Sanjay Leela Bhansali spoke to the Press for the first time expressing his inner feelings about his films.
It is well known that Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar, Founder of the AVG Group of multi-national companies, and Founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition, is one of the foremost champions of Hindu causes all across the world. He is also a Rajput bhakt, with most of his properties and charities named after Maharana Pratap and President Ronald Reagan, the two foremost champions of freedom. So much so that right near the international airport in Bangalore, he has a palace that looks as if picked up from Rajputana and planted there. Two years ago, he made history by having candidate Trump attend a Hindu rally in Oct 2016, just three weeks before the national elections, who loudly declared: “We Love Hindus”, and then a year later having President Trump celebrate Diwali in the Oval Office for the very first time.
Shalabh Kumar and his daughter Manasvi, former Miss India, hosted a lavish Thanksgiving dinner in honor of and as a thank-youto the legendary Bollywood Film-maker Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Décor was quickly put together by Manasvi, who transformed the 5 acre Houdini Estate in Beverly Hills, CA in just three days into a majestic palace with exquisite colors, drapes, lights and flowers. See the pictures and you can follow Manasvi on Instagram and Twitter @imanasvi. The décor was so magnificent that Mr. Bhansali, well known for his majestic sets, remarked: “I want to thank Manasvi from the bottom of my heart because she has designed the evening so beautifully, it is as good as any of my sets that I have worked painstakingly for months and months to create.”
Mr. Bhansali over the last two decades has produced and directed a large number of commercially hit block-busters such as Devdas, Dil De ChukeSanam, BajiraoMustani, as well as received a record number of national awards. His latest film Padmaavatreleased in January of 2018was among the top ten grossers of all times in the history of Indian cinema.
At the time of the release of Padmaavat in early 2018, after a private screening, Shalabh Kumar had declared the film to be a great tribute to the Rajput valor and predicted that it would receive wide acclaim throughout the world besides being a major commercial success. At the dinner he told the assembled guests that at the initial screening and every time he watches the film, he walks out with his head high because of the principles Rajputs followed such as “Raghukul Reet Sada Chali Aayee, Praan Jaye par Vachanna Jayee”. In fact at the dinner he, for the benefit of his American friends, told them the stories of Alexander and Porus, and the Rakhee that saved Alexander’s life and also the story of Prithviraj Chauhan and Muhammad Ghoriwho was pardoned by Chauhan 8 times before Ghori captured him. All because of his “Vachan”. He told the guests that he loves Bhansali’s work because he brings to the screen these great educational stories to remind Hindus and Indians all across the world of their proud heritage. He often remarks that there is a reason why the Vedic civilization, unlike others, has lasted over 10,000 years.
The highlight of the evening was a request from Shalabh Kumar to Sanjay LeelaBhansali to produce an epic on Maharana Pratap, to which SLB just smiled. Manasvi jokingly told him that “Pops is not going to let you go this evening before you finalize this movie” to which a big laughter broke out among the guests.
The evening started with a cocktail hour set in front of the stairs to the dining hall. It was a gorgeous set with chandeliers, flowers and a beautiful bar. On the face of the building, the guests were greeted to an illuminated wall with “Kumar Family welcomes Sanjay LeelaBhansali”. A well renowned Sitar player added a unique touch of Indian enchantment to the ambiance of the evening.
As Sanjay LeelaBhansali and his party entered the dining hall with décor designed by Manasvi, he and others were simply struck with the elegance of the room. It is indescribable. Need a poet. Before SLB was even seated, he started taking pictures of the décor.
Mr. Kumar started his remarks by thanking Mr. Bhansali for the great cinema he has given the world. He told the audience how President Ronald Reagan broke the word Thanksgiving into two words, thanks and giving, meaning that this unique day in the American history reminds everyone to “thank” each other for their blessings and also “give” to the needy. Mr. Kumar wondered aloud how God was so giving to put 7 of the wisest men in history on the same place at the same time, the Founding Fathers of America, who gave the United States of America the shortest, the simplest, yet the most profound 34 page constitution that has endured the test of time.
Then, he went on to talk about and celebrate the Hindu traditions of RakshaBandhan and the Raghukul “vachan” for which there is no English translation. He told the audience the stories of Alexander/Porus and Chauhan/Ghori to the amazement of the Americans present. The concept was quite foreign to them. Mr. Kumar said: “I am proud of my Hindu heritage and love Sanjay Bhansali’s work as he so beautifully puts them on celluloid.”
When time came for Mr. Bhansali to speak, he said: “If I knew I had to speak, I wouldn’t have been here. I am not a good public speaker. My work speaks for me. “I am grateful that my work has touched his (Kumar’s) heart to the extent that he is treating me so nicely on my first evening in LA. I will never forget it.” These brief remarks did get him started so much so that he later on shared for the first time his inner feelings about his work and some of the controversies surrounding that work, like making of Padmaavat.
SLB was followed by Manasvi who spoke so eloquently and magnificently that even her friends in the audience were amazed. No wonder, a number of top agents in Hollywood and President Trump himself want her to anchor prime time shows on television. She has charisma. She told SLB in a very emotional tone that just standing next to him was fulfilment of her American dream, and how she grew up dancing to all his great songs like NimboodaNimbooda and Mardala, revering him to be an idol of hers.
Turning to the Thanksgiving celebration, she first thanked her father and said: “First I want to thank my father Shalabh Kumar who is the brain behind this evening who is my greatest support, then Shobhaji andUtkarshini who put the seed to this event.”
Manasvi talked about the film Padmaavat, how it celebrated Hindu Rajput valor and the courage and strength of Indian women in protecting their honor, to jump in fire instead of choosing the life of slavery. She recited the shlok from Gita “Nainam ChhidantiShashtrani…”, that the real person inside you is the soul which is indestructible and all human actions should be for the enhancement of soul. She switched to Hindi and further told SLB and the audience: “Pops recites this next schlock to me every morning. Karmanyavadhikarastemaflashukadachan….that you must do your duty and do not greed for the fruits of your actions, do your work despite all challenges, like you did when faced with unexpected hurdles in making of Padmaavat.”
Manasvi concluded by telling the audience that world’s two largest democracies are getting close to each other, that Republican Hindu Coalition and our family have something to do with it, and that she hopes that Hollywood and Bollywood would also come together, and finally raising a toast to Padmaavat.
Indo-American culinary delight followed the speeches, after which the Press consisting of 10 local and national Indian American ethnic channels was invited to ask questions to Mr. Kumar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Manasvi. SLB opened up and made some very significant remarks.
When asked about if he would change his art to suit Hollywood, he said no. When he would do something in Hollywood, he would retain his style and not change. Talking about Padmaavat he said: “ This is a story that needs to be told again, again and again. It is a story of courage, a story of a woman fighting for her dignity, it is fascinating, and the climax is absolutely unbelievable, and after having shot it, after having filmed it, it still gives me goose-flesh to see the courage these women had to walk into fire, to win the war that would otherwise been never won, it is something unheard of anywhere in the world.”
Answering a question about secularism, he told the Press that he does not make a Hindu film, he makes an Indian film. For example Bajirao Mastani is a film of a Hindu warrior and a muslim girl he falls in love with. “My films are for all Indians, Hindu or Muslim. But I am naturally more attracted to Hindu stories such as Devdas and Ram Leela as these characters mean a lot to me. Learning from these great characters is good for all human beings.”
Snajay Leela Bhansali concluded the evening by thanking Shalabh Kumar and his daughter Manasvi profusely for the great hospitality they showered on him and their appreciation of his art and his work.