WHEN Black was released on February 4, 2005, it broke all the Bollywood rules and still became a blockbuster success. The Sanjay Leela Bhansali directed drama about a deaf and blind woman, and her relationship with an elderly teacher, who later develops Alzheimer’s disease won critical acclaim and multiple awards.
The technically innovative masterpiece also had stand-out performances from the lead cast, visual mastery, path-breaking sound design and raised the levels of filmmaking in commercial Hindi cinema.
Rani Mukerji delivered a career-best performance, and starred opposite Amitabh Bachchan, who had said of Black: “A movie way ahead of its time. Every dialogue, every instance in the movie was so beautifully crafted, that it has engraved its existence in everyone’s heart, including mine.”
Eastern Eye marks 18 years of Black with 18 interesting facts connected to it.
1. Bhansali got the idea for Black in the early 1990s while making his first film Khamoshi: The Musical (1996). The failure of his directorial debut, which also dealt with disability, meant he put Black on the backburner.
2. Yesteryear actor Kumar Gaurav had registered the film title Black but gave it to Bhansali because he thought the film was bold and pathbreaking. The producer-director thanked him in the credits.
3. Bhansali denied allegations the film was a copy of The Miracle Worker (1962) or the Gujarati play Aatam Vinjhe Paankh inspired by that movie.
4. Mukerji was initially reluctant to take on the lead role because it was so challenging, but the belief Bhansali had convinced her. She had said: “I was quite intimidated actually at first, but it was entirely Sanjay’s belief in me as an actor and in himself as a director that helped us make Black.”
5. Amitabh Bachchan didn’t charge a fee for Black because he was impressed with the story and wanted to work with Bhansali. He said being part of the project was sufficient fees, and explained: “To be frank, I would have said ‘yes’ even without listening to the script.”
6. Kareena Kapoor Khan was considered for Bhansali’s films Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Devdas before eventually being offered the lead role in Black, but she rejected the offer. She would later turn down the director’s movie Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013) as well.
7. Alia Bhatt had auditioned for the child’s role in Black as a nine-year-old but was unsuccessful. She finally worked with Bhansali, playing the title role in Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022).
8. Bachchan and Mukerji both studied a specific kind of sign language for about seven months before the start of the shoot. Mukerji also had to learn Braille.
9. Mukerji hid her green eyes behind dark tinted contact lenses for the movie. She did not use any make-up and would need just 15 minutes each day to get ready before filming.
10. Ranbir Kapoor and Sonam Kapoor worked on Black as assistant directors because they wanted Bhansali to cast them in a movie. He would launch them both as leads in his next film Saawariya (2007).
11. A key duty Ranbir had was training young actress Ayesha Kapur for her role and making sure she was ready for each scene. He also acted as a body double for Bachchan in a scene when the actor was not available.
12. The entire team went to Simla to shoot in snow, which was essential to the story. When it
didn’t snow, kilograms of salt and a snow machine were used for the effect. Days after the unit left it snowed heavily. A separate challenge the unit had to overcome was when a massive fire broke out on the set.
13. It took around 100 days to film Black. Bhansali drew inspiration from Bollywood classic Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) while shooting and used black as a predominant colour in the set design, lighting scheme and costume.
14. While she could find a way to improve other performances, Mukerji has said that Black is one she couldn’t repeat again because magic happened during the shooting of the film, and she was immersed in its whole world.
15. The film’s art director Omung Kumar would make his directorial debut with 2014 film Mary Kom, which was produced by Bhansali. The film’s costume designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee has become a world-famous name in high fashion. The film’s sound designer Resul Pookutty would win an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire (2008).
16.Black has 23 songs, but only one, Haan Maine Chukar Dekha Hai, has lyrics, which were by Prasoon Joshi.
17.Black was remade in Turkish as Benim Dünyam (2013) but caused controversy because the remake rights had reportedly not been officially purchased.
18.Black broke records at the Filmfare Awards by winning all 11 of its nominations. It won three National Awards, including Best Feature Film in Hindi and Best Actor (Bachchan). It would win over 60 awards in total. It remains a classic and deserves the biggest salute.