What a weird story! I don’t think there is any big secret scandal to be unearthed here (except for my personal and almost certainly inaccurate crazy theory), but it is interesting to discuss because there is so much history and backstory and at the same time, so much unknown.
Let me start way back when. When Bhansali was just starting out, a crazy outsider director with a dream, he came up with a brilliant movie idea (a hearing child of a deaf couple who is a beautiful singer and falls in love with an outsider from their small community over their shared music). He put together an interesting cast, headlined by Nana Pataker as the father and Manisha Koirala as the heroine. And then Manisha went and talked to her friend/co-star Salman and brought him in. It was 1996, Salman was in a slight down turn in his career, and the role was really more of a cameo. And it was open to interpretation, he could play it as a “Salman” role more than something that followed the directors exact vision. Salman believed in the film so much, and was friendly enough with Bhansali, that his second mother Helen also appeared in the film. It turned into a bit of a surprise sleeper hit, and was critically acclaimed.
A few years later in 1999, Bhansali organized his follow up film. Salman’s girlfriend Aishwarya got the lead role, and Salman got another role that was loose enough to allow for him to perform how he wanted in the part. The other actors were increasingly directed, perfectly arranged shots and angles and gestures. But Salman was still loose and free, did what he wanted with the part.
Bhansali moved on, made other movies, not with Salman. And then came back to him for Saawariya for a role that was even more of a cameo than their first film together. And Salman and Bhansali didn’t fit together any more. The two leads were Ranbir and Sonam, trained from the ground up by Bhansali to do exactly what he wanted. He had workshops and plans, sets built, elaborate songs worked out, everything to exactly match his vision. And there was Salman, just kind of showing up and stumbling through a role that didn’t fit him in a world that didn’t fit him any more. There was no space for his Salman-ness.
Every movie after Saawariya has followed a Bhansali pattern. He has a specific grand vision and that means actors doing months of workshops, sets being built and rebuilt, everything perfect and exactly as he planned it. And in the meantime, Salman has found his own Salman-pattern more and more. He will show up on set when he wants, he will insist on changes to the film to match what he thinks his fans expect, he produces his own movies to give himself even more control. And he’s not wrong, he is the most guaranteed successful actor in Hindi film today, he knows what people expect from him and how to make it happen, and he will ride roughshod over his directors and other collaberators to make it happen.
And then there’s Alia, the late comer. She generally seems like a director’s dream. Everyone who has worked with her loves her. She works hard, she shows up on time, she gets into her character and makes it work. But if you go a little deeper, there is a particular kind of director she works with best. The directors who are like/inspired by her father, which makes sense. The ones who are all about getting the actors into the characters and just letting things flow. Alia is amazing in the deeper emotional kind of performances partly because that is the kind of acting that comes naturally to her, latching on to those deep emotions and just riding them out.
So, why the heck did these three talents think they could work together? At first it looked like they were all taking a leap that made sense. Salman was coming off a couple flops that followed the “Salman” formula, he and Bhansali had a long history together, and Bhansali was riding high on a bunch of hits. Alia was signing films left and right, working with all kinds of different directors and different genres, as made sense for a young actress trying to learn and make her mark. And Bhansali claimed to be ready to try something different, a smaller film with a straight romance plot.
As more stories came out, you could see the way they were all trying to compromise. Bhansali was planning a tight 100 day schedule on location. Meaning none of the excess of sets, of looooooooong filming schedules, all the things that made him more of an authoritarian director instead of a flexible one. Alia was moving around what she could move, arranging scheduling, and giving interviews explaining how excited she was to work with Bhansali. So, okay, Bhansali and Salman were both ready to take artistic risks and meet in the middle, and Alia was ready to keep trying new things.
But lately there have been cracks. It was confirmed and definite that filming would be primarily in Orlando in Florida. And then suddenly it was going to be in Bombay instead, probably so Salman could keep filming Big Boss on alternate days. Not exactly the kind of dedicated character commitment Bhansali has been used to from his actors for the last few films. Meanwhile, Alia was already struggling with the films she had, Brahmastra was delayed again, and the other movies weren’t on the floor yet even if they were announced. And then she literally worked herself sick, had to suddenly shut down filming on Brahmastra and take a break because she was too sick.
Filming is supposed to be starting on Inshallah, the Bhansali movie, any day now. But even that has kind of conflicting stories. Salman is in Jaipur finishing off the last shooting schedule for Dabangg 3 and the word from there was that he had 8 days left, leaving Inshallah to start in Bombay on the 24th. But the word from Bhansali’s team was that it was starting on the 21st. And then other rumors said that Alia and Salman and Bhansali had already gotten together unofficially for some readings.
Yesterday Salman out of nowhere tweeted that the film was “delayed”.
And then Bhansali productions tweeted today:
So, this is all very weird! Especially because Alia hasn’t been heard from at all yet. Right now, to me, it feels like a “too many cooks” problem. Salman is Salman, so as soon as it looked like shooting wasn’t going to go as planned, he took it upon himself to leap in to make an announcement. And he wasn’t totally wrong, from the perspective of Salman he had a commitment to his fans to announce ASAP that his Eid 2020 plans had changed. I’m assuming he also activated plans immediately to make sure his other movies moved around to make sure something else could fill that Eid slot. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of people within the industry who would have to know that Salman was a free agent for Eid. Salman doesn’t like doing things behind closed doors, naturally he would make a big open announcement and let his fans know and the industry know instead of telling people one at a time.
And then there’s the Bhansali tweet! Which wasn’t actually a “Bhansali” tweet, it was from the production company. That’s a difference right there, Salman put out a personal tweet from his personal account. Bhansali Productions is trying to be a little more corporate and a little less personal. And at the same time, do you catch the subtle jockeying for power? “Bhansali Productions has decided” while Salman just said “the film is pushed”. Bhansali may have been the second one to make the announcement, but they made sure it was shown as THEIR decision, not Salman’s.
And Alia is staying the heck out of it. No tweet, no comment, nothing. Can you imagine these three people in a room together trying to collaborate? Salman being blindly confident in himself and never even thinking about others. Bhansali desperately trying to exert control. And Alia disappearing as she sees no place for herself in this whole thing. Blech! No wonder the film fell apart!
Or, my conspiracy theory that is just made up in my head, Alia’s pregnant. Stomach problems? Sudden halt to her film, and then canceling her next movie out of nowhere? Your mind has to go there!
Anyway, what do you think?