Today’s generation might know filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt for his sensational statements and musical thrillers his former production house made lately. And then there was the disaster, Sadak 2, also starring his daughters Alia Bhatt and Pooja Bhatt. But, for those who grew up in the 80s and early 90s, he is a director with some unforgettable gems of Indian cinema to his credit: Arth (1982), Saaransh (1984), Naam (1986), Daddy (1989), Aashiqui (1990) and Zakhm (1999). Bhatt, who went on to become the most prolific directors of the era, dared to be different at a time when Hindi cinema was said to be at its lowest in terms of content.
During his initial years in the film industry, Bhatt had a chequered private life, but that never came in his way of attracting cinema lovers to his movies. Instead, he found raw material for his films from his life itself. “Some colours of my life do reflect in my films. The films with which I created a name for myself are called autobiographical cinema,” he had said on the talk show Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai.
The first time people saw a reflection of the filmmaker’s life on the 70mm screen was in the 1982 film Arth, starring Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil and Kulbhushan Kharbanda. The movie explored several human emotions and gave a new perspective to male chauvinism and women’s liberation from societal pressure without being preachy. Ahead of its time, it bagged one National and three Filmfare Awards.
Bhatt used his infamous extramarital affair with yesteryear diva Parveen Babi to turn Arth into a self-aware story about a failing marriage. Explaining his life’s reference in Arth, Bhatt had told TOI, “Around the time my films flopped, my relationship with Kiran (his first wife) moved from bad to worse. We had fallen out of love and I had begun seeing Parveen Babi. I was married to Kiran, had a child, and was responsible for both of them. Still, my physical self was drawn to another woman. The scene was scary – I got into LSD and Parveen went through a series of nervous breakdowns. I went through trauma and a hell of my own making for two and a half years – this is reflected in Arth.”
Not just his love life, his equation with his first-born, daughter Pooja Bhatt, was also translated into an intriguing screenplay of his 1989 film Daddy. Bhatt dared to showcase his vulnerabilities on screen through his films. He portrayed his struggle with alcoholism and parenthood in the movie starring Anupam Kher, Pooja Bhatt, and Soni Razdan. It revolved around a young girl Pooja (Pooja Bhatt) who lives with her grandparents and one day comes to know about her alcoholic father. Though her grandparents ask her to stay away from her drunkard father (Anupam Kher), she is intrigued to know more about him.
When both of them find their way to each other, the father decides to overcome his addiction for his daughter. The poignant father-daughter story still leaves the viewers emotional and is counted among the finest works of Hindi cinema. Bhatt had told Rohit Roy in his talk show that the “emotional resonance” of Daddy is inspired by his own life’s events.
But, the filmmaker also pointed out that calling his films a replica of his own life would be an “exaggeration” since those are “an amalgamation of personal experiences, the experiences of the world and some imagination.” In Rahul Roy and Anu Aggarwal starrer romantic drama Aashiqui, some portions of the film were inspired from the early days of Bhatt’s relationship with his first wife Lorraine Bright (Kiran Bhatt).
If his life as an adult found a place in films like Arth, Daddy and Aashiqui, his childhood days got a heartbreaking portrayal in his 1999 film Zakhm. The movie dealt with the traumatic life of an illegitimate child in the backdrop of communal tension. Bhatt, who was born out of wedlock to a Muslim mother (Shirin Mohammed) and a Hindu father (Nanabhai Bhatt) based large parts of the film on his own life. In an interview with Hindustan Times, he bluntly said, “I am the b*stard child of a single Muslim mother, of Shirin Mohammed Ali.”
In the movie, Ajay Devgn essayed the role of Bhatt and Pooja Bhatt played his mother. In the talk show, Jeena Isi Ka Naam Hai, she recalled playing the character and shared with Suresh Oberoi, “Zakhm was the most frightening experience of my life. It was like looking at his (Mahesh Bhatt) life in a way that I didn’t before. Suddenly I looked at Kunal Kemmu (who played the child role of Bhatt) and I saw that the young boy was you (pointing towards her father). It was heartbreaking for me just to know he has gone through all of it and must have been so alone.”
With such upheaval in his life, Bhatt’s story would make for an impactful autobiography, however, the 73-year-old is opposed to the idea of his biopic. The filmmaker believes people won’t be able to deal with his thoughts and views on God, religion, government and relationships. “You can’t make a biopic on a person who doesn’t want it to be made. My life is too controversial, too subversive, too stark; the world can’t deal with it,” he told Hindustan Times in an interview.
As a viewer, who has enjoyed watching intricacies of human relationships in Bhatt’s films, a film on his life would definitely make for a good cinematic experience. If it ever happens.
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