Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Gangubai Kathiawadi's response in London: They were engrossed by the idea of a happy sex worker

Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Gangubai Kathiawadi's response in London: They were engrossed by the idea of a happy sex worker

Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Gangubai Kathiawadi's response in London: They were engrossed by the idea of a happy sex worker

With Gangubai Kathiawadi this year, Sanjay Leela Bhansali delivered a yet another aching experience that engulfed you in its dark and dazzling world. The filmmaker is currently in London for the film’s BAFTA campaign, and in an interaction with Firstpost, he spoke about the response of the audience in London to this Alia Bhatt-starrer, his method as a filmmaker, and why he calls this his most personal film.

Sanjay, what was it like to address a literate cinema-savvy audience in London?

I had gone with a lot of apprehensions. But the audience was wonderful, so responsive, so full of pertinent questions, they seemed to have done their research thoroughly on Gangubai Kathiawadi. They had every aspect of my film on their fingertip.

Had you done any preparation for the masterclasses?

I had gone through the possible questions over and over again. I had covered every aspect of the questions that they might have asked me. But eventually it all turned out be very spontaneous. The questions and answers just flowed.

Which aspects of Gangubai fascinated them the most?

They had watched the film minutely, sometimes repeatedly, so that they knew every frame. I think they were most fascinated by the idea of a ‘happy prostitute’. Sex workers are always shown to be sad lost helpless hopeless souls. But in Gangubai Kathiawadi they were happy souls, sharing laughter, sharing dreams, sharing secrets, bursting out with glee at human eccentricities.

In that sense, Gangubai Kathiawadi is very different from the classic portrayal of tawaifs the Fallen Women in Pakeezah, Umrao Jaan ?

I was very sure I didn’t want to make Pakeezah or Umrao Jaan. They are near-perfect in their genre . I wanted to do a fresh take on sex workers. Gangubai is a portrait of optimism. The film is actually about the dignity of labour.

Was there any area of questioning at the BAFTA masterclasses that troubled you?

When I was asked about my work methods as a filmmaker I was at a loss. I don’t have any fixed method. Of course I go by the script and the written word. But once on the set, the scenes acquire a life of their own. In Gangubai Kathiawadi, there was a lot of improvisation…A LOT!!!! We were constantly adding things during shooting. Do you remember that ‘trunk call’ scene where Gangubai calls her mother? There was a lot of improvisation in it.

You have said on several occasions that Gangubai Kathiawadi is your most personal film

That’s right. I spent my childhood very close to where we shot the film. I lived just a few streets away from where these sex workers lived. For me, these women are people I knew during my childhood. I don’t only consider Gangubai Kathiawadi my most personal film. I considerit my best film.

What is your takeaway from these masterclasses at BAFTA?

I am surprised, most pleasantly so, at how minutely critics and students of cinema have watched my film. To say that the song-and-dance Bollywood formula has retarded our growth in global cinema is not right. Our culture is about singing and dancing. Why should we abandon these to emulate European or Hollywood cinema? I say, if we are true to ourselves our cinema will work in any part of the world.

Subhash K Jha is a Patna-based journalist. He has been writing about Bollywood for long enough to know the industry inside out.

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