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Sanjay Leela Bhansali Prefers Tawaifs Over Middle-Class Women in His Films

Sanjay Leela Bhansali

If anyone in Bollywood epitomizes the opposite of a ‘shy and retiring wallflower,’ it is Indian film mogul Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Known for his epic productions, Bhansali defines ‘larger than life’ and lets his imagination run wild.

Even those unfamiliar with “Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar” will recognize it as a series with a soaring budget, unafraid to make a statement.

The statement, in the case of “Heeramandi,” is that Bhansali has little interest in ordinary women. Instead, he gravitates towards depicting the lives of women shunned and maligned by society: the courtesans.

“I feel they are women who have a lot of enigma, a lot of mystery,” the director mused in a recent interview with Indian media. “The courtesan, or the tawaif, or the prostitute – they are different. They always exude a certain kind of power which I find fascinating.”

This fascination with courtesans is not new for Bhansali. From Rani Mukerji in “Saawariya” to Madhuri Dixit in “Devdas” and Alia Bhatt in “Gangubai Kathiawadi,” his films often focus on this overlooked class of women.

Elaborating on their allure, Bhansali said, “Where they sing, they dance. Where they express themselves; their joy and their grief in music and dance. They understand the art of living, the importance of architecture, the use of fabric, and the kind of jewelry they wear. They are connoisseurs of art.”

Bhansali dismissively added, “Those four middle-class housewives waiting in line for their groceries? They don’t interest me. I’m an artist. I have to create something that is enigmatic.”

Bhansali also reflected on how filmmaking and acting have evolved over the years. It has been nearly 22 years since “Devdas,” starring Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit, and Aishwarya Rai, was released.

While the commitment to compelling performances remains, the approach to acting, directing, and writing has changed. “I think the cinema has changed, and the techniques have changed,” Bhansali remarked. “Now a director looks at cinema differently.

The scriptwriters are writing differently and sketching varied and unusual roles.” Praising the evolution of Indian cinema, Bhansali added, “Today, great films are being made and wonderful work is being done.”

Despite the grandeur of his sets and costumes, Bhansali noted that viewers’ tastes have shifted towards the understated. He pointed out that actors today need to deliver more subtle performances compared to the high-pitched, operatic tone of “Devdas.” “The sur (tone) and the note at which Devdas was being performed – it was high pitch and operatic. It was difficult to perform,” Bhansali noted. “Today, directors ask actors to underplay and be subtle, which is also nice.”

Bhansali’s admiration for his actors has remained constant over the years. He praised the talent he has encountered, saying, “I have learned a lot from my actors in these 30 years.”

Listing his favorite actors, Bhansali added, “Seema Biwas is spectacular as an actor and so are Sharmin Segal, Aditi Rao Hydari, Richa Chadha, and Manisha Koirala. There’s a whole spectrum of artists that I have met and they’re all very special.”

Moved by their performances, Bhansali said, “They’re all very different personalities. I’ve brought into all of them a part of me and I have taken a part of them in my characters. They love me and I love them a little more than they do.”

As long as Bhansali’s passion for storytelling continues, his ability to extract the best from his actors will ensure that viewers are never bored by their combined efforts.

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I am a dynamic professional, specializing in Peace and Conflict Studies, Conflict Management and Resolution, and International Relations. My expertise is particularly focused on South Asian Conflicts and the intricacies of the Indian Ocean and Asia Pacific Politics. With my skills as a Content Writer, I serve as a bridge between academia and the public, translating complex global issues into accessible narratives. My passion for fostering understanding and cooperation on the national and international stage drives me to make meaningful contributions to peace and global discourse.

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