(To celebrate his 53rd birthday held on February 24 this year, we reproduce this interview with SANJAY LEELA BHANSALI by JYOTHI VENKATESH, when his film Devdas was nominated for the Oscars on 13th November, 2002)
  When did you come to know that the FFI Federation of India has nominated Devdas for the Oscar?
I was shopping in Santa Cruz when I got a call from Shah Rukh Khan informing me that the Federation has selected Devdas for the Oscars. I felt good because the federation believes it has the potential
to represent the country abroad. Our hard work did not go waste .I know it had the best of actors and technical crew at par with Hollywood. It is the first step taken. Or else it would have remained a distant dream.
Were you confident that your film would get nominated for the Oscars?
I know it was selected for Cannes. It was different but finally it is the decision of eight people. There was never a sense of over confidence. I knew there were good films like The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Kannathil Muthamittal etc. Competition was there but we had the hope.
How do you feel now after Devdas has been nominated for the Oscar?
I feel vindicated. I was depressed. I feel the critics and their reviews play a vital role in conditioning the minds of people. Those who hated the film did it more out of vengeance. Very few wanted to see the good side. People had their own ideas. They only had Bimalda’s version. It is how you look at it. Lot of criticism became very below the belt and harsh. It was their way of getting noticed. I am not averse to good criticism. If you are going to say it is a bastardization of Indian language or call my film as Bhansali Bar, it means you are stretching your bias against me.
There is this criticism that Devdas is not Sarat Chandra’s Devdas but Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s. How do you react to this?
Because when an artiste takes a subject, he interprets it in his own way. If M.F Hussain makes Devdas it becomes Hussain’s Devdas. I have made a very social point by making Radha and Meera dance together. No one asked Asif why he had taken liberty with Anarkali in Moghal E Azam. I created my own Paro and Devdas in my own way. However a lot of hue and cry was raised when I made Madhuri and Ash dance together in one scene .Devdas is based on the myth of Krishna with opulence costumes. Reviews did not do justice to the creative input and hard work put in by us. If I had made Devdas exactly like Bimalda frame to frame, what would have been the novelty? No one accused Bimalda when he showed Paro passing by Chandramukhi in one scene in the film though it was not there in the novel. P.C Barua took liberties with his Devdas. No one asked Asif why he had taken liberty with Anarkali in Moghal E Azam. I created my own Paro and Devdas in my own way. I did not compromise at all. Do you think I’d have made Devdas if I were the kind of filmmaker who wanted to compromise? I wanted to treat it like an opera. The soul remained the same.
How do you plan to lobby for Devdas for the Oscar like Aamir and Ashutosh Gowarikar did for Lagaan?
We have to work hard on promoting it further. There is going to be a lot of hard work. With Lagaan everything has changed. One has to learn aggressive strategy. Kishore Lulla, Bharatbhai and Shah Rukh Khan etc are there. We are planning to release Devdas with English subtitles. We will have a premiere in Paris in December this year. I am against dubbing the film in English or other foreign languages because I feel that dubbing takes away the soul of a film. Lagaan has done terrific ground work for us and we should not let this opportunity slip by. I do no think that crossover cinema has come to stay with Lagaan and Devdas. I do not think there is anything called Crossover cinema. We should not make films to suit the tastes of NRIs. We should make films we believe in.
From Khamoshi you went on to make a Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Then you made a 50 crore budget film like Devdas. Do you plan to make a film bigger than Devdas in future?
I do not know. It is such a big question mark. If I try to make a bigger film, people will snigger and say that he tried to make a big film but could not make another Devdas, if it does not do well. I liked Chandni Bar. It depends on the content. The content will dictate the budget of my future films.
Are you aiming at Holywood after Devdas and the Oscars?
I understand the language here. I understand the culture here. I love making films here. I have no idea whether Ash is trying for Hollywood films. Mehboobsaab’s Mother India was shown in Oscar but never left India. I will feel uprooted if I go abroad. I am used to listening to Lata’s songs. I am used to working with Saroj Khan. I like the smell of daal. Kurusowa loved making films rooted to his soil and never made a film in any language other than Japanese.
Why does it take you a long time to make a film?
I took one and a half years to write the script and one year to make Devdas. I am not wasting time. I make films peacefully. Actors are very busy and can’t give bulk dates. The way I shoot I get tired. I need time. I can’t rush with post- production. I have to work on not only the looks but also the sound besides the emotion and choreography. Shah Rukh Khan and Jackie Shroff and Madhuri and Ash coming together had a lot of energy. They were as mad as I was as far as our vision was concerned. Devdas generates its own power. It evokes extreme reactions. Either you will live it or you will hate it.

In what way have you grown as a filmmaker from Khamoshi to Devdas?
I think I have grown a lot from Khamoshi to Devdas. I was far more courageous in Khamoshi. To make a debut with that kind of unusual casting of a deaf and mute couple was tough. It was an unusual casting of Nana Patekar and Seema Biswas. In terms of control of the medium, I have become far more polished. Though I had done visually a correct film, people went against me. Aap Cannes pahunch gaye aap hai kaun Aap kal tak to ghoom rahe the was the attitude towards me. Jinx was in the minds of the people. I am not afraid of losing as a filmmaker. You have to fight and not bother about success or failure I am a rebel.
What is your next project going to be?
I can’t think of anything till six months are over. I have battered so much of pressure trying to complete the film on time and gone through so much of emotional turmoil. I will leave Devdas behind and get on to my next. I can’t go on living with it. It could be dangerous

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