Sanjay Leela Bhansali has been re-creating the famed "Sheesh Mahal" of Mughal-E-Azam (1960) in all his films. Not architecturally, but in design, they are all grand, operatic, larger-than-life films which borrow heavily from the evergreen classics – and they are all musicals. Even Black (2005), which featured only one song, had the musical feel of a burlesque.
In Bajirao Mastani, due for a December 2015 release, he has worked on his inspirations to finally come up with his own version of the "Sheesh Mahal"– and this time the design is a showcase of both his musical and directorial artistry at work.
Since Guzaarish (2010), Bhansali has decided to wield an extra baton, composing the music for his films. The soundtrack of Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013) was testament to his expanding oeuvre, as the film featured a couple of songs that had a non-stop cycle around the festive seasons – no Diwali celebration or garba dance was complete without a hat-tip to his foot-tapping melodies.
About the song Deewani Mastani in Bajirao Mastani, Deepika Padukone says, "Deewani Mastani is inspired by Mughal-e-Azam in a sense. We have tried to recreate the Aaina Mahal in the song. It's Sanjay Leela Bhansali's contemporary version of the song, where Mastani is madly in love with Bajirao. It's like nasha. She has eyes for no one but him, who is sitting in front of her. It does not matter to her where she is or who is watching her. She is intoxicated by love."
More than Deepika Padukone capturing the blazing glory of the original Madhubala love anthem, there's something else about the song that breeds familiarity. Shreya Ghoshal sings the impassioned dirge fused with a great roll of drums, dhols, mandolin and a supportive chorus of lavani enthusiasts. The soundtrack of GKRRL featured a song, Poore Chand, which was unused in the film.
Deewani Mastani bears more than a fleeting semblance to that song. Based on the same rhythmic pattern, it sounds like Bhansali is repeating himself. You can hear strains of the breathless Ang Laga De (GKRRL) mixed with the gypsy movement of Udi (Guzaarish) in Deewani Mastani.
Bhansali has never shied from mirroring his inspirations – he turns his films into tributes. References to his top three favourite films – Pakeezah, Mirch Masala, and Mughal-E-Azam have crowded his own work: whether it is Chandramukhi's ornate lifestyle in Devdas (2002) as a homage to Sahib Jaan (Pakeezah) or Leela's (GKRRL) household littered with heaps of red chillies from Sonbai's (Mirch Masala) fort under attack.
Just when it appears that Bhansali is truly inspired, a case of self-inspiration looms over his new film, which not only repeats his hit cast from GKRRL but is also a pastiche of his previous achievements: loud, colourful, over-the-top.
But then, didn't Alfred Hitchcock say, 'Self-plagiarism is style'?