It is astonishing what adversity can do to you. It has been eight long, painful and mortifying months now for filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali – the master of epic sagas like Devdas and Bajirao Mastani, which have made insane amounts of money while asserting the director’s place as the only true successor to the epic filmmakers K Asif, Mehboob Khan, V Shantaram and Raj Kapoor.
For the past months while my dear friend Sanjay has been attacked physically and emotionally, he has felt like none of the movie moguls mentioned above could have felt. In fact, Sanjay feels like a common criminal, being hounded, threatened, bullied and heckled, for a crime whose nature he isn’t aware of. Maybe he needs to read the law books which say making films in this country can be damaging to the filmmaker’s health.
The Padmavat crisis has broken Sanjay physically and emotionally. For months now, he hasn’t been eating or sleeping properly. And he has started chain-smoking again.
“It’s Lataji’s songs and cigarettes which have kept me going all these months,” he tells me. I stay quiet. I’ve no words of consolation.
To say Sanjay has been to hell and back would be an understatement. Living under the constant shadow of threat and fear is like coping with a fatal disease, a cancer of the spirit that eats away at one’s soul. The very real threats from the fringe groups – and I’ve been first-hand witness to them where callers on his cell phone have been shouting they would do him much worse than merely behead him – is something that no outsider would understand, let alone empathise with.
The lack of real camaraderie within the film fraternity makes it worse for someone as private as Sanjay Bhansali. He became more vulnerable to attack when the attackers realized he had no support system to buffer the bullying. The post-midnight calls became more abusive and the threats more pecuniary in nature, if you know what I mean.
Yes, there were open offers to ‘stop all protests’ in exchange of fiscal favours. Sanjay closed down his cell number. The calls then began coming on his home number, which were sometimes received by his old and ailing mother.
For Sanjay, the most important thing at that moment was to protect his mother from the hurt. He stopped watching news channels at home – and once the attacks gathered momentum and the security was beefed up, he was at home most of the time – so that his mother wouldn’t be exposed to her son’s vilification. But then, she would read about Sanjay’s demonising the next morning in the Gujarati newspaper that she combed religiously.
The situation at Sanjay Bhansali’s home was beyond depressing. At some point, Sanjay just gave up the fight and stopped thinking about the fate of Padmavat. He left all the marketing decisions to his producers, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures. The decision to release Padmavaton January 25 is the producer’s.
My friend Sanjay Bhansali has become a bystander in the drama of his own that’s being played out in full public view. No one is sure how this bizarre narrative based on hearsay and political antipathy will pan out finally. As Sanjay Bhansali told a friend, “Can the film release in the states that have threatened to ban it? Does the CBFC endorsement mean anything to those who want to stop my film at any cost?”
And why do they want Padmavat stopped? A whim? An impulse? Or it is it something far deeper that you or I cannot understand? I guess, like Jessica, we’ll never know who tried to kill Padmavat.