By Subhash K. Jha
Mumbai, Nov 13 (IANS) Annoyed with critics who have panned "Saawariya", Sanjay Leela Bhansali says prejudiced criticism won't harm his film because people are going to watch it despite the bad reviews.
"Media manipulation won't kill my film. I'm open to healthy criticism and debate. But not prejudiced criticism. In the opening weekend we've had massive audiences all over the world connecting with the film," Bhansali told IANS in an interview.
"The huge barrage of criticism hasn't prevented people from appreciating my merger of raga-based melodies with a Broadway-styled play. Only a handful of critics are trying to influence the audience to go against the film. The final verdict comes from the unbiased viewer," he added.Based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's play "White Nights" and starring Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor, the film has collected an estimated Rs.500-570 million in India over its opening weekend.
"It has got the biggest opening ever in the history of Indian cinema with two newcomers in the lead," Bhansali claimed.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: The collections worldwide for "Saawariya" seem to be at loggerheads with some of the reviews at home.
A: You tell me when, where and how these negative stories about "Saawariya" come from. It collected an estimated Rs.500-570 million in India over its opening weekend. This is biggest opening for an Indian film with newcomers in the lead.
Q: Commercial success has never been a problem for you.
A: "Saawariya" has got the biggest opening ever in the history of Indian cinema with two newcomers in the lead. And it opened with a film featuring the biggest star of the country. Yes, some people find "Saawariya" a little slow in pace. But most people love what I've done. Media manipulation won't kill my film. I'm open to healthy criticism and debate. But not prejudiced criticism. In the opening weekend we've had massive audiences all over the world connecting with the film.
Q: Are audiences having a tough time accepting "Saawariya" because you've built another kind of expectation through your earlier films?
A: The huge barrage of criticism hasn't prevented people from appreciating my merger of raga-based melodies with a Broadway-styled play. As far as I'm concerned, people love "Saawariya". Only a handful of critics are trying to influence the audience to go against the film. They didn't succeed with "Devdas". They won't succeed in conditioning the audience's mind. The final verdict comes from the unbiased viewer. And the audience is far more intelligent than me or the learned critics.
My effort to merge art with commerce cannot go to waste. If today Bimal Roy made "Sujata" or "Do Bigha Zameen" he'd be slammed by critics. They'd destroy him. Where are films like "Bandini" and "Jagte Raho" today? Once in a blue moon we get a film like "36 Chowringhee Lane".
Q: A lot of people have commented on the imaginary world that you've created.
A: I'm glad they noticed it. It's a fairytale world that existed in my mind. I chose to tell the story of my romantic world through the eyes of a prostitute. Why should we only locate our films in places that already exist? There're so many genres of cinema. Why can't I make a film that exists in a state of the abstract and unattainable?
Q: People think you are too enamoured of the studio style of filmmaking.
A: And what is wrong with that? I find the atmosphere in a studio creatively liberating. Just as you cannot record a song without a studio, I can't make a film without the studio atmosphere. I carry within myself indelible influences of Bimal Roy, K. Asif, Raj Kapoor and Vijay Anand. They created their cinematic world on a studio floor. Of course, real locations are also beautiful. I opted to film "Saawariya" in a certain studio-generated atmosphere and a certain colour that to me represented the flavour of love.
I think the magic of cinema lies in the director's ability to create his own world. And that's the abstract world, which audiences are connecting to in "Saawariya". Even in Satyajit Ray's masterpiece "Pather Panchali", realism is finally only an illusion.
Q: Would you say filmmakers today are trying to persuade us into believing that cinema is about joy and laughter?
A: Not all, only some filmmakers who are trying to take cinema back to the 1970s and 80s and some critics who have made the crappiest films are sitting in judgement over filmmakers who dare to dream. They've an agenda behind their opinion.They must remember one thing - good art can never be stifled. They tried to write off Madan Mohan by saying his soundtracks didn't succeed. Today he's the most revered music composer.
Q: Raj Kapoor's influence is predominant.
A: Why not? I wanted my impressions and influences of Raj Kapoor to be prominent when his grandson was being launched. And what a grand grandson Ranbir is! I wanted Raj Kapoor's blessings for my film. His "Ram Teri Ganga Maili" is one of my 10 favourite films of all times. "Saawariya" has a lot of RK's "Awara", "Barsaat" and "Sri 420". We need to re-acquaint audiences with masters of our cinema like Raj Kapoor.
Q: Why did you decide to adapt Fyodor Dostoevsky's play "White Nights"?
A: Why shouldn't I? If I did Saratchandra Chattopadhyay ("Devdas"), why not international litterateurs? I also want to do Shakespeare and other world classics. I want to adapt all kinds of literature. Dostoevsky's "White Nights" was written in the 19th century but is relevant to this day. The truth about love and sacrifice doesn't alter from era to era, or through different time zones.
Q: Happy with the outcome of "Saawariya" so far?
A: According to me, it's the biggest hit of my career so far. I'm proud I've created a superstar in Ranbir Kapoor.