POST-MOD­ERN FAM­ILY MAN

A VERY PUB­LIC PER­SON’S MOST PER­SONAL IN­TER­VIEW EVER! THE FILM­MAKER SHOWS THAT BE­HIND EACH UNTRADITIONAL DE­CI­SION OF HIS LIFE, THERE WAS BUT ONE EMO­TION:

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Front Page - BY KAUSAR MUNIR // AN HT BRUNCH EXCLUSIVE

'' I don't know what a father re­ally is. I am the bas­tard child of sin­gle Mus­lim mother!'' -Ma­hesh Bhatt

I’m wait­ing at Ma­hesh Bhatt’s home for my af­ter­noon ap­point­ment with him. He’s three min­utes late and en­ters apol­o­gis­ing pro­fusely. If I didn’t know him bet­ter, I’d think the en­fant ter­ri­ble of Hindi cin­ema was pa­tro­n­is­ing me. But he wasn’t. Not to­day, and not that day four years ago when I en­tered his warmly-lit cabin for a pos­si­ble lyric-writ­ing gig. Sit­ting be­neath a ra­di­ant por­trait of Tagore, he sur­veyed my face as if search­ing for some­thing and found a re­sem­blance with a man he cur­so­rily knew. The man I re­minded him of hap­pened to be my father. Try­ing to play it cool, I in­formed him that my father had died just over a year ago. He reached for my hand, I hes­i­tated; he didn’t per­sist. He sim­ply nar­rated his brief but beau­ti­ful me­mory of my father.

Soon I reached for Ma­hesh Bhatt’s hand with teary-eyed grat­i­tude. Not just be­cause he shared this mem­o­rable story about my father, but be­cause of the gen­tle­ness, gen­eros­ity and grace he told it with.

I’ve found the thought to thread this chat with, ‘The Father Fig­ure’.

“But I don’t know what a father re­ally is,” he says. “I never re­ally had one. I have no worth­while me­mories of my father, there­fore no idea of what a father’s role should be. I am the bas­tard-child of a sin­gle Mus­lim mother, of Shirin Mo­hammed Ali.”

But your name is Ma­hesh Bhatt. Shirin Mo­hammed Ali surely didn’t give you that name?

“I re­mem­ber ask­ing my mother what the mean­ing of my name was. She said, I’ll ask your father, he’s the one who named you. So, I waited un­til the next time he came around and said that Ma­hesh meant ‘Maha-Eesh’ the God of gods. But as a child I didn’t like this an­gry God who be­headed his own son. I’d have much pre­ferred to be named after Ganesha. I used to sleep with a lit­tle Ganesha un­der my pil­low as a child, he was my favourite de­ity. Just like Ganesha’s father, my father was a stranger to me. He was ab­sent.”

“MY NAME ‘MAHA-EESH’ MEANS GOD OF GODS. BUT AS A CHILD, I PRE­FERRED GANESHA. JUST LIKE GANESHA’S FATHER, MINE WAS A STRANGER TO ME!”

SONS AND LOVE

From Arth (1982) to Zakhm (1998), Ma­hesh Bhatt has reg­u­larly used his per­sonal re­la­tion­ships as fod­der for his films. Dys­func­tional re­la­tion­ships have of­ten been at the cen­tre of his best work. But for him, the most im­por­tant mo­tif of all re­mains that of the ‘ab­sent’ father.

“I couldn’t be the son that my mother dreamed I would be­come,” he says. “I tried, but I just couldn’t do it. I was never good at school, couldn’t get a job, I was a disas­ter when I tried to do things the way the world wanted me to. But I came into my own when I stum­bled upon my au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal id­iom – where I got to say things the way I wanted to. To be able to talk about the ‘hid­den’ things, about what I was em­bar­rassed, about who I re­ally was. So, all my dys­func­tional re­la­tion­ships, be­gin­ning from my ab­sent father, have helped me be­come who I am.”

His ab­sen­tee father, Nan­ab­hai Bhatt, may have been the film­mak­ing pioneer in the fam­ily, but the for­mi­da­ble ‘Bhatt’ name as we know it to­day was es­tab­lished by Ma­hesh Bhatt. One could say, in the end, Ma­hesh held up the fam­ily name and made his father proud.

