The maestro of movie making, Sanjay Leela Bhansali is all set to return to direction with a film that will star one of his favourite actresses-Aishwarya Bachchan alongside none other than Hrithik Roshan, a first in the filmmaker's oeuvre. Neck-deep in pre-production, the last thing Sanjay needs is fake reports about actors and films who are allegedly working with him. A wild story about Sanjay signing a Pakistani actor finally persuades him to break his silence. He sets the record straight, once and for all.
You seem to have quietly gone and signed a young Pakistani actor called Imran Abbas for Heera Mandi.
So quietly that even I don't know about it. I haven't signed anyone called Imran Abbas. I'm not making Heera Mandi right now. It may happen much later. When it does we'll think of the casting.
At the moment you're working on another film?
I'm directing another film with Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Bachchan. I'm very excited about the film, and so are they.
So no newcomers in this film?
No. I need an experienced crew this time. I need their expertise. I've worked with many newcomers like Ismail Durbar, Nusrat Badr, Shreya Ghosal, Monty Sharma, Ranbir and Sonam.
You continue to be fearless in spite of Saawariya?
This is the time when we filmmakers need to be fearless and experiment with themes. Fearlessness is my biggest asset as a filmmaker. I will continue to make films that come from deep within me. I cannot make assumptions on people's tastes and make films accordingly. My very first film Khamoshi: The Musical didn't do well at all. But a lot of people think it's my best work.
So are you as proud of Saawariya as the rest of your films?
Of course. In fact, a Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam or a Devdas can be made again. But Saawariya can never be made again. It's my rarest work in terms of treatment. It had beautiful performances and visuals. I tried to put a stage-play on film. Of course at the end of the day the audience decides what it likes. But in this case the audience was conditioned not to like Saawariya.
So have you met this Imran chap?
Moin Beg who has written Heera Mandi wanted me to meet this actor. So on Moin's persistence I did meet him almost a year ago. I immediately realized he wasn't the actor I was looking for. The next thing I know, I'm supposed to be arranging this guy's visa to India. What nonsense! Just because I don't speak out, people take advantage of my silence. Please don't exploit my name for your own advantage.
Why don't you clarify the misconceptions when they occur?
Kuch toh log kehenge, kehne do. I can't bring myself to become the master of sound bytes. But beyond a point, silence is construed as a sign of acceptance. I don't even meet new actors, technicians, musicians or lyricists. I've already decided whom to work with in my next project. So why waste time meeting people you won't be working with? And why go to Pakistan to get actors? We've very talented people in our own country.
There were reports that some actors including your own protege Ranbir Kapoor didn't want to work with you?
(Laughs) Poor me. People are writing out tragic tales about me everyday. They are even deciding what film I'm making and also helpfully casting actresses in them. There's a whole section of people who spend their time spreading false rumours about my films. I wish them luck. Maybe stories about me sell. I've to believe in my work and focus on it. But when the misrepresentations go beyond my tolerance power it's time speak up. The truth is, Ranbir and Sonam would be there for me whenever I need them. However, at the moment, I'm making a film with Hrithik and Aishwarya.
What prompted you to sign Hrithik?
Hrithik and I wanted to work together for a very long time. I've always been impressed by his sincerity as an actor. I was waiting for the right opportunity to sign him. Working with Hrithik would be a new and rewarding experience.
You and Aishwarya created magic in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Devdas. Time for a hat trick?
Aishwarya is very special to me. She suits the role in my new film to perfection. When she read the script, she was deeply moved. Of course true friend that she is, she told me she would've agreed to work with me even if I didn't send her the script. But it's important for an actor to be convinced of what he or she is doing.
Will this Hrithik-Aishwarya film be your first for an international market in English?
But Black was also in English. It is important for me to make my films for our market. Having said that we must take our cinema to the remotest corner of the world. Today the spoken language is no barrier. The spoken language in our country is as much Hindi as English. I want to capture that feeling of everyday conversations.
2008 was a great year for you? It was the year when an Indian director was invited for the first time to direct an opera in Paris?
Yes, I had a wonderful a time. I loved directing the opera. That was an exceptional honour and an unforgettable experience. I managed to write the script that I wanted to and got the cast I wanted. I may be producing a couple of films. It's been a year of hard and fruitful work. And 2009 will mean even harder work.