BLAST FROM THE PAST — MAHESH BHATT: “If I Overdramatize My Life, It’s Just My Insecurity Crying For Attention.”

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Intense, intellectual, unpredictable, MAHESH BHATT stands out in the industry only because he is too much of a dramebaaz to be ignored. Though he is better known by the company he keeps (Vinod Khanna, Shabana Azmi, Parveen Babi, etc.), Mahesh proves in our COURT MARTIAL that he is more a man of his own convictions than a chamcha!

Why do you have such an overrated opinion of your talent, considering you haven’t given a single hit film to date? Isn’t it ridiculous for you to have a superiority complex and run down other more successful directors?

True, I haven’t made a single worthwhile film to date. I’m not saying this just because an artiste is never supposed to be satisfied – that’s bullshit. My films were bad – it’s a fact I admit readily. But if someone says I don’t know my job, I beg your pardon.  I am superior to many directors who are successful today. I genuinely feel superior – they also feel that about me. I run down certain successful directors for the kind of films they make. I respect other successful directors and have tried to learn from them to enhance my own superiority. So now, I am at par with them. Look, the fact that I have survived in spite of my flops, shows that people believe there is something in this joker. I keep getting work all the time, yet I’ve never gone to any producer for films.

Are you jealous of Raj Sippy because he beat you and became a superstar director after just one film Inkaar, while you have remained a nobody all these years?

I am not jealous of Raj Sippy. I haven’t even seen his film Inkaar. I know him, but I’m not friendly with him. The only man I am jealous of is Govind Nihalani. Look at the guts he had, to make a film like Aakrosh, and he has really made a very good one for a first film. I too had a daring subject for my first film Manzilein Aur Bhi Hain, but that was not a patch on Govind’s film. It was more a rebellion of an adolescent, an amateur dabbling with a sensational film. Maybe after my fourteenth or fifteenth film, I’ll come up to Govind’s standard. I’m really fed up of being a nobody. Maybe I’ll make some headway with Arth. This is probably the first film in which I’ve felt absolutely involved and driven myself to make it as best as I can.

Industrywallas insist that you live off your friends (Shabana Azmi, Vinod Khanna, Sanjeev Kumar, Kabir Bedi, etc.) Do you deliberately make friends with the big stars so that you can ‘use’ them in your films?

People become friends in the course of working together. I met Kabir for the first time when we started Manzilein Aur Bhi Hain, and over a period of time, we became friends. I never knew Sanjeev before we made Vishwaasghat or Vinod Khanna before Lahu Ke Do Rang. I made Naya Daur with Rishi Kapoor, but for Ab Meri Baari, it was the producer who approached him, not me. Yes, I have exploited my relationship with Shabana for Arth, but I feel that the exploitation is mutual because she is getting as much out of the film. I have exploited Smita (Patil) (who I didn’t know before I signed her) by getting her to give me preference of dates, time, and accepting the role for a nominal amount of money. In that sense, I’ve also exploited my assistants, my technicians and got them to do the film for less. It wouldn’t have been possible to make Arth otherwise. I am experimenting with this film, and I’ve assured my producer that his stakes will be safe. I didn’t want to burden the film with extra expenses. I don’t do this with any other film, not even with my brother’s film Ab Meri Baari, which is a multi-starrer and will run up the usual costs. But whatever I did was necessary for Arth and it’s not going into my pockets, since I’m not the producer of the film. But why does everyone look at the word ‘use’ so negatively? Don’t we know that people always use each other? Whatever you are in life, is because of the help, advice, etc.,  you receive from others. Our whole social structure is based on that. It’s not wrong. I love making films with friends. Even they love making films with me. It’s wonderful to work in an atmosphere of trust.

Isn’t it ironical that the only film you tried to make with non-friends (Ab Meri Baari) is stuck? Has the delay to do with the reported bad vibes between you and Rekha? Do you resent that she makes it obvious that she doesn’t have too much confidence in you?

