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Home » Veteran Hindi film director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, shares insights about his OTT debut, Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar

Veteran Hindi film director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, shares insights about his OTT debut, Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar

by Nikki Kumar

Another Diamond From Hindi Cinema!

In Hindi cinema, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has become synonymous with astonishingly-beautiful period pieces with gorgeous actors who are placed in surroundings of extreme turmoil while they go through personal anguish, often to do with love. Akin to Wes Anderson having his own recognisable aesthetic, Sanjay’s is one that Hindi cinema watchers have associated with beauty, decadence, and grandeur.

Last month, Netflix released Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar, with a grand premiere in Los Angeles. The story follows the lives of courtesans in Lahore just before and during the independence movement against the British Raj. The series has veteran actors like Manisha Koirala; seasoned actors like Sonakshi Sinha, Aditi Rao Hydari,Richa Chadha, Taha Shah Badussha, and Sanjeeda Sheikh; and newcomer (and coincidentally Sanjay’s niece), Sharon Segal.

Masala was able to ask Sanjay, who had been sitting with the idea behind the project for 18 years, why he decided on the world of Heeramandi for his OTT (over the top media services, like streaming or video on demand) debut.

“I was drawn so immediately to these women, but I felt I needed to give them the time and space to grow as characters in my head over time,” Sanjay says during a roundtable discussion. “It took time and maturing for me to be able to effectively tell this story with the care and respect it, and these women, deserve. Every project gets made when it needs to be, and this is no exception.”

This meticulous attention to detail is seen in the show’s grand display of production sets, clothing, jewellery, dance sequences, and music. What makes this project stand out in Sanjay’s portfolio of films is that, as he mentions, it mostly revolves around a group of women, all of who are strong willed, with complicated backgrounds and dynamics among themselves. Sanjay takes great time to focus on each of the women, and none of them ever feel like an accessory or prop. It is a refreshing and timely choice to let the women move forward the plot of a story that is set during the British Raj, pre-Independence, but one that emphasises the role of courtesans during that time. For a viewer, it makes sense for this story to be developed as a series as Sanjay does the characters justice in each of their arcs. A particular standout is Richa Chadha, whose haunting portrayal of a courtesan unlucky in love leaves an impression.

It is wonderful to see Sanjay build this story for such a global platform, proving to cinephiles everywhere that Hindi cinema is not one you can ignore or write off as, “full of dances and colourful clothes.” Sanjay also placed great consideration in the difference in platform from film to TV when developing the project. “There’s a different way you consider the audience when working with a streaming platform,” he explains. “While I always have my audience and how to connect with them in mind, my experience with Netflix specifically offered a wider and more immediate audience than I’m often used to.
With streaming, you have to meet audiences where they are and draw them in – there’s so much available which is so exciting and such an asset for reaching people I never would have reached before, but it’s also daunting knowing you have to make a real effort to stand out and make sure your audience buys into the work.”

Well, Sanjay did more than stand out, as the series broke into the top 10 series for non-English TV period pieces. “The show provides a one-of-a- kind experience, one everyone should experience regardless of where they live.” Sanjay concludes. “The lives and stories in this show, despite their cultural specificity, work because of how vital they are on a human level. My hope is that Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar enlightens audiences of all cultural backgrounds on the unique journeys of the great women like those featured in the show.”

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar and Zoya Akhtar’s Archies, released on Netflix in December 2023, are proof that there is so much yet to be shared from Hindi cinema to the world – in this diamond bazaar, there are still many more diamonds to be found!

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