The morning of September 8(today) was rife with strong rumours about the death of the well-known and controversial director who loves controversies, Mahesh Bhatt who the rumours said had died of a massive heart attack – BY ALI PETER JOHN
I called up some common friends and they said they knew nothing about it. The rumour continued to till the daughter of Mahesh, actress, producer and director, Pooja Bhatt had to take charge of the situation and issue a statement saying that her father was fighting fit and for a change had even taken to wearing pink shoes in place of sneakers and sandals he normally wore during the last hundred years.
Knowing Mahesh as I knew him, my mind went back to the times when he ravelled in controversies when he said wild things like ‘I am a bastard’,“A man must die when his obituary value is at its best”,‘I don’t want a statue for myself because statues are only for crows and pigeons to shit on and for people to pass by without even giving the statue covered in dust a glance’.
He was at one time known for his heavy drinking sessions and his abusive and violent ways.
I was witness to the countless times when he used to hurt his hand by banging it against the wall in and then being carried home in an auto.
His daughter, Pooja had followed in her father’s footsteps and she too loved making wild statements and doing wilder things.
A photograph in which the father and daughter literally kissed each other on the lips had made it to the cover of an illustrious weekly.
She used to ask some of the best known photographers to shoot her pictures in the most shocking ways.
She once got herself photographed with her body in the nude painted in different colours and she once took one of my photographers, R. Krishna to a faraway places on the highway when there was traffic and asked him to take a picture of her lying nude on the highway.
Stories about her hitting the bottle in a big way spread like the spirit of pure alcohol and continued till she decided to give up drinking.
Mahesh had also created shock waves during the making of “Saaransh” when he separated from his first wife, turned a Muslim and married the young actress of “Saaransh”, Soni Razdan who gave up her career to be the mother their first child, who is Alia Bhatt today and all set to be Alia Kapoor with the blessings of her father.
Mahesh in one of his many moments also announced that he would not direct a film again and he would not drink alcohol again.
He has been successful in keeping his second promise made to himself, but not the first, which he has broken after twenty years and is now giving the final touches to the sequel of “Sadak”, one of the most hard-hitting films he has made in his career, with his favourite actor, Sanjay Dutt and both his daughters, Pooja and Alia…..
There was a time when I was one of the first to know of anything new that he planned to do, but like many others, he too followed the same principles of being a friend or showing respect to anyone only as long as they were of use.
He seemed to have a bout of amnesia when it came to me. And whenever he happened to bump into me at one of those rare functions, he seemed to show that he had seen a reincarnation of me and then it was just ‘hi’ and ‘bye’.
He had forgotten all the times we had spend together and all his sense and nonsense I had to tolerate because like in the case of that great poet (?) Gulzar, what he did or say to me did not matter to me in the least,as I had now grown old enough to separate the wheat from the chaff, the real from the illusion….
On the occasion of his second life today, I reproduced one of the hundreds or more pieces it had written about him more than a hundred years ago, when I think I was still sane and I was sure that he was on the brink of insanity and self-destruction….
He has already assured himself of a place in the history of Indian cinema and has earned the right and the reputation to have an entire chapter on his life and career, he could also have one of the best obituaries written about him and could perhaps even stake his claim for a chowk or a lane named after him or a statue installed in his honour, but he has gone public to say that he would prefer to have nothing of all that and rather be remembered as the maker of the films he made.
He may be remembered as the rebel son of a rebel father, Nanabhai Bhatt who was one of the first “factories of filmmaking” and who had a controversial life, he may be remembered as a young man who played in a band in a small hotel during his summer vacations, he may be remembered as a dedicated assistant of a renowned director like Raj Khosla who went on to be one of the most outstanding directors who made films far away from the beaten track, he may be remembered as the young man who married twice, a woman called Kiran (actually a Christian) from whom he had two children, Pooja Bhatt and Rahul Bhatt and Soni Razdan, his actress in “Saaransh” who he married after turning a Muslim and had two daughters, Alia Bhatt and Shaheen Bhatt, he may be remembered for all the most controversial and blistering statements he made (“I am a bastard” being just one), he may be remembered as a man who was enlightened but still kept looking for gurus like Bhagwan Rajneesh and U.G Krishnamurthy, he may be remembered for having an affair with the actress Parveen Babi, he may be remembered for his being a part of as many crusades and missions as possible, but if there is one thing he will be remembered most for is how he groomed his performers, especially his actors…
It all started when he made his first ever film, “Manzilein Aur Bhi Hai” produced by one of his friends, Johnny Bakshi.