Ab Meri Baari is not stuck – it is 12 reels ready. The delay in the film is because it’s difficult to get the combination of dates from Rekha, Dev Anand, and Rishi Kapoor who are busy stars. A couple of schedules were cancelled because the producer hadn’t properly committed the dates with Dev Anand. Then, there were certain financial hassles, quite usual in the industry, and which I have no way of manipulating. Other than that, I’ve had no problems from any of the stars. I am very fond of Rekha. I’ve heard her say she enjoys working with me. And I with her. She isn’t worried about whether she will stand out in my film – she comes out a live-wire! Whoever has seen the film, is raving over her. Rekha is one star I can relate to – I mean, in the sense of getting an intuitive kind of response and performance out of her. I would put her on par with Shabana and Smita, or perhaps slightly higher than them. Shabana and Smita have always worked with sensitive people, but not much has been demanded of Rekha as an actress. That’s why, when she gives off such a spontaneous response, it has greater value. I’d love to work with Rekha again, but she’s too busy now…

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Is Rishi Kapoor playing difficult with Ab Meri Baari because he resents your recent raves over Kumar Gaurav, Sunjay Dutt and Raj Kiran? Is it true that Rishi wanted to do Raj Kiran’s role in Arth?

I haven’t raved over Gaurav or Sunjay – I haven’t even seen their films. But yes, I do rave over Raj Kiran. He has a screen presence and I think he is a very potent actor. If Rishi is cut up, that’s his own insecurity. These boys are the new stars today, and producers come to me with their names. I like the quality of Sunjay’s personality. I’ve met Gaurav a few times and found him very mature. He’s not the sweet boy of Love Story. In these few meetings, I’ve got to know him more than I know Rishi with who I’ve worked. Rishi and I don’t have a social kind of relationship (we don’t visit each other’s homes, go out together), but we work well together. He has never given me any problems. Raj Kiran’s role in Arth is not in keeping with Rishi’s temperament or status. Arth is a small film.

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Wasn’t it childish of you and Vinod Khanna to blame Rajneesh for the split in your relationship? What really went wrong between you two?

Vinod has played a very significant role in my life. He is the only friend who has stood by me in my moments of crisis – silently, and without saying a word about it afterwards. Even now, I open up totally with him; I fall back on him for support. He is like an elder brother. Previously, we had a common obsession – Rajneesh. But once I left Rajneesh, our obsessions drifted apart. There was a little hostility between us, but it was entirely from my side. Vinod kept quoting the words and ideology of Rajneesh. Otherwise, we are as friendly as before, share the same warmth; he still drops in at my place whenever he feels like. I love the man.

Is it true that after the flop of Vishwaasghat, Sanjeev Kumar felt you’d let him down in your direction, and decided to cut off all ties – professional and personal – with you? Did you feel humiliated when he rejected all your subsequent offers?

Sanjeev has a peculiar lifestyle (he wakes up late, works late, etc,) and that’s the only reason we don’t meet often. I’d planned another film with him, but it didn’t materialize. However, Sanjeev did not lose trust in me despite the flop of Vishwaasghat. In fact, he still speaks very well of me as a director, and his words have great value for me because they’re responsible for my survival in the industry. All the actors I’ve worked with, have, in an indirect way, helped me stay afloat in the industry. They’ve been very encouraging mouthpieces.

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What were you trying to prove when you boldly admitted to having had an ‘intimate’ relationship with Kabir Bedi? Are you aware that now people view all your relationships with men in a peculiar light?

Look, a reporter asked me if my relationship with Kabir could be viewed in terms of homosexuality. I said, maybe. If he wanted to look at it that way, that was his problem. A psychiatrist says that all relationships between two men are homosexual! If you asked me specifically if I had a physical relationship with Kabir, the answer is no. He is a lovely person, I love him – but I love Vinod the same way too. If anyone wants to play psychiatrist and find out whether there’s a latent homosexual in me that’s coming to the fore – that’s his problem!

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Tina Munim was overheard saying, ‘Mahesh Bhatt simply can’t make a film without Shabana Azmi!’ Why are you so obsessed with Ms. Azmi? Insiders declare that you encourage her to be your alter ego (i.e. rave over you, quote you on every topic under the sun) because you want to build up an image as her mentor-philosopher-guide!

I am obsessed with Shabana Azmi because she’s a friend, a contemporary, and our sensibilities match on an intuitive level. I feel a great sense of ease with her; and she, with me. I don’t deny that I capitalise on her and use her for my ends. But if anyone should object to it, it should be Shabana herself, not anybody else. Besides, if I have a role in mind, why shouldn’t I go for the best? Shabana won’t do a film she doesn’t believe in. But if she does believe in it, she gives everything she has. Why shouldn’t I use that for my film? I have known Shabana for about seven-eight years, ours is not an overnight friendship. I don’t know if she quotes me to others, but I’m definitely not her guide or anything. That’s too huge a role for me. Her people at home, her girlfriends can fulfil that role in her life. But yes, she does open her heart out to me, I open up to her – it’s a very natural kind of a friendship. Our relationship is being talked about more than in the past, because we are working together in Arth and also the spotlight is on Shabana these days. But I was always there with her, even before the spotlight!

