The filmmaker said in the upcoming Netflix series he has tried to capture the nuances which were highlighted in "Mughal-E-Azam", directed by K Asif, and Kamal Amrohi's "Pakeezah". In both the films, the leading ladies Madhubala and Meena Kumari played the role of courtesans.
"'Heeramandi' has nuances which you feel are found in the great Kamal Amrohi's 'Pakeezah'. 'Heeramandi' is my tribute to the great 'Mughal-e-Azam', 'Pakeezah' and Mehboob Khan sahab's 'Mother India'," Bhansali said here at an in conversation session with Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos.
The ace filmmaker said iconic Indian directors Raj Kapoor, Yash Chopra, Mehboob Khan, Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt and V Shantaram have inspired him to weave stories around women.
"They told beautiful women stories. They understood that she is the creator of man, therefore she needs to be given a place in literature, cinema and art. They always told stories of women, they were not necessarily telling stories of men.
"So if there is a Bajirao, there is also Mastani for me. If there was no Padmavati who would hold the fort, fight and go into fire, I wouldn't have made that film," he said.
The director further said his filmography is filled with strong women characters -- from Annie in "Khamoshi: The Musical", to Nandini in "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam" and Michelle in "Black".
Set against the tumultuous backdrop of the Indian freedom struggle of the 1940s, "Heeramandi" explores the cultural reality of a dazzling district, through the stories of courtesans and their patrons.
The show features Manisha Koirala, Sonakshi Sinha, Aditi Rao Hydari, Richa Chadha, Sharmin Segal and Sanjeeda Sheikh.
Bhansali believes there is no such thing as "perfect cast" for him and he follows his instincts.
"They are not perfect for the characters. And because they are not perfect, it was so exciting to find and discover how they are going to interpret the role. So, I like to discover a 'perfect cast' as I tell the story. I have cast these women because I always wanted to work with them and they are wonderful talent. They can do anything," he added.
Sarandos, who along with Bhansali unveiled the first look of "Heeramandi", praised the Indian filmmaker for his ability to find a balance between "style, drama and substance".
"When I think of your career... about 'Silence' ('Khamoshi'), 'Black', 'Gangubai Kathiawadi', and now 'Heeramandi', they are all widely different worlds that you are building. Your ability to find that right balance between style, drama and substance and how you move a story is unique.
"The images that you put on screen and the way they move you emotionally, sometimes it is a tiny dance step and sometimes it is in line of dialogue, it is subtle and unbelievably impactful. You seem to invest a lot in the little moments of emotion. It is a beautiful art form," the executive said.
He added that excitement around the show is "thrilling" and they are looking forward to introduce the global audience to the world of "Heeramandi".
At the event, hosted by Mini Mathur, Bhansali was asked about being called a taskmaster by one of his leading ladies Hydari and the director said it is more of an image created by the media.
"There is no taskmaster... The media has built the image and these people go and spread it to the world that I am tough to work with and temperamental, but no. They call me a taskmaster because I will not let them go till we find that 'moment'."
A filmmaker is always insecure, said Bhansali, adding that it is the uncertainty of the profession which drives him to do his best and work harder.
"I always think, 'Will I get it right?'. Like, I got 'Gangubai Kathiawadi' right but will I get 'Heeramandi' right?' So I worked harder. I want to keep giving my best to the audience, who I love immensely, till the day they tell me to shut up," he added.
The show will soon premiere on Netflix.