Devdas, Bhansali's last period film, a story of a Bengali aristocrat thwarted in love, had lavish sets and theatrical music. The filmmaker told the Times that it was this movie which attracted the renowned French theater.
"I think my operatic mode of storytelling in Devdas convinced the Th_ê¢tre du Chê¢telet to approach me," he told the paper. "Frankly, I was flattered but unsure whether I wanted to do it. After all a staged opera is an entirely different discipline from cinema. Would I be able to pull it off? I'm glad I've agreed to do it. It's a very exhilarating and exciting prospect to use my operatic vision on stage."
Another film director who has staged an opera at the Chê¢telet is Zhang Yimou, who directed the movies Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Raise the Red Lantern; he also directed Tan Dun's new opera, The First Emperor, which is currently in its world premiere run at the Metropolitan Opera. Filmmaker Anthony Minghella directed a very popular staging of Madama Butterfly for English National Opera in 2005; the Met imported the production to open its 2006-07 season. The late Robert Altman directed the world premieres two operas by William Bolcom — one of them based on Altman's film A Wedding — at Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, Los Angeles Opera has also tapped the film industry for directing talent several times: Herbert Ross staged a new production of La Bohme in 1993; Bruce Beresford directed Rigoletto in 1999; William Friedkin staged a double-bill of Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Gianni Schicchi in 2002 and returned in 2004 for Ariadne auf Naxos; Garry Marshall directed Offenbach's Grand Duchess of Gerolstein in 2005.
Not to mention the grand old man of filmmaker-opera directors, Franco Zeffirelli.
Bhansali, who is presently completing Sawariya, his latest film, is one of the most successful directors in "Bollywood," the popular name used to refer to India's enormous film industry, which is based in Bombay (currently called Mumbai).
He has reportedly long been fascinated by the opera and been interested in directing one. He told the paper, "The experience would rejuvenate me as a creative artist, help me connect with creative spaces more openly. Besides, I'm accused of being theatrical by my colleagues in India anyway!"
Nevertheless, Bhansali is apprehensive. "I'm already very nervous. It's a very lavish production, involving a huge cast and production values," he told the Times.
The story of the as yet untitled opera is a literary work by a 1920s French author; The Times of India didn't specify which one. Neither did the report name the opera's composer, and a search of the Chê¢telet's website revelaed no information about the new work at all.
Bhansali will be in Paris for three months from January of 2008 to work on the opera, which is scheduled to be staged in March.