Here’s Why Bhansali Took Almost a Decade to Make Bajirao Mastani 

Casting for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Bajirao Mastani’ has been an endless game of musical chairs

4 min read
Deepika Padukone in the first look of SLB’s <i>Bajirao Mastani</i>

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s period epic, Bajirao Mastani is one of the most anticipated films of the year, and its star-studded cast comprising of Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra has only added fuel to the waiting game.

Ranveer as the legendary Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao and Deepika as his wondrous love Mastani, seem to be the perfect casting choice if we go by the visually stunning trailer. But few know that the casting for Bhansali’s long cherished period saga has been a musical chairs of sorts.

It All Began With Aishwarya and Salman

Okay, let’s roll back to the initial years of Bhansali. He was basking in the glory of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), and Aishwarya Rai was his newfound muse. Bajirao Mastani seemed like the next best project. Salman Khan who had been a pillar of support was supposed to play Bajirao, and his real life love Aishwarya was pencilled in to play Mastani.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in a scene from <i>Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam </i>(1999)
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan in a scene from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999)

But destiny played a different card. Aishwarya and Salman broke up. The break-up was so ugly that Aishwarya came out in public talking about how Salman had been harassing her. It became a topic of conversation for the entire country and casting them together in a film, was now impossible.

Shah Rukh Replaced Salman After Bhai’s Break Up With Aishwarya

Bhansali stood by his muse, Ash and she became Paro in his gregarious adaptation of Devdas (2002). Though his version of Devdas was a major hit, it proved to be another impediment for Bhansali. Salman was upset with the fact that Bhansali chose SRK for the prized role of Devdas over him. His disappointment stemmed from the fact that he was willing to work with Bhansali despite Khamoshi’s box office disaster. After all, Khamoshi was their first film together. Bhansali however maintained that he chose SRK because his eyes reflected pain, that was the central force of Devdas. In a way, Salman and Bhansali’s friendship went kaput. On the other hand, Aishwarya who swore she’ll never work with Salman again, wanted Shah Rukh as Bajirao opposite her. It looked like the historical romance had hit another roadblock.

SRKin a scene from <i>Devdas </i>(2002)
SRKin a scene from Devdas (2002)

Salman Returns With Kareena

Meanwhile, Bhansali went ahead with Black (2005) and completed another dream, that of working with Amitabh Bachchan. And in Rani Mukerji, he found another muse. While Black was being made, he was also trying to resurrect Bajirao Mastani. After much deliberation, he patched up with Salman Khan. Now he wanted Salman as Bajirao and Kareena Kapoor as Mastani. Rani being one of his closest aides by then was cast as Kashibai.

The first hitch now was that Kareena Kapoor had already signed Priyadarshan’s Kyon Ki... (2005) opposite none other than Salman Khan. This really upset Bhansali because he wanted to introduce Salman and Kareena as a fresh pair. Kareena, on the other hand, was of the opinion that if he could cast Aishwarya and SRK as lovers in Devdas, despite them having played siblings in Mansoor Khan’s Josh (2000), then he could do so with her and Salman too. Salman by then, had lost interest in the project. Again, the film was put on the back burner.

Film Poster: Salman Khan and Kareena Kapoor in <i>Kyon Ki...</i> (2005)
Film Poster: Salman Khan and Kareena Kapoor in Kyon Ki... (2005)

Finally, Deepika and Ranveer Made it! 

Now, Bhansali decided to adapt Fyodor Dostoevsky’s White Nights, casting Ranbir and Sonam Kapoor who assisted him in Black. Salman who decided to play the third angle in Saawariya (2007) featuring two newcomers despite being a major star, was given a raw deal again. When the film released, Salman realised that his role was shorter than most guest appearances. Funnily enough, he shot extensively for the film. This time, Salman decided that enough was enough. Salman as Bajirao was out of the picture. Saawariya bombed at the box office, and Bhansali’s next, Guzaarish (2010) met with the same fate.

Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh in a scene from <i>Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela</i> (2013)
Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh in a scene from Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013)

It was only during Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013) that Bhansali found a pair that had star value and a sparkling chemistry on screen. After a long dry spell, Ranveer and Deepika gifted him a much needed hit and both actors seemed willing to surrender to Bhansali’s craft.

Finally, his historical romance went on the floors with Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra. December is not far, you see.

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