The wait for Heeramandi: The Diamond Bazaar is over; ace Bollywood filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali's stunning magnum opus is now available to stream on Netflix. Featuring all elements of a SLB project - the massive sets, heavy outfits, jewellery, and what not - the show stars Manisha Koirala, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditi Rao Hydari, Richa Chadha, Sharmin Segal, Sanjeeda Sheikh, and Taaha Shah in lead roles. Fardeen Khan, Shekhar Suman, and Adhyayan Suman also star in the series.

The ladies play the 'tawaifs' of Heeramandi, a courtesan district in pre-independence Lahore, and the gents play the nawabs. Love, power, and the struggle for independence from British Raj are all central to the plot.

In a Zoom conversation, we catch up with Sonakshi, Aditi, Richa, and Sharmin to discuss the grand series.

We're aware of Sanjay's magic on the big screens, it is evident in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), Devdas (2002), Ram Leela (2013), Padmaavat (2018), and Gangubai Kathiawadi (2022) to name a few. Heeramandi, however, is a longer-form content portrayed through eight episodes. Few of the cast members have had the opportunity to work with Sanjay on previous projects, and those who haven't, have surely witnessed the magic play out on the big screens.

So how is Heeramandi different, we ask.

Sonakshi, who has never done a film with Sanjay, said, "the experience is like being a part of two or three movies together."

The director is known to thrive on spontaneity and magic, and to align the intuition of an actor with his own. Sharmin, who has assisted Sanjay in one of his films, points out a difference. "He adapts to the format of the series," she said. "In a series, you have to make sure you're doing justice to your character arcs, so I actively saw him making a big effort to adapt to the format. He's used to shooting over long periods of time; he shoots one movie over a year and a half, and in Heeramandi, we had to shoot eight 'Sanjay Leela Bhansali' movies in the same amount of time. He really stretched and pushed himself to retain his excellence, but also adapted to a series format."

Aditi concurs and adds, "It is like Sanjay sir on steroids." She first heard about Heeramandi when she had arrived in Mumbai as the project's inception dates back to 18 years ago. "I heard Moin Beg had this script which Sanjay sir liked very much," Aditi said. "He wanted to make it into a film and I was dying to be a part of it because it was so much about music and dance, but I didn't have high hopes because he doesn't even know me."

She goes on to add Sanjay's love for this particular world (of Heeramandi) and how he treats his female characters with dignity. "He understands what a courtesan is all about," Aditi said. "And the knowledge he has about classical art and dance helps him bring all of it nicely in one show, all while exploring human emotions. I am just a Sanjay sir fangirl."

For Richa, whose previous outing was as Bholi Punjaban in Fukrey 3, it is such a different take. She calls it funny, the character contrast, adding, "It is unbelievable to be a part of this world and I think there's no one better in India to do it than Mr. Bhansali. To bring dignity, culture, and love in the gaze for each and every character, even the so-called dark ones, is simply brilliant. We're all lucky to be a part of this."

Sonakshi, too, feels her character is very different to the ones she has previously portrayed. "After what I've seen on screen, I can say that as an actor, I am truly satisfied," she said. "And only he (Sanjay) can do something like this; visually and emotionally stimulate people, and keep them on the edge of their seats as to what's going to happen next."

Viewers can find Heeramandi to be quite daring with its dialogues, scenes, and setting. It is because Sanjay loves to have an impact, Sonakshi says, "Right from the candle stand in the frame to what the actors are wearing, the curtains and dialogues, everything has an impact on you. Only a genius can do something of this scale and Sanjay sir is that genius."

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