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'Bhansali teaches you without a danda'

April 29, 2024 09:29 IST
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'When you walk on to a Sanjay Leela Bhansali set, it is complete surrender. You have to become a sponge.'

Photograph: Kind courtesy Aditi Rao Hydari/Instagram

Aditi Rao Hydari looks even more beautiful as Bibbojaan in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar, which will stream on Netflix from May 1.

She worked with the director before in Padmavaat, and counts herself doubly blessed to get repeated in his next.

While she refuses to share what fiance Siddharth thought of Bibbojaan ("I will not tell you that in this interview!"), Aditi gives Ronjita Kulkarni/ a glimpse into the shoot: "One day, Sanjay sir kept me hungry because I had to do a scene which was full of fire. He said, 'Aaj khana mat khana', and that helped me get that simmering sense of injustice."


How did you get Heeramandi?

It was one of my dreams, growing up, to work with Sanjay sir and I'm lucky I have worked with him before.

But this was incredible because I got so much more time with him. It was like greed being fulfilled of just having Sanjay sir for so much longer.

There's a slight back story to when I first got that call.

In between the lockdowns, I went to meet him because I was missing him.

The first thing he said was, 'Kitni patli ho gayi hai, khaana khao!' So he fed me.

Then I went back because I was shooting in the South.

A couple of months later, I was travelling for the promotions for a South Indian film that I had done. I had got a call from the producer of that film, saying, 'Congratulations, we have 100 percent occupancy in theatres.' That was a big deal because this was just after COVID.

10 minutes later, I got another call saying, when are you coming back to Bombay? We need to do a look test (for Heeramandi).

I was like, I don't know what it is about this day, but there's something right. The universe is looking out for me.

I came back to Bombay and went for the look test.

And there I was as Bibbojaan.

When I see that twinkle in Sanjay sir's eyes, I know everything is going to go as planned.

I've been lucky to work with some incredible directors, but Sanjay sir is one of those people who creates such an immersive environment. He is such a treasure trove of great emotional understanding, art, aesthetic, everything.

IMAGE: Scenes from Heeramandi. Photograph: Kind courtesy Bhansali Productions/Instagram

Tell us what it's like working with Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

Our shoot started with the mujra that you see in the first episode.

I think on day three, Fardeen (Khan) sir came to set. I was listening to Sanjay sir and trying to follow everything that he was telling me because he knows so much about dance.

At some point, he went to talk to Fardeen sir and was like, I hope you're okay.

Fardeen sir was like, this is the first time I'm doing this. I've never worn clothes like this, but I could get used to this because there was a girl (wearing that and) dancing in front of me (Laughs).

There is a musicality in the way he approaches everything.

Even his silences have music.

There's always music playing in his head and quite often, he gives it to his actors as well when he's directing.

Contrary to popular belief, he gives his actors a lot of space.

He wants them to find their magic.

He's so inspired by everything around, by human emotion, art, music, dance...that he constantly wants to better himself. So the team is inspired by his vision to keep running with him.

He effortlessly manages to push you where you didn't believe you could go. He teaches you without actually sitting down with a danda!

IMAGE: Sanjeeda Sheikh, Richa Chadha, Manisha Koirala and Aditi Rao Hydari in Heeramandi.

Bibbojaan is a courtesan, who is also a part of the freedom struggle in the series. She has a lot of fire and grace in her. In real life, you have a royal lineage, and are a trained dancer. How much of Bibbojaan came naturally to you and what did you have to work on?

Since I was little, I have grown up around artists.

My mother learned Hindustani classical as well as thumri from Naina Deviji and Girija Deviji.

She got a grant from the Ford Foundation to do research on tawaifs and thumri as a form of singing.

So I have heard a lot of stories.

Then, of course, there is my own dancing. I learned Bharatq Natyam from Leela Samson.

I have been exposed to a lot of music, dance and art, but trust me, Sanjay sir comes with some blessing of all these incredible artists. He's very passionate about everything he does. He's also very knowledgeable.

He has true love for each and every art form that goes into making cinema, and that I find very infectious.

I would say that whatever one comes with in one's blood, when you walk on to a Sanjay Leela Bhansali set, it is complete surrender. You have to become a sponge.

So yes, maybe it has something to do with my upbringing, but it has a lot more to do with Sanjay sir.

I love what you said. Yes, it is this kind of harmonious dichotomy of fire and grace that makes his vision so special.

Also, the way he values women and where he places them to say that a woman is not one-tone.

Just because she is delicate or innocent or kind does not mean she doesn't have a fire within her for a higher purpose, a fire within her to want change, a fire within her to take so many people along with her towards that purpose.

And those can go hand-in-hand.

A woman is so much more than just what she is perceived to be. She can live those two realities honestly.

The fact that he can view a woman like that is incredible.

So I'm not taking away from my own upbringing but I do believe that as an actor, what he did with me and what he created was his belief in me.

People perceive actors in a particular way. They may be like, Oh, if you blow, she'll just fly away. She's so delicate!

But for him, there's more to a person than that.

One day, he kept me hungry because I had to do a scene which was full of fire. He said, 'Aaj khana mat khana', and that helped me get that simmering sense of injustice.

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