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72nd Birthday Interview MAHESH BHATT

“I AM ALLERGIC TO STARS”

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MAHESH BHATT tells JYOTHI VENKATESH

On Sunday September 20, Mahesh Bhatt celebrated his grand 72nd birthday. To wish him a happy birthday belatedly, we at bollyy.com and Mayapuri set out to reproduce an interview of MAHESH BHATT by JYOTHI VENKATESH which appeared in Sunday Mid-Day dt May 20, 1984, exactly 36 years ago.

After Arth, Mahesh Bhatt has shot into prominence, almost overnight. And people who had written him off as a third grade flop filmmaker are thronging at his residence to get him to direct their films. Because Arth is a hit, people have forgotten his earlier super duper flops like Manzilein Aur Bhi Hain, Vishwasghaat, Naya Daur and Lahu Ke Do Rang. That’s show- business for you.

Right now, Mahesh is in the thick of his latest venture Saaraansh which he has just completed for Rajshris. The film Saaraansh stars Anupam Kher and Rohini Hattangadi in the main leads with Soni Razdan, Nilu Phule and Madan Jain in the supporting roles.

The film probes the psyche of an old couple who lose their only son in a mugging incident in the US. How the couple reconcile themselves to reality forms the crux of the film. “I gathered momentum to make Saaraansh when I saw U.G. Krishnamurthy’s son die of cancer in Switzerland. His girlfriend Audrey was very attached to him”, says Mahesh.

I was sitting for this interview with Mahesh Bhatt at his Bandra flat one evening when he polished off and also offered me a couple of scotch ,with which he is very fond of.

(NOTE: Just as he had given up directing films after Aashiqui only to return to direction with his latest Sadak 2, he has given up drinking for the past two decades)

“I conceived the character of B. V. Pradhan played by Anupam Kher keeping U G Krishnamurthy in mind. And Audrey is played by Rohini Hattangadi. I decided to do away with the character of the girl friend and conceived the character of the mother.”

As he admits it himself, Mahesh has this “intuitive knack for casting and doesn’t normally labor much”.”Before Arth was released, Anupam Kher had walked into my house and asked me to consider a suitable role for him. When I conceived the character of Pradhan, I knew instinctively that Anupam Kher alone would suit it, though I had planned to make the same film with Sanjeev Kumar, instead of a new actor like Anupam Kher. I had seen Nilu Phule in Pinjra and cast him as the scheming and shrewd politician in my film Saransh.”

How did he convince the Rajshris to accept the challenge of making Saransh? “Believe it or not, when I went to Rajbabu of Rajshris to narrate the subject, I didn’t have the script written on paper. I just had my belief in the subject”, Mahesh replies.

However, Mahesh frankly concedes that the Rajshris agreed to make the film only after Arth was pronounced a hit. He is all praise for the Rajshris. “A film like Saransh could be made only by a production house which has full control over the marketing of the film. In India, only the Rajshris have such a network. If they hadn’t come forward to make the film, I do not think I would have dared to make an offbeat non mainstream film like Saaraansh.”

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 According to Mahesh, young filmmakers should “use established organizations like the Rajshris to make good films and usher in good cinema. “I preferred to use Rajshris because I feel NFDC is more in awe of celebrities than even the Rajshris”, he says.

“I am allergic to stars”, Mahesh declares grandiosely. The Rajshris wanted Sanjeev Kumar to play the character of B.V.Pradhan. But tell me how can you make a film like Saaraansh with a busy star like Sanjeev Kumar in a short span of two or three months? We launched Saaraansh in January with Anupam Kher in place of Sanjeev Kumar after Anupam barged into my house one evening and threatened to go away from Bombay with his bag and baggage if I did not have confidence in him to cast him in Saaransh and opted for a star like Sanjeev Kumar We launched Saaransh with Anupam Kher and completed the film within just three months and the film was ready for release”

Mahesh doesn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade. “All these so-called pseudo intellectual art filmmakers who deride commercial mainstream cinema  like Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal etc cannot  make a so called art film without casting  either a Smita Patil or a Shabana Azmi  in it. They have absolutely no guts to cast rank new faces. I feel that only mainstream Cinema can infuse a new breath of life into films.”

“Money has ceased to attract me. What attracts me is not what the producer pays me but what kind of subject he is interested in making with me. These days I am full of Saransh. It has taken away a lot from me. I think of Saaraansh and sleep and dream of Saransh all the time,” exults Mahesh Bhatt.

Mahesh is confident of the success of his film Saaraansh. “In the history of cinema, films which are ‘the first of its kind’ have always made an impact at the box office. For example films like Shankarabharanam, Ek Duuje Ke Liye, Arth etc. Take the case of my own film Arth. Though the plot was one with which the audience was familiar over the years, what made Arth radically different was its different and shocking end. Saaraansh is also the first of its kind of genre. The flavor is Indian and all the characters face problems typical to Bombay”

The film Saaraansh looks at the side of an old couple, a subject not normally dealt with in mainstream Indian films, especially Hindi Cinema. In the pattern of a crime thriller, Saaraansh evolves slickly from the depressed B.V. Pradhan played by newcomer Anupam Kher contemplating suicide till he achieves his goal in the end. After B.V. Pradhan achieves his mission, he gracefully withdraws from the scene.