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Sanjay Leela Bhansali movies: A Gorgeous and repetitive filmography

Khamoshi: The Musical, Black and Guzaarish – can you feel the common theme here? Padmaavat, Bajirao Mastani, Devdas and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam – what connects these movies? The first series of films was about grief and the search for meaning in life despite the physical obstacle. To find a sense of normalcy and to excel in this world, which at first may seem impossible to an outsider. While Padmaavat, Bajirao Mastani, Devdas, and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam were essentially love triangles, painted lavishly with every sort of opulence imaginable. Yes, that might sound like an oversimplification, but when you break it down to the bare minimum, the aforementioned topics are the legs these movies stand on. Even Sawaariya was ultimately a love triangle. Perhaps the only feature that stands out is Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, and not because it’s a top quality movie, but because it doesn’t necessarily fit into those two categories.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Manisha Koirala at the premiere of their movie Khamoshi: The Musical. (Photo: express archives)

That’s not to say that these films of Bhansali’s work aren’t enjoyable or breathtaking. But my main complaint concerns his story; the writing is not very imaginative. Love triangles, most often, follow the stereotypical union and estrangement, which is associated with gender. Boy-meets-girl-meets-another-boy, play a song and have fun, and end the storyline with a bittersweet ending. If “this” structure had only been followed in a few films, it wouldn’t have seemed so repetitive, but the problem is that the director often visits the same story in different contexts. Bhansali’s world films have a unique aesthetic, unfortunately the same cannot be said of his script.

Khamoshi: The Musical is a personal favorite. Not only was the debut of Salman Khan, Manisha Koirala, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali star Nana Patekar an honest film that didn’t feel the need to paint the film a certain way to make it stand out. His cinematic sentimentality was elevated by Patekar’s stellar performance and a healthy-looking Goa. Rustic, quaint and charming – all at the same time. The songs were of course a bonus, as was the quiet beauty of Koirala that filled every frame she occupied. The tone was subdued and the story was not caught in its own traps of ambition, love and grandeur, which often happens with a Bhansali production. It showed audiences that you don’t have to have big sets and a lot of money to make a good movie. Khamoshi’s world was rich and vibrant in itself. It was a musical in the true sense of the word. The songs weren’t just songs, but they actually helped move the story forward and gave a clear insight into the minds of the characters, be it “Aaj Main Upar” or “Bahon Ke Darmiyan”. And a special mention for revered lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri, who in the late 70s gave such young and relatable lyrics.

Then came Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam after a three year hiatus. A very different movie from the one released in 1996. The change was refreshing and the cast suited the story perfectly. Here, too, songs played an important role, sometimes introducing us to the personality of the heroine and other times celebrating love or singing stories of grief. Vanraj of Ajay Devgn was a practical man who had fallen in love with the radiant Nandini of Aishwarya Rai. But Nandini adored Salman Khan’s Sameer, and that’s why this surge of grand romantic gestures and sacrifice between the three characters created the signature of Bhansali’s love story. Unrequited love, false promises and drama bordering on melodrama.

The production value continued to evolve and increase with every film Bhansali made since. Whether Devdas, Sawaariya, Guzaarish, Bajirao Mastani or Padmaavat – sets metamorphosed into paintings, thus making his characters unrelatable and never ambitious. They seemed almost mythical; what the characters of Bhansali did or achieved in their universe was not what you and I could hope to do, but only dream of them. Watching a Bhansali movie on the big screen is like being caught in the middle of a daydream. Hoping that Gangubai Kathiawadi, star of Alia Bhatt, brings something new and exciting to the table. After all, this is the first time that Sanjay Leela Bhansali has adapted a real story for celluloid. The fingers are crossed in anticipation.


Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from

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