Alia Bhatt should retire after Gangubai Kathiawadi. Nothing she does hereafter will compare even remotely with what she has achieved under the super-vision of Bhansali. She is not the first. Run your memory back to the heroines Bhansali worked with. They were never better. Or even close.
The ethereal Manisha Koirala who starred in Bhansali’s directorial debut Khamoshi :The Musical never looked better nor emoted with such excruciating intensity in any of her later films. Sure, Manisha did have her moments in Mani Ratnam’s Dil Se, but nothing as epiphanic as Khamoshi which came after her other outstanding performance in Mani Ratnam’s Bombay.
Speaking about why she couldn’t better her score after Khamoshi , Manisha said to me, “That’s because Bhansali sets impossible standards which other filmmaker cannot dream of achieving.”
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was immortalized in Hum…Dil De Chuke Sanam, Devdas and Guzaarish. She never scaled the same heights of excellence in any of her other premium projects, be it Subhash Ghai’s Taal or Rituparno Ghosh’s Raincoat. I remember during Hum…Dil De Chuke Sanam Aishwarya was apportioning shooting dates between Bhansali and Ghai(for Taal) triggering a wave of rage and annoyance in Bhansali.
No wonder he moved to Deepika Padukone soon after Guzaarish. It was meant to be Kareena Kapoor Khan in Bajirao Mastani . They even did a photoshoot together where I was present. It would have been THE film that she would have proudly shown to Taimur and Jehangir to let them know what their mother was capable of.
Alas,that was not meant to be. Kareena was also finalized for Ram Leela and then dropped for Deepika who gladly stepped in . The rest as they say is hysteria. In her three back-to-back opuses with Bhansali—Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram Leela , Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat—Deepika immortalized herself in the way no Piku or Gehraiyaan could do.
“There is something magical about what Bhansali does to his heroines. I am known to nake them look good on screen. But I don’t think Ash looked as good in my Chokher Bali as she did in Sanjay Bhansali’s Hum…Dil De Chuke Sanam and Devdas. And Manisha in Khamoshi was ethereal,” the late Rituparno Ghosh once told me .
Now after three films with Deepika , Bhansali has broken the chain again with Alia Bhatt in Gangubai Kathiawadi. It is a performance that will be discussed for many weeks months and years to come. Bhansali virtually had to groom and wean Alia into a culture that she had no idea oh. Her walk, her voice quality , her facial expressions are all different from what she has done so far. It is a completely transformative performance.She can never outdo what she has done in Gangubai . Not even in Baiju Bawra for which they will team up next.
Speaking of his heroines Sanjay Bhansali admits he works hard on their looks and emotions. “I take them into areas of their personality they’ve never been. But for them to get there, those areas need to exist. If Manisha, Aishwarya, Deepika and now Alia didn’t have it in them how could I have got it out of them?”