As cinephiles, we often find ourselves being bewitched by the captivating worlds crafted by our favourite filmmakers. In the realm of visual storytelling, two maestros stand out for their expertise in the craft: Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Wes Anderson. These visionary directors have crafted cinematic universes that are nothing short of breathtaking, where every detail is meticulously thought out, and every frame is a work of art that transports us to another time and place. Their signature styles have set their films apart and given viewers the chance to bewilder by some truly artistic visual storytelling.
In both Bhansali and Anderson’s films, we can observe that architecture is not just used as a backdrop but as an integral part of the storytelling process. It is used to convey mood, themes, plot, and a sense of place, captivating and immersing the audience in the world of the film. Their attention to detail is unparalleled, and their use of architecture sets them apart as filmmakers who understand the power of design in creating memorable cinematic experiences.
Bhansali’s love of grandeur and extravagance is evident in his films, with architecture playing a pivotal role in setting a maximalist stage for his stories. His period dramas, Devdas, Bajirao Mastani, and Padmaavat, use architecture to convey themes of love, loss, societal constraints, power, and honour, transporting the audience to a bygone era of luxury and extravagance.
Bhansali’s magnum opus, Devdas, set in the 19th century, tells the story of a doomed love affair between a wealthy heir and a courtesan. Bhansali uses architecture to showcase the opulence of the film’s era and its characters. The film’s opulent sets, adorned with ornate archways and towering columns, transport us back to a bygone era of luxury and extravagance. The sprawling mansions, intricately designed courtyards, and ornate palaces showcase the brilliance of the film’s era and its characters, making the audience feel like they are part of the world of the film.
The decadent charm of Chandramukhi’s kotha, for example, is a reflection of the courtesan’s world, one that is full of beauty and luxury, but also one that is bound by societal constraints and expectations. The design of Devdas’ ancestral home is also symbolic of Devdas’ internal struggles, with the grandeur of the house contrasting with the emptiness and loneliness he feels.
One of Bhansali’s most celebrated films, Bajirao Mastani is a historical epic set in 18th century India and tells the story of the Maratha warrior, Peshwa Bajirao, and his love for the Muslim princess Mastani. The film is a visual treat, with stunning sets that capture the grandeur and richness of the era, while also conveying the emotions and struggles of the characters.
The grandeur of Bajirao’s palace, Shaniwar Wada, is a reflection of his power and status as the Peshwa, but also of his loneliness and isolation. The palace’s vast halls and ornate designs create a sense of grandeur, but also a sense of emptiness and melancholy, mirroring Bajirao’s struggle to balance his duty and his love for Mastani. The film’s architecture serves to enhance the film’s emotional impact and convey the characters’ struggles and desires. The grandeur and sumptuousness of the sets, combined with the intricate details and designs, transport us to a bygone era, while also capturing the timeless emotions of love, duty, and sacrifice. Bajirao Mastani is a visual masterpiece that uses architecture to convey the complexities of its characters and their world.
Padmaavat (2018) is another historical epic directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and is set in the 14th century, telling the story of the Rajput queen Padmavati and her beauty that becomes the subject of desire for the Mughal Emperor, Alauddin Khilji.
The Rajputana architecture in the film is a visual feast, featuring ornate forts, palaces, and temples that reflect the Rajputana culture’s grandeur and honour. The palace’s design reflects Padmavati’s character, with its graceful arches and jharokhas symbolising her grace and beauty. The Mughal architecture is depicted in a contrasting manner, with Alauddin Khilji’s palace designed to reflect his character, with its dark and foreboding interiors and aggressive architectural features.
The architecture in Padmavat serves as a visual metaphor for the film’s themes of honour, pride, and desire. Bhansali’s attention to detail and use of intricate designs transport us to the 14th century, creating a visual spectacle that enhances the film’s emotional impact and makes Padmavat a cinematic masterpiece.
On the other hand, Wes Anderson is renowned for his quirky and whimsical visual style, which is heavily influenced by the architecture of the settings he chooses. Anderson’s films have a unique visual style that blends nostalgia, quirkiness, and symmetry. His films, such as The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Royal Tenenbaums, feature pastel colours, flat camera angles, and symmetrical compositions. Anderson uses architecture to create a whimsical, dream-like world that is both nostalgic and surreal, transporting the audience to a fantasy world where everything is possible.
In his 2014 film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson created a world that was entirely his own, complete with a hotel that seemed to exist outside of time and space. The architecture in the film is central to its visual style and contributes to the overall whimsical and fantastical atmosphere. The titular hotel is a grand, ornate structure that serves as the main setting for the film. The hotel’s lobby is decorated in an opulent, Art Deco style, with chandeliers, marble columns, and intricate tilework.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is not the only film in which Anderson uses architecture to great effect, in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Wes Anderson’s signature style is on full display, with elaborate and visually striking set designs that contribute to the film’s whimsical and stylized atmosphere. The film’s setting is a large family home in New York City, which serves as a visual metaphor for the characters’ internal struggles and the fractured nature of their relationships.
The Tenenbaum family home is an expansive, three-story townhouse that is depicted in loving detail throughout the film. The interior of the house is decorated in a retro style, with bright colours, bold patterns, and eclectic decor that reflects the individual personalities of each family member. The house is also notable for its architectural quirks and idiosyncrasies, such as a secret passageway hidden behind a bookshelf, a rooftop tennis court, and a large wooden staircase that serves as a recurring visual motif throughout the film.
Beyond the Tenenbaum family home, the film also features several other visually striking locations, such as a dilapidated public school and a grand hotel that serves as the setting for the film’s climactic scene. These locations are characterised by their ornate, detailed architecture, which contributes to the film’s overall sense of whimsy and fantasy. Anderson’s attention to detail and his unique visual style contribute to the film’s overall sense of whimsy and charm, making it a beloved classic of contemporary cinema.
Another masterpiece by Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom is set in a 1960s New England island town and follows the love story of two young misfits, Sam and Suzy. The film’s architecture is a crucial element in immersing the audience in the film’s nostalgic world. The film’s production design includes vintage houses, lighthouses, and campsites that are symbolic of the characters’ sense of adventure and freedom. The symmetrical compositions, bright colours, and the use of bold patterns and textures add to the film’s whimsy and charm.
Design in cinema encompasses various elements such as space design, lighting, costumes, and more, all working together to create a cohesive and immersive world for the audience. Both Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Wes Anderson excel in utilizing these elements to transport viewers into unique cinematic experiences.
In Bhansali’s films, the production design plays a crucial role in recreating specific time periods with meticulous attention to detail. The architecture and set design are integral in establishing the setting and atmosphere of his narratives. On the other hand, Wes Anderson’s films offer an extravagant and surreal take on design. Anderson’s meticulous and symmetrical compositions, along with carefully chosen colour palettes and intricate production design, create visually stunning and highly stylized worlds.
Both directors have mastered the art of using design elements to enhance storytelling. They approach their films holistically, considering every aspect of the visual and sensory experience to create a complete world for the audience to inhabit. Whether it’s Bhansali’s luxurious and historically accurate recreations or Anderson’s whimsical and dreamlike universes, their ability to seamlessly integrate architecture, lighting, costumes, and more showcases their exceptional talent in creating unforgettable cinematic experiences.
Both Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Wes Anderson are masterful storytellers who use architecture as a powerful tool to create memorable cinematic experiences. Bhansali’s films transport the audience to a bygone era of luxury and extravagance, while Anderson’s films create whimsical and surreal worlds that are both nostalgic and surreal.