After Devdas, Bajirao Mastani is my most favourite costume drama of the post Mughal-e-Azam era. It is opulent but restrained, lavish but lucid and the epic vision never overpowers the characters. Looking back on the experience SLB says, “We knew some kind of magic was happening. As the shooting progressed I realized we were doing something that had the blessings of great filmmakers. So yes, we did know we were blessed.”
The era of the plot, tone of the storytelling, texture of music were all alien to today’s audiences. But Bhansali was never fearful of losing the audience. “I lived with the script for 12 long years. Over the years I read it over and over again and continued to be thrilled by it. Every time I read it I realized Bajirao Mastani must be made. It was so powerful a screenplay. I never considered what the budget would be, or that audiences may not connect with the classical flavour. There was no fear of failure when I made Bajirao Mastani. I am a fearless filmmaker.”
But surely the box office matters when your budget is Rs 140 crores?
Bhansali refutes my mercenary apprehensions. “Audiences want to see something interesting. It doesn’t matter which genre or period it belongs to. It is the conviction with which a filmmaker puts across his vision which works. But yes, I did make Bajirao Mastani keeping today’s audiences in mind. The structuring the lighting…were all done for a contemporary audience. I was throughout sure of what I was doing. But yes, there was always nervousness around me, people asking if today’s audience thinks this way.
Bhansali, according to me the best living Indian filmmaker, feels a good love story can never fail. “Love is universal and we must love the one that we love without barriers of religion. Bajirao was a fierce warrior and he defended his land and people with single-minded devotion. But when it came to loving Mastani he was supremely secular. Somewhere in my mind the colours saffron and green emerged from my plot and merged in my mind.”
Bhansali admits Bajirao is the most powerful and magnetic hero he has ever filmed. “Bajirao was one of the most powerful statesmen of India. He believed in protecting and fighting for his land. He won 40 wars. But he lost in love. 350 years down the line I’ve paid a tribute to his love story.”
Bhansali acknowledges the influence of K Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam is very strong on the film. “My film is a tribute to Mughal-e-Azam. The kind of work Asif Saab did, his imagery and visuals, were very inspiring for me. I am deeply impressed by the works of Mehboob Khan, Raj Kapoor and V Shantaram. I’ve learnt filmmaking by watching these masters. Deepika dancing to ‘Mohe Rang De Lal’ is directly inspired by Madhubala’s ‘Mohe Panghat Pe Nandlal Ched Gayo Re’ in Mughal-e-Azam. Deep inside me there was the fear …what if people compare me poorly? Luckily for me no one has said I’ve made a fool of myself. The story, music, visuals and scenes are all part of the Indian sensibility. Singing dancing celebrating …these are all part of our culture. They’ll never die from our cinema.”
Bhansali tries to follow the epic masters of Hindi cinema. “I’ve tried, and I think I’ve succeeded to some extent in Bajirao Mastani. There is still so much to be learnt absorbed and reinvented. The past is very important to my cinema. History is not only important to a nation. It’s also important to cinema. If we don’t acknowledge the cinematic greats in our film we’re guilty of ignoring history.”