Wild child of films

Wild child of films

Wild child of films

He is known for his realistic approach to films, which are a mix of commercial and art. Rajiv Vijayakar talks to filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who has tasted both failure & success, and continues to be a force to be reckoned with...

As the creative brain behind Vishesh Films, he has overviewed an array of films since 2001, giving his inputs on every aspect from concept to music, introducing a bevy of new talents in all fields from direction and acting to singers and technicians.

His banner, co-owned by his brother Mukesh Bhatt, has released Citylights recently, a realistic and critically-appreciated film that was lauded by a niche audience.

And coming up are variegated movies from a stable that has given winning cinematic horses like Aashiqui, Jannat and their sequels and the Raaz and Murder franchises, besides Sadak, Kasoor, Gangster, Zeher and Kalyug. He has also written his daughter Pooja’s hit Jism.

A balancing act

This strange mix of commerce and art reflects Bhatt’s persona. “I learnt direction on the job — stumbling, fumbling, failing and faltering,” he recalls.

“My first film was bold. It was about two criminals on the run and their encounter with a prostitute. It jolted the propagated and postured values of those times and was banned.

It was said to have subverted the institution of marriage. But I failed to understand how sex can be morally wrong and suddenly become right after marriage.”

After some commercial potboilers like Lahu Ke Do Rang, Bhatt found a niche in the early ‘80s with the semi-autobiographical Arth as well as Saaransh and Janam, which sent his reputation soaring as a sensitive filmmaker.

Bluntly, Bhatt declares, “My father, Nanabhai Bhatt, had made small-budget action dramas and devotionals. So I never deluded myself that I was not a product of mainstream cinema, because I was,” says Bhatt of this phase.

“I had now become a successful poor man struggling to make ends meet while maintaining the so-called purity of cinema.”

His searing Naam (1986) took him on a high, but was followed by a mediocre run. “I learnt a lot from the phase, which included making what I call my ‘expensive art film’ Kaash, which flopped, as did the 1990 Daddy.

It was a new India where it was necessary to dumb down the content and make simpler films like Aashiqui, Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin, Sadak, Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke, Gumrah and Sir.

So I decided not to pander to those who wanted me to make pure or intellectual cinema.”
However, Bhatt did not find work fun anymore. As he admits, “I soon became so apathetic that I left directing films to my assistants, and faced failure again.

Thankfully, I redeemed myself with Zakham, my last film as a director that won a National award, and my last release Kartoos, which did average business. Now I see the same sensitivity I had in Arth and Saaransh in Hansal Mehta, who has directed Citylights.”

Over the decades, the filmmaker has done much more than writing and directing movies.

He has written books and columns, acted in a couple of films, and has been a social activist who voices his frank and fearless — and often radical — opinions on everything from films and sex to marriage, politics and more.

Bhatt’s family in films includes elder daughter Pooja Bhatt, his actress-filmmaker second wife Soni Razdan, and her daughter Alia Bhatt.

His extended family includes the late character artiste Purnima, nephews in directors Mohit Suri and Vishesh Bhatt, Emraan Hashmi and niece Smilie Suri.

So what makes Bhatt a trendsetter still, be it in films or music? “We have to be in sync with changes and a filmmaker must deconstruct himself every few years,” he replies.

“Instead of smugness, there must be a humility to not be inward-looking, but to look around and reshape one’s views, interact with young people and get into other spaces to keep the mind fresh and contemporary. When jaded expectations are there, rot sets in.”

He goes on with his trademark intensity: “Something that has never changed for me is my thirst to engage with life wholeheartedly. I would rather be playing on the crease, wholeheartedly again, by giving platforms for the young to do what they want to do. I have absorbed things in life from multiple spaces. But my advice or suggestions, based on my balcony view of ideas by others, are there if they need them.”

Critical approach

Coming up from Vishesh Films is a 3D thriller Mr X, directed by protégé Vikram Bhatt, and starring Emraan Hashmi and Amyra Dastur. “We have shot lavishly in Africa and Vikram is the perfect man at the helm as he knows the language of digital technology. This is our tent-pole thriller now,” he says.

Another project is Mohit Suri’s Hamari Adhuri Kahani, starring Vidya Balan, Emraan Hashmi and Rajkummar Rao, which is a love saga, while the third film is Khamoshiyaan — When Silences Speak, which introduces Sapna and television sensation Gurmeet Choudhury (in a negative role) with Ali Fazal. Karan Bara makes his directorial debut.

Bhatt has repeatedly stated in the last decade and more that Vishesh Films has made it a policy never to work with stars. He recently expanded this rule to his daughter Alia too, as she is now a star. Then why is he working with Vidya and Emraan?

“I said that we will not seek out stars, because stars have their own rhythm, their own calendar,” he says.

“We have no issues if a star wants to work with us, at our rhythm and within our timeframes. We will not go out of our way to fall in line with a star.”

Explains Bhatt: “Vidya is not a normal star, in the sense that she does every kind of film. After Aashiqui 2, she was actually sweet enough to tell Mohit that the film had a lot of heart and added that she was keen to do a film with him. We thought that the emotional quotient and Indianness of the character she is doing suited her a lot.”

Emraan, he insists, is more of an in-house boy.

“He has had most of his biggest successes so far with us and we don’t consider him a star in that sense. In fact, we regret not casting him in Murder 3 because we now realise that he is an established part of the franchise. Yes, the film itself had only a niche appeal — we had taken the rights of a Spanish film, in which the girls were strong characters, not the hero. But now that we are scripting Raaz 4 and planning Murder 4, we will also have the collective might of Emraan with us again.”

He admits that if circumstances are favourable, Alia will definitely be a part of a future film.

So, why was she not cast in Aashiqui 2 itself when she was not a star at all? “It did cross my mind to cast her,” Bhatt admits.

“But Shraddha Kapoor had that more Marathi feel that the heroine’s character needed, because her mother is a Maharashtrian and she has been brought up within that culture.”
What has been his involvement in wife Soni’s and daughter Pooja’s films?

“Let me tell you that both Soni and Pooja are both fiercely individualistic,” Bhatt says.

“Soni is now directing Love Affair for Pooja as producer. It will feature a major actress from the US, whom we will announce grandly soon. As Soni’s husband and Pooja’s father, I am always available to them for suggestions.”

Finally, is there anything that he specially overviews in Vishesh Films’ ventures?

“I have a deep understanding of the music space, especially the lyrics on which I work hands-on with writers,” he reveals.

“I know what kind of words and thought structures go into lyrics, having worked with masters of music like Raj Khosla on Do Raaste and Mera Gaon Mera Desh.”