The film made in the sixties talked about live-in relationships when nothing was heard about them in public even though there were relationships like that in existence.
The film raised one hell of a controversy and was passed with an “A” certificate after a public outcry.
The film was not a big success, but it was the hero, Kabir Bedi who was noticed because of his handsome looks and his past as a leading model and his controversial image of a man who had a steaming affair with a dancer called Protima who was a shocker herself and once walked nude at Flora Fountain for the cover of a magazine called “Cine Blitz”.
Kabir’s performance in the film marked his entry into films from where he grew into an International star with an Italian serial called “Sandokan” and followed by a leading role in one of the James Bond films.
Mahesh found his next chance to direct “Lahu Ke Do Rang”. Vinod Khanna was already established as a star, but it was Mahesh Bhatt who brought out the best of the actor in him with this film.
It was during the making of the film that Mahesh and Vinod grew into very good friends and disciples of Bhagwan Rajneesh…
He next directed a film called “Vishwasghaat” with one of the most outstanding actors, Sanjeev Kumar in a double role and Sanjeev considered his performance in the film as one of his best…
It was then time for Mahesh to make one of his most memorable films called “Saaransh”.
He had first considered Sanjeev Kumar to play a sixty-seven year old man fighting the authorities to claim an urn containing the ashes of his dead son.
He had a change of mind and decided to cast an almost unknown actor called Anupam Kher and Anupam’s performance changed the entire course of his life.
Anupam continued working with Mahesh in all the films he made for the next ten years without charging any fee and when he finally asked for a fee, the two parted ways but Anupam had established himself as a formidable actor and to this day, he always considers Mahesh as his guru.
Mahesh continued his speciality of creating actors when he directed the new star- sons Sanjay Dutt and Kumar Gaurav in “Naam” and it was their performances that was a major highlight which was appreciated by one and all, with Amitabh Bachchan being so moved that he sent both the actors bouquets with his personal notes of appreciation…
Sanjay Dutt was still struggling to find an identity of his own and was almost being considered as a lost case because of his habits, his bouts of alcoholism and drugs.
It was Mahesh who took the badnaam actor into his hands, literally and groomed him to be a very sensitive actor in his films like “Kabzaa”, “Gumraah” and “Sadak”.
Ajay Devgn was still being considered as a B-grade action hero when Mahesh got him to do two very sensitive roles in “Najaayaz” and “Zakhm”.
Ajay won all the appreciation for both his performances and his first National Award for the best actor for his performance in “Zakhm”.
It was the beginning of a new life as an actor for the son of the veteran fight director, Veeru Devgn and there has been no stopping him since…
Mahesh worked with Aamir Khan in two films, “Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahi” and “Hum Hai Raahi Pyaar Ke”.
They had creative clashes during the shootings, especially during the making of “Hum Hai Raahi Pyaar Ke”.
There were times when Aamir literally took over the making of the film, especially when it came to handling the children and the picturisation of the songs. Mahesh never worked with Aamir again.
Mahesh had always been an admirer of Anil Kapoor because of his dedication to his work and when he found the opportunity to cast him, he did in a film called “Thikaana” which saw Anil as a very different actor, it saw the beginning of the powerful performer that Anil was…
Jackie Shroff was best known as a non-performer and some of his directors even called him “a wooden actor”, but Mahesh took on the challenge of proving that Jaggu Dada too could act when he decided to make “Kaash” with Jaggu and Dimple Kapadia.
There were times when Mahesh made Jackie do one scene seventy to eighty times and Jackie begged of God to help him or begged of Mahesh