India’s Master of Nostalgia Takes His Sweeping Vision to Netflix

In the small Bombay theater that showed big films, his father brought him — over and over again — to see the biggest of them all.

With every one of his 18 viewings of “Mughal-e-Azam,” a hit 1960 musical about a forbidden romance between a prince and a courtesan, the young boy fell more in love. The rays of light, beamed in black and white, opened to him a world at once majestic and lost. The dialogue, crisp and poetic, lingered in his thoughts. The music swept him to places that only later in life would he fully understand.

Bombay would eventually change, to Mumbai. India, cinema and music — they would all change, too. But more than half a century later, Sanjay Leela Bhansali — now 61 and a rare remaining master of the grand old style of Indian filmmaking — has not let go of his seat at that small cinema, Alankar Talkies, on the hem of the city’s red-light district.

His mind remains rooted there even as his work moves beyond the theater walls. His latest project, released on Wednesday, is an eight-episode musical drama on Netflix that gives a “Game of Thrones” treatment to an exalted milieu of courtesans in pre-independence India.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a rare remaining master of the grand old style of Indian filmmaking, directing “Heeramandi” for Netflix.

Actors waiting between scenes on the set of the eight-episode musical drama in Mumbai.
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