'Black is about feeling, not speaking'
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s exquisite Black has been selected by Time magazine’s influential critic Richard Corliss as one of the year’s 10 best films of 2005 along with Werner Herzog’s German The White Diamond & Grizzly Man, Ingmar Bergman’s Saraband, Fernando Meirelles’ The Constant Gardener and Rob Marshall’s Memoirs Of A Geisha. Citing his reasons for this singular honour, Corliss writes, “This is an unusual film for India? the ultimate Bollywood love story.”
Q: Sanjay, how does it feel?
Main kya kahoon? Richard Corliss had been extremely kind to my Devdas. Now he has this verdict for Black. I feel extremely reassured. It feels as though my hard work has paid off. If a distinguished critic from another part of the world thinks Black is one of the 10 best films of the year, then there must be something to it. It’s a great victory for Indian cinema, and all my cast and crew. It feels very very comforting.
Black was a film that was completely off the Bollywood genres. When you do something different and it connects so widely and hugely, you’re bound to feel reassured. I didn’t make the film for any market, or to impress any section of viewers. I just did what came from the heart. It got a standing ovation all over the world. And now it gets an ovation from Richard Corliss. Even Sony Pictures for whom I’m making my next film felt Black to be a very moving experience. They acknowledged it as among the superior films from any part of the world.
Q: Some quarters have been going on about Black being derived from Arthur Penn’s Miracle Worker?
Criticism is a healthy impetus for growth. Everybody doesn’t have to like my film. If Jaya Bachchan hadn’t constructively criticised Devdas maybe I’d have never made Black. She spurred me to attempt something totally different. If some people haven’t liked Black it’s fine. Better luck to me next time. But it’s not The Miracle Worker. It’s the life of Helen Keller. Her life has a timeless quality. It can be expressed in any form ? a play, a TV series, a film from India or Hollywood. If a director interprets Helen Keller’s life in his own way it doesn’t mean he’s copying another film on the subject. If a director makes a film on Gandhi it doesn’t mean he’s stealing incidents from Richard Attenborough’s film.
Helen Keller’s life is exemplary to all of us. I’ve personally learnt so much from her. I learnt the value of a teacher in any student’s life. Black is my interpretation of the age-old teacher-student relationship. And the language was sign language, not Hindi or English. Black is about feeling, not speaking.
Q: Corliss had also singled out Devdas?
It makes me happy, proud and fulfilled. The more the people respond to my cinema the more alive I feel. To be in Corliss’ list along with world masters like Werner Herzog and Ingmar Bergman makes me feel extremely comforted. The fact that a story about a deaf-and-blind protagonist can be formatted in the popular genre was to me the biggest challenge. Every person whether Amitabh Bachchan in Deewaar or Rani Mukherjee in Black is a hero deep down. Every person is capable of extraordinary achievements. For this film to get such wide-spread acceptance is a victory for all physically and mentally challenged people of the world. It isn’t just socio-political issues that make a film important. It’s the ability to talk to the most neglected sections of our society that makes a film special.
Q: Where do you think Black goes from here?
Where can it go? I only know how to make a film. I don’t know how to market it. Once I make a film I let it go wherever destiny will take it. Unfortunately, I don’t know the art of selling my film. I’m deeply obliged to Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee. Look at their performances! Mr Bachchan is world class, incomparable. Black wouldn’t have been possible without him. Rani’s is the best performance by a female artiste since Seema Biswas in Bandit Queen. And Ayesha Kapoor? Richard Corliss has spoken about the performances. This is a victory for all of us. It’s a victory for Mr Bachchan. I couldn’t have asked for more.
Q: Corliss has called Black the ultimate Bollywood love story.
Strangely, it’s apt. Love has many forms. Black is about the love between a girl and her teacher. They teach each other the dignity of living. To call Black a love story is a true compliment. Black is a pure love story.