One of the finest showmen in postmodern Bollywood, Sanjay Leela Bhansali knows when to linger the camera and when to edit rather than cutting between songs and stringing together a bunch of hurried, unsatisfying visuals. (See this video on everything wrong with Bollywood song sequences). In times of blaring noises and trashy lyrics passed as music, Bhansali has repeatedly raised the bar of dance, music and visuals through these brilliant songs. His songs aren’t just a visual delight; they weave complex narratives and capture human emotions in their raw form.
1. Deewani (Bajirao Mastani)
I totally fell in love with the color palette of the visuals in this song. The champagne-golden color scheme of the royal court gives it a classic, elegant feel. Although Bhansali borrowed many of the elements from Mughal-E-Azam’s Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya…, he managed to induce his own interpretation to the classic tale of Bajirao Mastani.
The choreography is subtle but laden with beautiful forms and pitch perfect combination of dancers. At no point in the choreography does it feel out of its historic times. The moves are traditional, yet fresh to keep the audience marveling at the beauty. Bhansali lets you feel the enormity and grand scale of the palace and yet Deepika’s beauty subdues everything else.
The song is Mastani’s moment in the film and Deepika makes sure she lives up to it. Every expression and movement is executed with razor sharp precision and the camera manages to capture the most convoluted choreographed movements.
All of it looks so simple (when its not) which is the hallmark of a visual genius like Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
2. Aankhon Ki Gustakhiyan (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam)
No one in Bollywood comes even close to Bhansali’s understanding of rhythm. The music has moments of playfulness, hurt, earnest gratitude and teasing. Bhansali blends the visuals perfectly in sync with all these emotions as the song takes us through the romance of the most charismatic couple at the time in Bollywood.
In all the seductive teasing that goes on throughout the song, there are tender moments like the one where Salman statues Aishwarya when he sees her eyes welling up. She is vulnerable in that moment with no one watching them and Salman, with all his bratty behavior, offers a sweet apology. It’s hard not to fall in love with our lovers and the idea of love.
Bhansali knows that the narrative, the body language and the expressions of the actors are powerful tools to engage the audiences’ rather than some complicated dance moves. Such creative audacities turned this song into a modern classic.
3. Lahu Muh Lag Gaya (Ram Leela)
Bhansali attempts to recreate the Salman-Aishwarya sexual chemistry again with Ram Leela. But this time he has Ranveer and Deepika in his arsenal and a much more sexually liberated society to wow. Where Ankhon Ki Gustakhiyan was subtle in its sexual undertone, Lahu Muh Lag Gaya doesn’t hold back. Times have changed and so has Mr. Bhansali.
The vibrant colors, the beautiful Gujrati costumes and the authentic Garba dance all make for a surreal visual experience. The tone of the film and characters is set when Deepika kisses Ranveer on her own accord with the risk of being seen. This was a departure from the classic shy, submissive Bollywood heroine.
Ranveer’s infectious energy, Deepika’s confidence and the brilliant music combine to form an irresistible treat to watch on the big screen.
4. Udi (Guzarish)
Aishwarya Rai’s best performances have undeniably been in Bhansali’s films. She completely lights up the screen in this song as her character takes a radical arc from the rest of the film. And yet she is not at all out of character.
Bhansali, known for his fascinating women characters, gives a moment of unabashed fun for Aishwarya as she lets herself go. There is no need for premeditated choreography and Aishwarya just moves to the rhythm: air drumming, air guitar-ing or simply matching steps of her fellow dancer.
The choreography is spontaneous and yet it has that unmistakable Bhansali stamp in the end when Hrithik’s expressions towards Aishwarya melt your heart.
5. Chalak Chalak (Devdas)
All songs of Devdas — Dola Re Dola, Silsila Yeh Chahat Ka and Kaahe Ched Mohe — probably belong to this list. But the only reason I love Chalak Chalak over others is Madhuri Dixit. She looks absolutely adorable in minimal (by Bhansali standards) makeup. Her simplicity and natural beauty raise this song above all others.
Chalak Chalak also has the classic Bhansali narrative to it, which makes it fun to watch. Look at how Jackie Shroff’s and Shah Rukh’s movements are co-ordinated and captured from two different doors at the beginning. Shahrukh also lends some beautiful moments of grief as a destroyed lover unable to move on.
Notice his expressions when the lyrics Uski Ek Jhalak play.
With Madhuri’s entry, the song takes a different level altogether. As a 10 year old hopeless Madhuri fan, I was smitten by her performance. And, it remains a personal favorite even today.
6. Maar Daala (Devdas)
Chandramukhi, a prostitute who falls in love with a self-destructive man, is an endlessly fascinating character. Bhansali’s interpretation, although flashy and over the top, provided a scintillating visual and dance performance.
Maar Daala, probably the most popular mujra dances in Bollywood after Dil Cheez Kya Hai (Umrao Jaan) is Madhuri Dixit’s show all the way. The queen of expressions besotted one and all. She went from seductive, to vulnerable and back to an earnest lover in a matter of seconds. Her mastery of classical dance forms was vital in elevation of the visuals to its greatness.
Not the most authentic mujra, Maar Daala managed to transcend traditional barriers and became a universal hit. Bhansali’s love for tradition and acumen for commercial aspects makes this a perfect amalgamation of traditional and modern.