There is such a thing as a Bhansali ‘chhaap’ — the film. It is the detailing that
goes into the shot, the way the 5000-plus diyas
in the background are lit, every fabric flutters precisely, every background dancer has their arms
angled the same way. This requires tremendous patience, sometimes shooting one song over weeks, and
a yielding producer. He took 260 days over two-and-a-half years to shoot Devdas, over 220
days for Bajirao Mastani, and over 280 days for Padmaavat.
Even thematically, his films have a common thread. Shah Rukh Khan, who worked with
Bhansali on Devdas, once told him that his films, even when they weren’t physically violent,
had a lot of “emotional violence”. His characters, all emotional descendents of Meena Kumari or Guru
Dutt, have a fractured beauty that he milks to the hilt.
Actor Ranveer Singh who has worked with him on three films — Ram-Leela, Bajirao
Mastani and Padmaavat — notes, “He challenges you, he pushes you to deliver a performance
that’s visceral, spirited and comes from a place deep within you.” To get this performance, he
demands multiple takes till, as actor Jim Sarbh who worked with Bhansali on Padmaavat, puts
it, “You feel tired, a bit more raw and vulnerable. And then you are just able to tap into stuff
like magic, without even knowing.”
With official credits for choreography, costume design, editing, writing, music,
producing, and directing, Bhansali’s shadow looms large on his movies. However, it is this probing,
demanding shadow that allows actors, musicians, production and costume designers to produce their
best work. Musicians like Monty and Ismail Darbar, writers and lyricists like Vibhu Puri have fallen
off the mainstream cultural radar after working with him. The remaining who continue to work in the
mainstream often find their work in a Bhansali film standing out as a gold standard amidst their
portfolio of work. This enviable stamp can, for many artists, become a stain.