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Sanjay Leela Bhansali: “My Heart Stopped When I saw The Audiences’ Reaction To Khamoshi”

On  9 August  1996,  Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s journey as a  filmmaker  began. 

Khamoshi:  The Musical  was released.  Now as  he  completes  25 years  of filmmaking he looks back on the fateful day with some  amount  of  pride .

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SLB , regarded by  many including yours truly  as  India’s finest living filmmaker,  recalls, “It was  around 9 or 10 am  in  the morning on  9 August  1996 when my producer  Sibte Hassan Rizvi Saab called me   and said, ‘Picture baith  gayee hai.’ I was  new to all this. I had no idea what  this meant. I didn’t even know  films opened on Friday at 9 am in the morning.So  my sister Bela (Sehgal, film editor) ,my  cinematographer Anil Mehta  and I   trudged  down  to Liberty cinema to see what  was happening.”

 What  SLB saw broke his heart. “The scattered meager audiences at Liberty  were restless. Some were even breaking their seats in frustration. They even showed one  reel upside down . I rushed to the  projection room to fix it. My dream had turned   into a nightmare. The film was  a boxoffice disaster  . I got great reviews for Khamoshi: The Musical. Everyone I met loved the  film. But  the audience  hated  it.I was shattered. I thought  my  journey as a filmmaker  had ended  even before it began.”

But somehow SLB hopes were kept alive. “For this I’ve to thank two people. Majrooh Sultanpuri Saab  and  Salman Khan. They kept reminding me of what  a  wonderful film  I had made.But I kept thinking if Khamoshi was so wonderful, why did the audience  reject it? Was it because  it was  a dark film?  No wonder   I gravitated  to  something far more celebratory and happy in my next film Hum…Dil De Chuke  Sanam . This was the world of the  Gujarati joint  family that I knew first-hand,  families  laughing, eating singing dancing and flying kites together.”

But  given a second chance SLB would   like  to make Khamoshi: The Musical again. “I was innocent back then.And Khamoshi reflects  my state  of mind. I  made the  film that  I wanted to without caring about the  consequences.  But failure made me  cautious  about success.  I decided  I will ensure the audiences’  approval in my future films. But Khamoshi is still something I’m proud of . It has  Nana PatekarSalman and Manisha Koirala who were at  the pinnacle of their  career. It  had hit music by JatinLalit . Yes, I  was persuaded to change the  original tragic ending to a  happy one. If I  did the film now I’d do it exactly how I wanted to.”

 Incidentally the role played by  Helen was  first offered to  the temperamental Nadira , the  intimidating  heroine  of  Mehboob Khan’s Aan .

SLB’s proudest  moment was  when Nadira  complimented him for Khamoshi. “She said she saw shades  of Mehboob Khan in my work. That made my day,my year.Over the years  I haven’t forgotten Nadiraji’s words. Khamoshi didn’t work  when it was released. But  it has been  seen by  millions over the years, and loved.  For that I am grateful.I am also grateful to  my producers like Sibte Haasan  Rizvi  and Jhamu Sugandh. I was  introduced to Jhamuji by an entertainment  journalist  N P YadavJhamuji heard  the  subject  of  Hum…Dil De Chuke Sanam, and he was on.We shot it in one  of the most beautiful  cities in the world Budapest as we couldn’t afford  to shoot in  Italy. Devdas,Black, Guzaarish,Saawariya, Ram Leela, Bajirao Mastani and Padmaawat have all been a struggle to make. But they’re  all films that have been loved by the audience. I am proud  of  of them.”

 How does SLB look back  on his 25-year journey? “As tough , painful, challenging but  very very rewarding .My new film Gangubai Kathiawadi is  my best work to date. I genuinely  feel that.The story  takes place just two lanes away from  where I  spent my childhood.I know this world.  I wanted to step into  a familiar milieu after  I couldn’t make  Insha  Aallah  the way I wanted  to. I feel very possessive  towards Gangubai Kathiawadi.”

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