Do you fancy yourself a ladies’ man? You got the maximum publicity out of your affair with Parveen Babi, first as her spokesman, and now by playing the strong, silent type. Do you want to keep the publicity alive by insisting you don’t want to talk about her?

I have as many men friends as women. But women do feel more easy with me, and I with them. I also feel easy with men, but with certain kind of men who understand me. I have never given a thought to whether I’m a ladies’ man or if I want to be that. I don’t feel particularly thrilled to hear that women like me. I’ve never been linked with any women, except Parveen Babi. I did get a lot of publicity out of it. My refusal to speak any more on the subject is because there is nothing left to be said. Everything is finished. It shows an acute lack of imagination on the part of the press that instead of thinking of new ways to fill up their columns, they are going on and on with the same thing. I have to put a stop to it.

Are you trying to get your own back at her for ditching you after her return to normalcy, by spreading the story that Parveen hasn’t recovered completely? Isn’t it unfair of you to deliberately spoil her successful comeback?

It is unfair in the light of what it will do to her profession. But if what I’m saying reaches her, it will be for her own good. It’ll teach her to be cautious. Recovery from what she has been through is possible, but the chances of it repeating itself are quite high. This is not my opinion, it’s the opinion of the entire medical science, and Mahesh Bhatt is only voicing it. Producers who are scared of even the remotest possibility of it happening again, are the ones who say I am anti-her. I’m just trying to instil a sense of caution that will be good for her and for the people with her.

Do you in retrospect, feel ashamed/guilty of the advantage you took of your wife’s love for you, during your relationship with Parveen? Do you regret that your little daughter has matured before her time and hates the very mention of Parveen’s name?

Hate is a very strong emotion for a child. More likely, my daughter resents Parveen because she knows that phase was not a very comfortable phase in the life of her parents. In a situation like this, it’s natural that her loyalties are with her mother. But she hasn’t become over-mature. Her resentment arises out of a child-like embarrassment she feels when anyone talks about what happened. I agree I have taken advantage of my wife, I’ve not been fair to her. I have been an irresponsible husband and father. But I don’t want to destroy our relationship. I am trying to erase the wounds, though not with a guilt-ridden attitude which, if anything, will end up ruining it altogether. I view myself as a family man, which I once thought was a very traditional way of looking at things. I’ve tried to do the opposite and paid heavily for it. Perhaps it was essential for me to go through the whole thing to give myself the sense of rest, the quality of maturity I feel now. It’s said that the end of all illusion is marriage, when a man comes to terms with reality. I am accepting my responsibility towards my wife, my daughter and my home. I spend more time at home these days, I work here. I’m not trying to play the lovey-dovey husband, nor is this a happily-ever-after sort of thing. We are leading an ordinary life, but I am happy to be back home!

Close friends insist that you are desperate to be an actor and so you overdramatize every incident  in your life to vent your frustrations. Do you know how much panic it causes when you stage one of your periodic ‘I’m dying’ scenes?

My wife and my friend U. G. Krishnamurthi, tell me that I should be an actor, but I personally feel that acting is too difficult a job for me. I can’t do it. If I overdramatize my life, it’s just my insecurity crying for attention. I love attention, and so far, I’ve succeeded in getting it whenever I’ve been dramatic.

FAST FORWARD

Mahesh Bhatt turned his life around with Arth, becoming a hit director. He continued to create waves with his words and his films, over the next decade. He hung up his directorial boots too soon, maybe he will still pick them up one day. After divorcing Kiran, the mother of his children Pooja and Rahul, he married Soni Razdan, who gave him Shireen and Alia. Pooja became a director after some years as an actress. Mahesh remains a maverick talker and achiever. His notable films were Arth, Saraansh, Ashiqui, Daddy, Sadak, Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin. Naam, Gumraah, Criminal, Hum Hai Raahi Pyaar Ke, and more. Unconventional, outspoken and very real, Mahesh always loved drama and lived drama. He is a fabulous teller of tales and his films always hit home. He turned producer along with his brother Mukesh and they have been producing a host of small budget films over the last two decades, with new directors and actors (mostly extended family), with Mahesh at the helm, but taking a backseat where the public face is concerned. His current pride and joy must be watching the take-off of his wee little one – Alia, as she flies the skies solo, finding her place in the sun…

Contributed by Suguna Sundaram