Sanjay Leela Bhansali on His Fascination with Tawaif: I Found That Very Fascinating, That These Women Are Very Interesting

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Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the acclaimed filmmaker, has a recurring theme in his films: the figure of the courtesan, or ‘tawaif.’ His works, from “Saawariya” to “Devdas,” “Gangubai Kathiawadi,” and now “Heeramandi,” often highlight the lives of these enigmatic women. In a recent interview with Galatta Plus, Bhansali delved into his fascination with courtesans and why they feature prominently in his storytelling.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali explained that courtesans intrigue him because they possess a certain mystery and power. He said, “I feel they are women who have a lot of enigma, a lot of mystery. The courtesan, or the tawaif, or the prostitute… they are different. But they always exude a certain kind of power which I find very interesting to look at.” According to him, these women are fascinating because they express their emotions through music and dance, showcasing their joy and grief in artistic ways. They have a deep understanding of art, architecture, fabrics, and jewelry, making them connoisseurs of art.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali On Artists and Inspiration

Bhansali also touched on his identity as an artist. He said, “Hum log kya hein? Hum log artist log hain. Usko ap samajhgir bolo, bhand bolo… jo chahe bolo. Mere ko to woh chahiye”. He emphasized that his artistic inspiration comes from the intriguing faces he encountered as a child, which left a lasting impression on him. He mentioned that he wasn’t interested in the ordinary scenes of middle-class housewives standing in ration lines; instead, he was captivated by the unique and mysterious faces of courtesans.

Bhansali also shared some of his influences in the world of cinema. He mentioned being inspired by legendary actresses like Madhubala in “Mughal-E-Azam” and Nargis Dutt in “Adaalat.” Additionally, he acknowledged the influence of filmmakers like V. Shantaram and Ritwik Ghatak, particularly Ghatak’s film “Meghe Dhaka Tara.”

Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar

Sanjay Leela Bhansali' Heeramandi

Bhansali’s latest project, “Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar,” premiered on Netflix on May 1. The series stars Manisha Koirala, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditi Rao Hydari, Richa Chadha, and others in significant roles. “Heeramandi” explores the lives of courtesans and their patrons in a vibrant district during the tumultuous times of the 1940s, against the backdrop of the Indian freedom struggle. The series delves into the cultural realities of the time, showcasing the elegance and complexities of the courtesan’s world.

The Sanjay Leela Bhansali  

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s fascination with courtesans is evident in his body of work. He finds these women captivating because of their artistic expression and the mysterious aura they possess. His films and series, inspired by legendary actresses and classic filmmakers, continue to bring the intriguing world of courtesans to the forefront, offering viewers a glimpse into a rich and complex cultural history. “Heeramandi” is the latest addition to his impressive repertoire, promising to captivate audiences with its portrayal of the lives of these enigmatic women.

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