Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar Of Bhansali The Master of Predictable and Repetitive Cinema

Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who started his career with Khamoshi: The Musical, has returned with Manisha Koirala in his latest series and OTT debut Heeramandi. But it feels sad to see how his filmmaking career has flourished since then, even though his films have just reduced to becoming different similes to grand versions of escapist commercial cinema.

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Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who started his career with Khamoshi: The Musical, has returned with Manisha Koirala in his latest series and OTT debut Heeramandi. But it feels sad to see how his filmmaking career has flourished since then, even though his films have just reduced to becoming different similes to grand versions of escapist commercial cinema.

Bhansali : The Master of Predictable and Repetitive Cinema

Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who started his career with Khamoshi: The Musical, has returned with Manisha Koirala in his latest series and OTT debut Heeramandi. But it feels sad to see how his filmmaking career has flourished since then, even though his films have just reduced to becoming different similes to grand versions of escapist commercial cinema.

I cannot deny that it is entertaining to see Bhansali’s craft as a newborn. There are moments when you feel like cheering as an audience due to the dialogue or due to the staging of a scene. You tend to forget that throughout this journey of setting the mood, Bhansali never tends to bring in realism in his craft because otherwise the cinematic beauty of a scene (as he believes we believe it to be) will be lost. That is why Devdas says “I object” while talking to his father, Khilji and Ratan Singh never tend to have a normal conversation whenever they meet, and Ethan Mascarenhas dies laughing hysterically with all his close associates lying symmetrically on his lap. These scenes, though look superficially beautiful, have no realism and hence loses its unpredictability with time.

This was not the case always though. As he started as the assistant director of Vidhu Vinod Chopra in Parinda, his debut feature had elements of early Vinod Chopra in it. Apart from the high end melodrama towards the end, the dialogues written by Sutapa Sikder had realism and scenes, sets and sequences looked more to serve the plot than set the mood. Bhansali’s first outburst as an extravagant larger than life filmmaker was definitely Devdas, even though we had glimpses of it already in his previous feature, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

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Devdas was heavily acclaimed, but nobody ever got an hint that it was the most Bhansali could evolve as a filmmaker. The world, shot entirely inside a set, had no connection whatsoever to real Bengali culture. It was an imaginary design of an otherwise grounded tragedy written by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. As a kid, you can gasp at the perfection in this imaginary world, but as you grow up with cinema you are slowly bound to cringe. Anyhow, with its universal acclaim, Bhansali unfortunately got into the habit of romanticising every aspect of life, from disability to independence to death, thus forcefully bringing in an epic narrative style to every single story. As a result, apart from his budget, nothing evolved.

Therefore, since the last time Monisha Koirala appeared graciously in his films, from a fresh new voice with honest intentions, Bhansali has turned himself into a repetitive self imitator with nothing to offer. The honesty is still there, I believe (as the BTS suggests how immersed he is in his craft), but his limitations always take over his honest intentions to imagine something fresh once again. As the detailings are in building his imaginary world through set design, and not in setting up a real world where real people reside, we end up getting a pretentious world full of people who are busy giving each other heavy dialogues irrespective of their background and never really talk.

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Bhansali tried to tone it down heavily in Gangubai (or maybe it looked toned down due to a pitch perfect Alia Bhatt), but in that compulsion, forgot to give any space or context to the supporting characters. In Heeramandi, every character is given space, which results in everyone becoming larger than life. Everyone has a statement to make, which results in a confused screenplay altogether. I agree that it is an imaginative take on a historical reality, but romanticising sensitive elements which easily make your eyes wet, and exploring the world just through extravagant set pieces is as shallow as creating an item number with progressive words to lure the audience.

Heeramandi The Diamond Bazaar Of Bhansali The Master of Predictable and Repetitive Cinema

People at times tend to overanalyse Bhansali’s craft because at times it also superficially tries to set the mood with preachy metaphorical staging like, Feeling the snowfall in Black with an enchanting background score. Such a staging works very well in the theatre, but in cinema it is a bit too much. This idea of a superficial canvas has led Bhansali to become consistently repetitive throughout his entire filmography. Whenever a Bhansali film releases, people do not wait for surprises, rather they wait for the same sort of mood that he has been setting for over years. And in the course of successfully copying himself over the years, Bhansali’s craft gradually lost the most important thing that is needed in cinema, heart.

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