(Ranbir Kapoor in Saawariya)
This post is rather an ode to my favorite working director: the Indian filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Bhansali is an incredibly polarizing director, the way few other directors are: people either adore his movies with all their might or loathe them as meaningless, overblown indulgences.
You can guess which side I belong to. I once said that if Bhansali filmed a phone book, I'd watch it, and every movie of his I see only adds to that opinion.
His movies usually have certain underlying themes: a doomed or thwarted love, a problematic relationship with a father figure, characters unequipped for the real world, but what makes his movies stand out are not the stories (which I like well enough) but an incredibly gorgeous idyosyncratic sense of style: love him or hate him, you will never mistake a frame from a Bhansali movie for anyone else's. Often, his movies have a predominant color palette: Devdas with its gold-oranges and reds (with occasional flashes of deep blue), or Saawariya with blue-greens.
(Aishwarya Rai in Devdas)
He excels at portraying the hothouse of emotion: the self-destructive impulse, the almost-dereamlike love state, the impossibility of living without the 'other' but the inevitability of that separation. His movies started out as relatively realistic (his first, Khamoshi, set in the deaf-mute community of Goa, is recognizably our world, even if with those startling flashes of stylistic dreamworld which later become his trademark) but became more and more ihabited of their own world as they progressed (his latest, Saawariya, is as much, or even more, a parable/fairytale/meditation on love and illusion, than a concrete story). He is a nitpicky filmmater and makes only a movie every couple of years. So far he has made: Khamoshi, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Devdas, Black, and Saawariya. He also has an upcoming movie starring his muse, Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan.
(Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukherji in Black)
He is the closest I've seen a modern filmmaker come to either pure opera (in its distillation of emotion and its supremacy of music) or a silent movie. Because while his dialogues are fine, what sticks with the viewer is not the lines the characters say, but the images. His movies could be silent. What one takes away from them is Nana Patekar's contorted, weeping face when seeing his daughter in Khamoshi. Aishwarya Rai and Salman Khan starring at each other, stock still, a crystal chandelier swaying between them, or Ajay Devgan's tormented eyes in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Rani Mukherji hobbling in her black shawl in Black or Aishwarya Rai running, her feet leaving red stains across the floor as she desperately tries to reach her dying lover for the last time. Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor (no relation) dancing a complicated dance with and against each other as they try to avoid the puddles on the street in Saawariya.
(Aishwarya Rai again, in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam)
In fact, Saawariya is a perfect distilation of everything Bhansali, even more so than Devdas. Inspired by a Dostoyevsky short story, the viewer is not even sure if this is real or a dream - the city is certainly a dreamscape, a place outside of time. Ranbir falls in love with Sonam, a mysterious woman who is herself pining for her unreacheable lover. And the movie is about the strength of that first love, but also delusion and image-creation and dream reality. It is emotion and dreaming as film.
(Salman Khan and Sonam Kapoor in Saawariya)
So please, even if you don't have any interest in Bollywood, check him out: like him or hate him, you won't forget his movies in a hurry.
(Shahrukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai in Devdas)
( A few sequences from his films, for flavor )