In an exclusive interview with The Quint, Sanjay Leela Bhansali opens up on the ordeal and the triumph that has been Padmaavat.
Padmaavat has earned more than Rs 100 crore during the first weekend. It is marching towards Rs 200 crore. What are you feelings at the moment?
(Sighs deeply) After what have I been through, it’s like being allowed to finally breathe easily. I can’t even begin to express the relief and gratitude.
Sanjay, how did you get over this period of vicious attack? Anyone else in your place would’ve crumbled...
Very honestly, I really don’t know where the strength came from. I guess it just comes to us when we need to be strong. I really don’t know how I got through this period. But after all of this, to have the film release finally in spite of all odds, and most importantly, to have audiences flocking to see it in spite of the threats… I can’t tell you what a relief and joy it is. Just hearing about the collections washes away all my pain of the last 8-9 months… well, maybe not all of it.
I can’t imagine how you will ever forget being assaulted in Rajasthan and then fringe hoodlums demanding your head and Deepika’s nose.
It was crazy. Through all of this, I was more worried about my mother and happy that she was with me. I don’t know how I’d have survived without her at my side. She kept saying, ‘Mere bete ke saath aisa kyon ho raha hai? Woh itni achchi filmein banata hai’. My mother was my pillar of strength. I would also like to thank Ajit Andhare and my co-producers, and the whole Viacom 18 Motion pictures team, who never stopped believing in me even during the darkest phase. And my own friends and team - Mahavir Jain, Shobha Sant, Chetan Deolkar. What would I have done without them?
Did you at any point think of just giving up?
Never. Not at all. Never! That would’ve been the end of me as a filmmaker.
Not even after being assaulted?
Not even then. Every time I was attacked, I used my pain and suffering as an impetus to work better. I channelised all my anxiety into making Padmaavat. I think suffering has always been an incentive for my creativity.
Coming to the film, please clarify once and for all whether it is history or not.
It is based on the poem Padmavat by Malik Mohammed Jayasi. But it also has figures and incidents taken from actual history. I’ve been fascinated by Rani Padmavati from my childhood. Her grace, dignity, valour and inner strength are very inspiring. I wanted to make a film on her life for a very long time. But before I could do the film, I got the chance to direct the stage musical version of Padmavati, an opera in two acts by the French composer Albert Roussel that I directed in Paris in 2008.
So is the film at all connected to the opera?
Not at all. That Padmavati was a staged musical done on a lavish scale with elephants, tigers and other animals on stage. It was an entirely different experience from the film. This is the first time I explored evil in such dark, deep detail. I had never before gone into this zone before. To portray evil on this scale was a new and challenging experience for me.
Ranveer Singh is getting incredible reviews for his villainous act. Were you at all unsure of his box office status after Befikre, Deepika Padukone after xXx and Shahid Kapoor after Rangoon?
Not at all! It made no difference to me whether they had successes or flops behind them. I wanted these actors and only these three actors. And I am so happy with the quality of performances they have given in my film.
It’s being predicted that this will be the biggest hit of your career.
What can I say? God has been very kind. I never thought my film would get into all this trouble. When it did, I never for a moment stopped believing that I had done no wrong. And now , to get this approval of the audience… it is very, very reassuring.
Did you ever think the film may never get released?
I was always sure it will. How could all my hard work go to waste? I’ve toiled over every moment of the film.
Considering what you’ve been through, would you ever go back to history?
Oh , any time! I would go back to history if I want to. One can’t allow oneself to be bullied into abandoning one’s dream.
. Read more on Bollywood by The Quint.Can’t Be Bullied Into Abandoning One’s Dream: Sanjay Bhansali Sohrabuddin Encounter: Details of 28 Witnesses Who Turned Hostile . Read more on Bollywood by The Quint.