Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Ted Sarandos on the ambition and world of ‘Heeramandi’

The celebrated filmmaker joined the Netflix co-CEO for a chat as they announced Bhansali’s grand debut series

Updated - February 22, 2023 07:42 pm IST

Published - February 21, 2023 06:14 pm IST

Filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali with Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos

Filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali with Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos | Photo Credit: Netflix

Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos was in Mumbai recently for the announcement and first-look launch of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s debut web series, Heeramandi. Talking of Bhansali, one of Hindi cinema’s reigning stylists, Ted praised the 59-year-old director’s knack for investing in ‘little movements of emotion.’

“Sometimes it’s in a tiny step of dance or a line of dialogue,” Ted said during his wide-ranging chat with Bhansali. “It’s the thing that takes you from a little bit sad to very sad and a little bit excited to very excited.”

Heeramandi, set in 1940s India, tells of a forgotten pleasure district and its courtesans who ‘lived like queens’, Bhansali explained. The series gestated in his imagination for 14 years before he could finally find a platform like Netflix to underwrite his grand vision. The first-look teaser, which was launched during the event, boasts a shimmery ensemble of Manisha Koirala, Aditi Rao Hydari, Sonakshi Sinha, Richa Chadha, Sharmin Segal and Sanjeeda Sheikh. The actors were in cheery attendance as Bhansali expanded on the world and characters of Heeramandi.

“These courtesans had Nawabs and British officers at their beck and call,” Bhansali said. “They were artists, singers, dancers... they were connoisseurs of good poetry and art. These were women I would have liked to meet in real life.”

Filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali with Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos during the wide-ranging chat

Filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali with Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos during the wide-ranging chat | Photo Credit: Netflix

For Ted, Heeramandi signals an ambitious new direction for Netflix’s original programming in India. The streamer released 28 Indian originals in 2022 (a hundred since its launch in 2016). He indicated a sizable uptick in engagement (30%, according to figures he revealed earlier) owing to the streaming success of films like Bhansali’s own Gangubai Kathiawadi and original hits like Monica, O My Darling and Darlings. The coming months, Ted promised, will be even bigger.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” he said, calling India the fastest-growing Netflix market in the world.

Bhansali, known for his splendid set designs and larger-than-life emotions, said that the transition to streaming did not affect or limit his cinematic vision. If anything, the filmmaker went ‘even bigger’. “Heeramandi is the biggest project I have made,” said the director behind Devdas, Saawariya, Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat. “It’s so huge in scale.” The eight-episode series was shot on sets in Mumbai and is Bhansali’s tribute to classics like Mother India (1957) and Pakeezah (1972).

“The size of the project is not the size of the screen,” Ted said. “It’s the size of the potential audience and the distribution footprint. In which (terms) it’s his biggest.”

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