Sanjay Leela Bhansali of Devdas fame got standing ovation at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. Not for another Bollywood movie, but for an opera-ballet titled Padmavati: Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s adaptation of the 1923 opera-ballet by Albert Roussel, one of the greatest yet least understood masters of twentieth-century French music.
In 1909 Roussel took a four-month voyage with his wife to India and Southeast Asia. Before conceiving Padmavati in 1914, Roussel became popular with his first master piece Evocations (1911) which was a memory of his voyage to the orient. In 1914, Roussel resigned from his professorship at the Schola Cantorum, and started his work on the opera Padmavati. However the World War broke, and though he could not be enlisted because of his ill health, he continued to serve indirectly as a Red Cross ambulance driver.
In 1918 Roussel completed Padmavati –one of his longest (100 minutes) and the best. In 1923, Padmavati was introduced to the world first time. Padmavati marked an abrupt change of Roussel’s style, away from typically French manners and civility and toward classical forms, rhythmic power, powerful emotions, and even occasionally, a very un-Gallic ferocity.
Padmavati is heavily influenced by the music of India, more so than any of Roussel’s works. Where he doesn’t use actual Hindu melodies, he uses Hindu scales extensively; these scales use different melodic intervals than in the West. Notice the “oriental” effect of these scales in the enchantingly ethereal song of the brahmin, describing Padmavati’s beauty (click to listen).
The opera retells a 13th Century Hindu tragedy from Chitoor , the city which Roussel visited during 1909. It is a lyrical tale of Queen Padmavati falling prey to a morally reprehensible bargain where she stabs her husband to save her honor and then commits ‘sati’ like any other faithful wife of that era.
After three quarter century, Padmavati has been redirected by an Indian. Sanjay Leela Bhansali is the first Indian to direct an opera in Paris, including a cast that could barely understand English. Nevertheless Bhansali was able to cast his spell with over 300 artists in the opera whose performance is as magnificent as the costumes which number over 700 individual dresses and a total of 260 ensembles.
Fires raged on the stage, elephants ambled through the panoramic scenario, women in gorgeous “ghagra-choli” (traditional skirts and blouse) swirled and twirled on the stage as the Rajasthani heroine Padmavati fought with valour for love, clan honor, and pride.
The response stunned Sanjay who had no experience of operas. “Nothing had prepared me for this. The audience was swept into the thunderous tale as much as I was when I took charge. They responded to the drama, music, pathos and passion and they just wouldn’t stop clapping at the end,” he said.
In Audience: The Friday premiere of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s opera Padmavati at Theatre Du Chatelet was attended by several celebrities in Paris. Prominent among them was legendary French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, who slipped in minutes before the performance with his lady friend and watched the performance. However Bhansali did not recognise the designer!
From home, Saawariya duo Ranbir and Sonam Kapoor who were going to attend excused themselves at the last minute.
“I feel I was to the opera born. V. Shantaram’s colourful flamboyant style of filmmaking was always my forte. On the stage, I got a chance to pay homage to Shantaram without bothering about camera angles. Padmavati is me unexpunged. It takes a lot of courage and strength to do something that has been so unexplored,” Bhansali said.
Padmavati to travel to Italy, Brazil, and India– In fact, following the success of the opera at the Chatelet Theatre, Padmavati is now set to travel to Italy in a month’s time and then to Brazil. Talks are also on with the Indian government, and if everything goes well, the opera will reach here later this year.