“I made peace with my father much be­fore the end, be­cause I saw in him my own in­ad­e­qua­cies,” says Ma­hesh. “As you grow older you tol­er­ate more things in your­self and are forced to ex­tend the same tol­er­ance to your par­ents. Life hum­bles you, and the ‘holier than thou’ at­ti­tude that you take in your youth doesn’t hold good any­more.”

Are you al­lud­ing to your own in­ad­e­qua­cies as a father, par­tic­u­larly to­wards your son Rahul? I ques­tion. He takes his time to an­swer. Ma­hesh Bhatt rarely, if ever, takes time to an­swer.

“There was a wound there... I left home when he was around three and he felt I had aban­doned the fam­ily for an­other woman. And this was a grievance I couldn’t deny him be­cause it was true,” he says. “The father-son bond even though in tat­ters was never fully bro­ken, so when the David Headley cri­sis hap­pened, the fam­ily came to­gether. Sunny

“AS YOU GROW OLDER, YOU TOL­ER­ATE MORE THINGS IN YOUR­SELF AND EX­TEND THE SAME TO YOUR PAR­ENTS”

(Rahul Bhatt) re­alised that the father he thought wasn’t there, had never re­ally left. Slowly we be­gan re­build­ing our re­la­tion­ship and I urged him to use his anger against me to fuel his goals. And he man­aged to do that. He is now a fit­ness guru. He trains all kinds of im­por­tant peo­ple, but not once has he used my name or con­nec­tions to pro­mote him­self. Nor has he ever tried to use my guilt to his ad­van­tage. He’s an en­tirely self-made man and I’m very proud of that.”

And what about him, I won­der. Is he proud of you?

A smile shines on his face. “Sunny is a man of dig­nity. He means what he says. And he said to me, ‘they don’t make men like you any­more, sir’. To hear that from a child you’ve wronged feels good.”

DAUGH­TERS DEAR­EST

When Ma­hesh Bhatt walked out on his first mar­riage, he not only left be­hind a ‘wronged’ son but also a ‘wronged’ daugh­ter. But that’s a phrase he never at­taches with Pooja,

his old­est child. The phrase that he does at­tach to her is ‘favourite child’.

“Pooja is quite like me in some ways. It is im­pos­si­ble for her to not speak her mind,” he says with ad­mi­ra­tion. “But there’s some­thing else that binds me with her more than any of my other chil­dren: the bond of strug­gle. She has seen the father she loved and thought had an enor­mous tal­ent roam­ing pen­ni­less on the streets of Bom­bay, look­ing for work. This and other such mov­ing images will al­ways re­main in our shared his­tory. Even to­day Pooja gets very moved by the emo­tional heat I ra­di­ate. Very moved…”

Then who among the Bhatt prog­eny can pos­si­bly con­tain the con­stant churn­ing of their father’s feel­ings?

“Sha­heen.” His older daugh­ter from his sec­ond mar­riage to Soni Raz­dan. “At the age of 15, she was the mother I never had. I mean in terms of emo­tional wis­dom,” says Ma­hesh. “My mother loved me un­con­di­tion­ally, but Sha­heen un­der­stands me un­con­di­tion­ally. Her jour­ney into the dark wilder­ness of de­pres­sion has given her an amaz­ing depth of un­der­stand­ing. It’s ev­i­dent in her writ­ing. She has the ca­pac­ity to process com­plex emo­tions and the courage to cope with them. I pose to her a dif­fi­cult ques­tion and she is the only one who can give me a clear pointed an­swer.”

And what do you give her?

“Hope,” he an­swers al­most re­flex­ively. “The fact that I was able to cope with the tu­mul­tuous ups and downs of my life gives her hope. It in­spires her to be­lieve that she too will be able to over­come her dif­fi­cul­ties. And that makes me very happy.”

I come to the in­evitable ques­tion. How does it feel to be known as the father of In­dia’s bright­est new star, Alia Bhatt?

“I’ve al­ready had the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing a star-father when Pooja came into the movies. But Alia’s suc­cess is phe­nom­e­nal and it’s to­tally her own do­ing. She ven­tured all by her­self into this very tough busi­ness and has sur­prised me with her own tough­ness,” he says al­most in awe.

