crime drama Gangubai Kathiawadi. This included a recent masterclass at BAFTA headquarters in central London.
He produced, directed, wrote, edited, and composed for the film headlined by actress Alia Bhatt, which will also feature heavily in the Indian award season.
Eastern Eye decided to use that as a perfect opportunity to rank his 10 movies as a producer-
director and reveal the best one.
10. Saawariya (2007): After four fantastic efforts, the filmmaker had his biggest failure with his fifth film. The musical romance, which launched Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor, had all the visual brilliance and great music of a Bhansali movie but was let down badly by a poor screenplay. It didn’t connect with audiences and received heavy criticism from some corners. Concentrating on style over substance meant the movie based on Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1848 short story White Nights was stuck in second gear and never got going.
9. Guzaarish (2010): Although his heart was in the right place with this sixth film as a producer-director, the story of a paralysed magician turned radio host who files a petition in court seeking permission to end his life divided audiences. While it received critical acclaim for the great visuals, original storytelling, and perfectly pitched performances, others found it too slow and thought the messaging was questionable. It had a great performance from Hrithik Roshan but didn’t do the expected business.
8. Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013): After two commercial failures, the ace filmmaker was back on track with his seventh directorial effort. The contemporary Indian adaptation of William Shakespeare classic Romeo and Juliet, saw him start a dream partnership with lead stars Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, which would stretch across three hit movies. There is colour, compelling performances, and cracking music in the critically acclaimed tragic-romantic action drama filled with great moments.
7. Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022): Like many of his previous films, Bhansali relied on strong source material for his 10th movie as a producer-director and then put his own unique spin on it. Alia delivers an explosive performance as a young girl sold to a brothel, who rises up from that devastation to become a feared underworld gangster and campaigner for those sold into prostitution. Like all of his previous films, Bhansali brilliantly presented a strong female protagonist and left a lasting impression with his filmmaking.
6. Khamoshi: The Musical (1996): The stunning directorial debut from the talented filmmaker may not have done well at the Indian box office, but it was embraced globally and won multiple awards, along with universal critical acclaim. The story of a deaf-mute couple and their daughter has become a cult classic. A sign of Bhansali’s visionary brilliance is Hollywood film CODA (2021) with a similar story releasing 25 years later, and winning a prestigious Oscar for Best Film.
5. Bajirao Mastani (2015): The epic historical romance starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, and Priyanka Chopra was another big win for Bhansali. His eighth film as a producer-director, based on an eighteenth-century ruler and his second wife, had all the visual splendour and larger-than-life storytelling associated with him. There is romance, action, great music, a timeless story, and stunning turns from a cast on top of their game, in the multi-award-winning movie.
4. Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999): The second directorial outing from Bhansali established him as a commercial force and elevated him to the top tier of Hindi cinema. The marvellous musical divided into two distinct halves revolves around a woman who falls for one man and finds out what real love means after she reluctantly marries another. Everything from the great lead cast of Aishwarya Rai, Salman Khan, and Ajay Devgn to the songs, setting, and story worked on this landmark movie.
3. Padmaavat (2018): This smash-hit, mega-budget 13th century set historical enabled Bhansali to make it a hattrick of hits with popular Bollywood stars Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh. He backed them up with a strong supporting cast headed by Shahid Kapoor. The story of a ruthless leader trying to enslave a beautiful queen married to a rival was a critical and commercial success globally. He poured everything into the passion project and even composed the songs. The result was his visually spectacular ninth movie winning multiple awards.
2. Devdas (2002): The third outing for Bhansali as a producer and director was a lavish big screen adaptation of the iconic novel about a lovelorn alcoholic. He put a larger-than-life spin to a simple story that has been made in Indian cinema multiple times, in different languages and turned it into the year’s biggest success. Everything from the costumes, sets, cinematography, choreography to the powerful performances from Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, and Madhuri Dixit was eye-catching, in the award-winning musical, loaded with hit super songs.
1. Black (2005): The fantastic fourth film from the ace writer, director and producer remains his greatest yet. The magnificent masterpiece broke all the rules of commercial Hindi cinema and delivered a deeply engaging drama that struck a chord with audiences. Everything about the film revolving around a deaf and blind woman’s relationship with an elderly teacher, who later develops Alzheimer’s disease was perfection. The masterful storytelling was elevated to a higher level through the cinematography, stunning sound design and stand-out performances from lead stars Rani Mukerji and Amitabh Bachchan. The movie swept the boards at awards ceremonies and remains his best.