Sanjay Leela Bhansali left for Paris on Sunday to direct an opera for the prestigious Theatre du Chatelet. Very selected filmmakers from the world-over have been invited by what's considered the world's most prestigious opera company. Among filmmakers, thus, invited is Hong Kong's Yimou Zhang of The House Of Flying Daggers. Woody Allen is also expected to direct an opera for Theatre du Chatelet in 2008.
A unique honour for an Asian filmmaker and the honour is given to Sanjay because of the operatic language that he applied so opulently and effectively to Sarat Chandra Chatterjee's Devdas.
Speaking from his 3-bedroom villa in Paris that the repertory has given to the director as his home for the next two months, Sanjay said, "After Saawariya, this is just the break from making movies that I needed. I feel any artiste needs to grow beyond home turf. And the opera has always been one of my favourite forms of musical expression. When the Theatre du Chatelet offered me a chance to direct an opera long before the release of Saawariya, I was in two minds. My entire focus was on the film. But the team from Paris was gentle and persuasive very soon I was hooked."
And why not? Since the Theatre du Chatelet offered him a chance to select his own story for the opera, though the all-French cast was pre-given by the repertory. Sanjay handpicked his team which included his old art- director Omung Kumar, costume designer Rajesh Pratap Singh and most, unusually choreographer Tanushree Shankar (daughter-in-law of the legendary dancer Uday Shankar and wife of the late choreographer-dancer Anand Shankar). Sanjay, a fan of Tanushree's father-in-law's dance ballet on celluloid Kalpana, in fact flew over to Kolkata for several meetings with Tanushree and was convinced that she was the right person to bring alive the vibrant colours and passion of Rajasthan in the French idiom.
"The challenge," says Sanjay "is to preserve the essence of Padmavati while making it connected with the European audience. It's so new and so challenging for me, I'm nervous and exhilarated." There will be six shows of the opera interspersed over March. "I'm already missing home. Two months away from Mumbai is painful. My mother will be joining me next month."
And Sanjay may take a flying visit back home for his birthday on February 24. "But what better birthday gift than to direct an opera for the world's most prestigious opera theatre?" he chuckles having attained creative nirvana.