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Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Heeramandi: ‘I have done things with which I have surprised myself’

Bhansali will make his OTT debut with the Netflix web series starring Sonakshi Sinha, Manisha Koirala, Aditi Rao Hydari, Richa Chadha, Sharmin Segal and Sanjeeda Sheikh

Entertainment Web Desk Calcutta Published 20.02.23, 03:45 PM
Sonakshi Sinha, Manisha Koirala, Aditi Rao Hydari, Richa Chadha, Sharmin Segal and Sanjeeda Sheikh in Heeramandi

Sonakshi Sinha, Manisha Koirala, Aditi Rao Hydari, Richa Chadha, Sharmin Segal and Sanjeeda Sheikh in Heeramandi Twitter

‘Where courtesans were queens…’ With that catchline, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has unveiled six ethereal-looking characters of his upcoming Netflix web series Heeramandi. The period drama is headlined by Sonakshi Sinha, Manisha Koirala, Richa Chadha, Aditi Rao Hydari, Sharmin Segal and Sanjeeda Sheikh.

Bhansali will be making his long-format and OTT debut with Heeramandi, and the first look gives us a glimpse of the opulent world that is his signature. “I make big films. They come naturally to me. But Heeramandi is my biggest project. It’s so huge in its scale. I had to do something special. So, there was no holding back. I have made 10 films in 30 years and in the last year or so, I have made three films , that is eight episodes,” said Bhansali, speaking at an event organised by Netflix India.


“It is so demanding and difficult. I had to be very alert, constantly working on the script. You have to make amends to the number of hours we work. It’s double the hours than a film. It’s far more intense. I have given my best. This show comes from deep down and it’s very special,” added the maker of films like Bajirao Mastani, Padmaavat and Devdas.

The idea for Heermandi has been with Bhansali for more than a decade, he said. “Moin Beg came to me with this idea 14 years ago but every time I was making other films such as Devdas, Bajirao Mastani. He said, ‘Can you give me my script back?’ Finally, it got made. In Heeramandi, I have done things with which I have surprised myself,” said Bhansali.

Heeramandi tells the story of courtesans who lived like queens and had the kings, nawabs and the British at their feet. They were artists, singers, dancers and connoisseurs of good poetry. “Once I connected with Beg’s idea and characters, I started thinking about what they would be like. I have been living with them for 14 years in my mind and they never went away from me. Each one of them had a story to tell. We found their stories from their angst. They were disguised in their emotions. But their hearts were broken. Like them, I too am a heartbroken and devastated person who wants to create something. It took two and a half years to write the script,” shared the 59-year-old filmmaker.

“Most of the time I don’t see things the way they are. So, here was a chance for me to really take off. I started making music and I liked what I made. So, I thought that the energies are telling me that I am on the right path. Then we cast these beautiful actresses and things started to fall into place.”

Though period films are his forte, the Gangubai Kathiawadi director has his finger on the pulse of his modern-day audience. “Any filmmaker who says that he knows the audience is living in a fool’s paradise. The filmmaker needs to understand himself. He is the one who should be able to do work that the audience doesn’t expect and is something new. That’s filmmaking. A filmmaker should believe in what he is doing rather than worrying about what the audience wants. Be fearless.”

Gangubai Kathiawadi is a case in point. “Everything has changed post-Covid. The demand for quality content is high. So, the filmmaker has to work hard on the subject, treatment and nuances. People told me to not make Gangubai Kathiawadi because it’s a woman-centric film, it’s about a sex worker, there’s no hero, and people won’t go to theatres to watch a female-led film. That way, I had ticked all the wrong boxes. But it worked,” concluded Bhansali.

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