Surely the in­fa­mous Bhatt genes have some part to play?

“On the con­trary,” he in­sists, “Brand Ma­hesh Bhatt has found a new lease thanks to Alia.”

And what about Daddy Ma­hesh? What’s his equa­tion with Alia?

“Alia is grace­ful enough to con­cede to me that she doesn’t al­low her­self per­mis­sion to venture too close to me,” he says cryp­ti­cally. I look con­fused. “I can be over­whelm­ing,” Ma­hesh ex­plains. No ar­gu­ment there. “When Alia says to me that some­times it takes her two days just to pre­pare to come and see me, I know what she means. I can of­ten be too much to take. Too much to bear,” he re­veals. “But now, ac­cord­ing to her, I’m get­ting calmer. So she’s get­ting more com­fort­able with my out­pour­ings.”

MY KIDS: THEIR OWN PEO­PLE

While speak­ing about each of his chil­dren, Ma­hesh Bhatt’s voice sounds al­most rev­er­en­tial. Re­spect, more than love, seems to be the abid­ing emo­tion there. I could be wrong.

“You’re not wrong,” he says thought­fully. “I started out be­ing a scared father. As I said ear­lier, I didn’t have one so I didn’t know how to be one. But some­where along the way I learnt to re­spond to their needs. Like to­day I’m un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally wear­ing white, be­cause you wanted it for your pic­tures. So I fig­ured the best way to be a father is to re­spect my kids enough to let them be who they are. And for me to be the kind of father they want me to be. I’ve tried to be emo­tion­ally faith­ful to each of my chil­dren.”

DEF­I­NI­TION OF FATHER

A man who re­spects you enough to let you be your­self; is there for you in the way you want him to be; is emo­tion­ally faith­ful.

Source – Ma­hesh Bhatt.

I’m tempted to ask if any man has ever fit this def­i­ni­tion of father in his life, but I don’t.

Ma­hesh Bhatt has called U G his friend, philoso­pher, guide, beloved, com­pan­ion, soul­mate, men­tor, guru etc. But never a father-fig­ure. It strikes me that in the course of this chat, he of­ten refers to U G as his “old man”.

PS: Al­most ev­ery chat, ma­jor or mi­nor, I’ve ever had with Ma­hesh Bhatt has been punc­tu­ated with con­stant ref­er­ences to the renowned philoso­pher U G Kr­ish­na­murti.

The next day he mails me a pic­ture of him­self and UG.

The line be­low the pic­ture reads: “The father I never had. You helped me ar­rive at this”.

“SUNNY [RAHUL BHATT] SAID TO ME, ‘THEY DON’T MAKE MEN LIKE YOU ANY­MORE, SIR’. TO HEAR THAT FROM A CHILD YOU’VE WRONGED FEELS GOOD”

FAB­U­LOUS FOUR (From left) Pooja, Rahul, Alia and Sha­heen Bhatt

FAM­ILY THAT SMILES TO­GETHER… Soni Raz­dan and Ma­hesh Bhatt with daugh­ters Sha­heen and Alia

DADDY’S GIRLS Ma­hesh Bhatt (cen­tre) with daugh­ters Pooja, Sha­heen and Alia

IN HIS NAME Bhatt’s first wife Lor­raine Bright be­came Ki­ran Bhatt after mar­riage

MEET THE PAR­ENTS Bhatt’s par­ents Shirin Mo­ham­mad Ali and film­maker Nan­ab­hai Bhatt

“Brand Ma­hesh Bhatt has found a new lease thanks to Alia”

Kausar Munir is an award-win­ning lyri­cist who has penned songs in movies like Pad­man, Se­cret Su­per­star, Ba­jrangi Bhai­jaan and Dear Zindagi, amongst oth­ers. She is also a scriptwriter, and is recog­nised as one of the bright­est young tal­ents in Bol­ly­wood to­day.

FRIEND, PHILOSO­PHER, GUIDE Bhatt’s con­ver­sa­tions are pep­pered with re­peated ref­er­ences to philoso­pher U G Kr­ish­na­murti who he calls his “old man”

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