Sanjay Leela Bhansali on working with Netflix for Heeramandi – “There’s a different way you consider the audience…”

Acclaimed Indian filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali (DevdasBlack) just ventured into the digital realm with Netflix’s Heeramandi, marking his inaugural digital endeavor. Released on May 1st, the eight-part period drama series is already a hit and has captivated audiences with its lavishness and visual splendor. We recently had the chance to participate in an e-mail roundtable with Sanjay Leela Bhansali to get into the details of how he brought the world and the series to life. 

The Story of Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar 

The story takes place in Heeramandi, a lively red-light district in Lahore during pre-partition India. In this world, courtesans, including Mallikajaan (played by Manisha Koirala) and Fareedan (Sonakshi Sinha), reign. They are arch rivals, pulling the strings and setting some of the drama into motion. Heeramandi dives into the lives of the people who live there, uncovering their challenges, dreams, and hopes.  It is a grand and captivating tale with themes of love, power, and betrayal, along with the strong resilience of women, all set during a time of extravagance and decline.

The cast is stellar. Along with Manisha Koirala and Sonakshi Sinha, it includes Aditi Rao Hydari as Bibbo, Richa Chaddha as Lajjo, Sharmin Saigal as Alamzeb, and Sanjeeda Shaikh as Waheeda. Taaha ShahMark BeningtonFardeen KhanShekhar SumanFarida Jalal, and Adhyayan Suman round out the cast. Each brings their distinctive talents to pivotal roles. So, we were excited to chat with SLB about this world. 

Heeramandi was 18 years in the making

Bhansali, celebrated for his opulent cinematic creations, spent more than 14 years creating the story before finally starting production on it. It’s paid dividends, opening to strong reviews and praise for staying true to the pre-independence era. According to Bhansali, it wasn’t easy for him to direct eight hour-long episodes in a span of just two years. It was exhausting, but it also gave him a lot of satisfaction. Read on to see what the multitalented creative had to say in our roundtable e-mail chat.

On staying authentic with Heeramandi

One of the most important aspects for Sanjay Leela Bhansali was staying true to the pre-independence era and how these women lived during the period. While speaking in a roundtable conversation over e-mail, the creator and showrunner opened up about how he stayed true to the period while ensuring the series remains relevant to contemporary audiences. While answering the question, Bhansali said, “I reimagine period. So, it is authentic, but it is my understanding and version of it. Thematically, stories about love and rebellion, striving for freedom and empowerment, war and deceit, have always been and will always remain relevant to audiences across time.

On how working with Netflix was different

Although the National Award-winning filmmaker has worked with almost every big production house in the country, this was the first time he had partnered with Netflix for a project. Over the years, many renowned filmmakers have noted how different it was for them to work with a streaming platform rather than a traditional production house. For Sanjay Leela Bhansali, it was a learning experience, and he realized how he had to ensure that viewers were drawn to his extraordinary world.

There’s a different way you consider the audience when working with a streaming platform. 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. Bhansali said during the conversation.

Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar is now streaming in full on Netflix.

Learn more about the series at the official Netflix site.

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