mahesh bhatt in hindu


-Anuj Kumar
From master of soul curry to purveyor of carnal potpourri, Mahesh Bhatt has come a long way
Once upon a time Mahesh Bhatt defined subversion in Hindi film industry but in the last few years the enfant terrible of Bollywood seems to have conformed to the needs of the market. Once he caressed the wounds of soul, found new meaning in man-woman relationships, today he panders to the baser instincts. He might have said good bye to direction but he remains the voice of Vishesh Films. Recently he wrote Jism 2 for his daughter Pooja Bhatt and in a few weeks from now he will be presenting another sequel of Raaz. He still makes a lot of sense on social platforms and his steamy flicks make a lot of money at the box office but it is hard to find a connect between the two Bhatts. One appeals to mind while the other seems to be after the easily-stirred parts of the body.
“In 2000, after I gave up direction and Indian economy had opened, all kind of international content had begun to pour into our homes so much so that even the tribals of Bastar could watch Star World. The emotional images and sound consumption which were very middle class and austere were replaced by very luscious and erotic images. I felt that the world has changed but the Hindi film industry has not. That’s when we introduced films like Raaz, Jism and Murder. The business proposition was clear in our minds. Hollywood had already gone through the erotic thriller phase,” he confesses.
He reminds that the banner had not given up on diversity all of a sudden. “Pooja has only one hit in the last decade and that is Jism. She made Holiday, a story of middle class and not so good looking girl. She made Dhoka, which pointed out how state could behave like a terrorist. It was perhaps the first film where a Muslim protagonist had said, ‘you have cheated the Muslims of India.’ Why does a section of society come and ask questions when all that the majority wants is instant gratification. ”
Bhatt holds that you can’t entrust the task of leading a lost generation on filmmakers. He underlines that he refused be straitjacketed even in the 80s. “I made Saraansh and then immediately followed it with Naam. People commented, oh! you are selling out your soul. The problem of cultural czars is that they want I should be only their dog, singing their song according to their likes and dislikes. The moment I start to sing to a population which has alternative tastes they think it is deterioration. In the Centenary year of Hindi cinema why the stunt films that my father (Nanabhai Bhatt) made should not be celebrated. Why Homi Wadia’s work should be ignored? They entertained the people of India, the rickshaw puller, the poor farmer. Is it just because the museum keys are in the hands of people, who have a particular colonised taste?” Bhatt asks.
He alleges that these are the kind of bureaucrats and politicians who had disdain for Mehboob Khan. “Because they considered him illiterate, because he didn’t speak their language.” It is this bureaucrat-led aristocracy that he holds responsible for the collapse of NFDC movement. “They made cinema which the audience could not connect with, but they gave it awards. That cinema didn’t work even for television. I have no problem with pluralism but I detest tyranny of taste. I come from a middle class background. I don’t have cultivated tastes like the great filmmakers of Europe.”
He insists nobody enters the entertainment industry for selfless service. “But if you notice the content of Jism and Raaz, it has a world view. It may be wrapped in an erotic thriller or horror but has a perception which is not borrowed from international film festivals. It is mine; it has Mahesh Bhatt’s finger prints.”
Still, at a time when the youth is going through socio-political upheaval why numb their minds with images of an adult film star. “The image of a ‘Chameli’ standing on a street corner is passé. It is a reference which has worn out. Today we have porn stars. The story was about a woman yearning for enduring love. Middle class woman might disown her but she has similar cultural aspirations, kind of hard wired in her. As for the Anna movement you are referring to, it was yet another fairytale of national awakening which has died.”
In the last few months there have been films which said something substantial. But Bhatt begs to differ. “In 1974 my first film Manzilein Aur Bhi Hain was banned for subverting the institution of marriage. At 22, I realised in India good people fall in love, bad people have sex. My heroine was in a relationship with two men. It is still not part of mainstream discourse.”
The problem, he says, lies in the hierarchy of thought that we have created. “You find the person going to the bar inferior to the person going to the temple. I see them as the same. Both are running away from the inner anguish. Both are seeking to escape from something. Both will flourish. The pursuit for enduring pleasure could either be through intellectual understanding or flesh.” Then why do most of his films conform to societal norms after intermission? “The values are so deeply structured in us that we get trapped. So every narrative moves from darkness to light.”
If he has accepted the route why doesn’t he return to the director’s chair? The ground seems to be swelling with defiant ideas. “I am done with it. The parameters of cinema are not wide enough to express my subversive nature. In my book I could stare down at things without worrying about box office repercussions. Films demand huge investments and a feel-good end and I cannot give painful truths to make money.”
At a time when his second daughter is entering the film industry, he is giving an impression that this generation doesn’t deserve him.
“I have told Alia to discover her own path. You have only two choices. Either go with the truth or stay safe with lies. All of you have chosen to stay safe with lies.”
Meanwhile, he promises to continue to write for films for a generation, which he says, still believes in fairytales.
“They want to see enduring love that justice lasts…and I am here to reinvent those fairytales put in the garb of modern cinematic idiom, till the time they like to hear the lies in an engaging way. But is this something germane to my understanding of life, I would say no. Kabir made pots. I do foolish things but that doesn’t mean I am foolish,” concludes Bhatt.

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