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Mahesh Bhatt: Blind obedience to authority has become the norm; we have become a population of sheep!

In an exclusive column for CineBlitz, veteran filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt writes, “It’s only when you question authority, and refuse to blindly follow those in the seat of power, that you create enduring works of art which resonate in the hearts of people years after they have been created.”

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“Do you know more than the sages and the seers of this great country? Who are you to debunk the centuries old belief in Punar Janam (reincarnation)? Not only does it run counter to the beliefs of the millions of people of all faiths across the world, but it is also a guaranteed recipe for a Box-Office disaster,” said the patriarch of Rajshri Productions, Seth Tarachand Barjatya, waving his finger angrily at me. I had been summoned to the home of the Barjatyas on a Sunday morning by the late Raj Kumar Barjatya, to have a heart-to-heart conversation with his father, who was undoubtedly one of the tallest icons of the entertainment industry, and on whose shoulders Rajshri Productions had touched dizzying heights.

“Sethji is unhappy with the climax of Saaransh. He feels that he must meet you and prevail upon you to relent and change the climax of the film. I singularly lack the conviction to neutralise his demands. Moreover, please understand that each one of us is a prisoner of his or her own beliefs,” he had said to me meekly, moments before my conversation with the patriarch of the Rajshri empire began.

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Movie posters of Arth (1982) and Saaransh (1984)

Maybe the late Raj Babu had put these thoughts in my mind because of my reputation which preceded me. The stories of me not yielding to the pressures of the film industry and changing the climax of Arth had become a part of Bollywood folklore. Raj Babu did not want us (Sethji and me), two fiercely opinionated individuals, to cross swords and disrupt the filming of Saaransh, which was racing towards completion.

“Why can’t the child that is born to this paying-guest be the reincarnation of the old couple’s dead son?” he asked. “Are you a sadist?” His question came from concern because his knowledge about the INDIAN audience was indeed far, far more and deeper than a filmmaker like me who had just one hit so far.

“Because my character of B B Pradhan (played by Anupam Kher) is an agnostic. Sir, if you stop believing in the life hereafter and put everything into what you possess into this living moment, you will truly awaken to the grandeur of life. This is the Saaransh of my film, Sir.” I remember, calmly, but firmly replying to him.

It was this unshakable conviction of mine which had infuriated the patriarch. Sensing the emotional temperature plummeting Raj Babu stepped in and acted with a sagacity which was indeed rare to find. I still remember his words, “Sethji, we have always believed in backing the director’s vision.

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Tarachand Barjatya (L) and Rajkumar Barjatya (R)

Look at the conviction of this young man, let us be bold enough to go ahead with his conviction, or else we will land up with a film which is neither here nor there.” Had it not been for Raj Babu, Saaransh wouldn’t have seen the light of day and become what it went out to become.

It was his faith in me that created this enduring classic. It was because of this unorthodox end which I had insisted upon, that Saaransh won the special Jury Award in 1984 at the Moscow Film Festival. My movies like Arth, Saaransh, Janam, Zakhm were born because of my fierce belief in the truth which was embedded in their DNA.

I often tell this to my junior writers and film directors to resist much and obey little. It’s only when you question authority, and refuse to blindly follow those in the seat of power, that you create enduring works of art which resonate in the hearts of people years after they have been created.

But sadly today, blind obedience to authority has become the norm. We have become a population of sheep. It’s heartbreaking to see young people conform so easily. Irreverence is the lifeblood of a flourishing society. People who obey blindly push society into the graveyard. The film industry must welcome and embrace those who are anti-authority because it is on their shoulders that the multi-billion-dollar film industry stands where it is. Where would we be without the irreverent spirit of the film makers of the bygone days?

Recently, when I launched the trailer of Ashvin Kumar’s No Fathers in Kashmir in Sunny Sound Service, I realised as long as there are filmmakers who have the guts to choose truth over illusions, our industry is safe.

There are two kinds of filmmakers. Ones that comfort the jolted and ones that jolt the comforted. Alas, the wheels of the Box-Office are run by these who pander to maintain status quo, and do everything to keep the illusions and the old prejudices of our society going. And then there is this microscopic minority of the latter.

These are the filmmakers who choose to tell the truth and resist the demands of the marketplace to manufacture illusions and lull the people to sleep. In this post-truth age, the need of the hour is to create a space for this brave lot.

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