By Subhash K. Jha
Filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s romantic drama film “Devdas” completed 14 years this week. In an interview, Bhansali looks back at this opulent drama, saying that he’d cast superstar Shah Rukh Khan again if he ever decides to remake the film.
Q. How do you rate Shah Rukh Khan’s performance in Devdas?
A. He was flawless. Shah Rukh Khan understood the character without losing his spontaneity. Obviously, the pressures of matching up to Saigal sahab (K. L. Saigal) and Dilip sahab (Dilip Kumar) were there. But he never allowed them to bog him down. I don’t know what to say about him. He has left me speechless. I had my doubts before working with him. But it’s his most endearing and honest performance. After seeing him you’d want to embrace him. The performance came amidst all his personal problems. He was able to project the personal turmoil on screen. If I were to make Devdas again I’d still cast only Shah Rukh Khan.
Q. How relevant is “Devdas” to today’s audience?
A. How can love ever grow irrelevant? “Devdas” is the ultimate love story. The novel belonged to an era when drinking, going to nautch girls and loving your neighbour’s daughter were taboo. All that is irrelevant today. But Devdas’s unflinching love for Paro, whereby even the seductive Chandramukhi couldn’t distract him, is timeless. He is like Vishwamitra who doesn’t lose his concentration no matter what the temptation. Chandramukhi tries so hard to wean him away. But his love was so pure. To him love was about the purity that Paro represented. In his dying moments all he wants to see is the woman he loves. Devdas gave dignity to the concept of love. I’ve never heard of such love anywhere else.
Q. During the shooting of “Devdas”, I saw your special bonding with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan on the sets which was missing with Madhuri Dixit-Nene.
A. Aishwarya will always be very special for me. I feel very, very close to her. We will always have our differences of opinion. But we love each other immensely. On camera… She generates so much power. The colour of her eyes keeps changing according to the mood of the scene. Aishwarya is fragile and strong. But Madhuri is equally fantastic. It was always my dream to work with her.
Q. You know there was so much of Devdas’s pain and suffering in Ajay Devgn’s character in “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam”. Why didn’t you cast him as Devdas?
A. Ajay’s character was my starting point to make Devdas. I slowly moved towards this film from there. But having gone through the process with Ajay, there was no challenge or excitement in casting him again in a similar role. It would have been a process of continuation instead of creation. With Shah Rukh, it was a completely new experience. I wanted my Devdas to be a simple, volatile, boy-man, who is angry and mean and yet has a sad streak that shimmers in his eyes.
Shah Rukh as Devdas could convey shades of anger and self-destruction. I feel any human being who can’t control his anger ultimately destroys his creative energy. Being a good human being Devdas would rather destroy himself than others who love him.
“I can’t destroy Paro or Chandramukhi, so I’ll destroy myself,” is what my Devdas feels. Shah Rukh seemed just right. And I was right.