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Mahesh Bhatt: In Indian cinema, only bad people have sex, good people fall in love!

Renowned filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt writes about portrayal of women, sex and relationships in Hindi cinema as he recalls his first film Manzilein Aur Bhi Hai and hails Imtiaz Ali and Alia Bhatt’s Highway.

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In the year 1973, I made a film called Manzilein Aur Bhi Hai, which was banned by the Central Board of Film Certification. “You are subverting the sacred institution of marriage,” said the outraged Regional Officer, looking at me as if I was a despicable human being who actually needed to be erased from existence. “It’s people like you who bring disrepute to Bollywood…” he said without batting an eyelid. With an air of finality he said, “This film will never see the light of the day.”

I was 21 and Manzilein Aur Bhi Hai was my first directorial endeavour. To see your dreams go up in flames is one hell of an experience. Though heart-broken and defeated, I reached out to the elders of my own fraternity who were in those days advised by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to set up the film industry’s self- censorship body. This body consisted of stalwarts like G P Sippy, Atmaa Ram and a few eminent editors of film magazines. To my horror, even they, on viewing the film, found it unfit for public consumption.


Manzilein Aur Bhi Hai movie poster

“We will not represent your case to the ministry,” said Mr G P Sippy. “How can you make a film which portrays a woman in such a bad light?” he asked, looking genuinely perturbed. Manzilein Aur Bhi Hai was a simple tale of two jailbirds and a prostitute on the run, and their open sexual relationship. What was so offensive about the morality of the film was something I couldn’t fathom then. “If sex is right with one person, it’s right with another! And if sex is right after marriage, then it is right before marriage too. Isn’t it all about a woman’s choice? Can’t she love both the men?” I asked, locking horns with my seniors. My question infuriated them and they showed me the door.

As I walked home battered and bruised and scarred by my own seniors, raging fiercely against the world and bogus moral postures they take in the arts, it struck me that in Indian cinema, only bad people have sex. Good people only fall in love. That was 1973, but may I ask, has anything changed ever since? Alas! No. In fact, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The changes that we proclaim to ourselves and to the world are only cosmetic, like winds on the surface of an ocean, creating ripples. But deep inside the ocean, everything remains the same.

Through trial and error I’ve learned that unless you endorse, defend and perpetuate the old value systems, which are tied like a dog to a post, you will not get mass acceptance. And since we are in the business of mass entertainment, the old archaic values which may be withering in our day-to-day life continue to find expression on the silver screen. What we like to see on the screen is not our real self but the fairy-tale idea of ourselves. There are films like Highway which have dared to shine the torch in the dark spaces of our own homes, where those who pontificate about these moral values actually, secretly violate them.


Director Imtiaz Ali and actress Alia Bhatt during the shoot of Highway | Photo credits: Window Seat Films

Imtiaz Ali and Alia Bhatt deserve a standing ovation for daring to look unflinchingly into the eyes of reality. But then, Highway was an alternate film, not a mainstream popular money-spinner. When I joined the movies, my father, who had made more than 100 films which entertained the masses of India, told me, “Son, we are in the illusion-making business, not the reality-capturing business. People do not want truth, they want varnished truths, and we filmmakers provide just that. In fact, we, through our movies, give the people what God doesn’t give them. We comfort them with lies, lies, and bigger lies. That’s the mantra of show business.”

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Sriram Raghavan recalls his happy moments from Andhadhun, Badlapur and Johnny Gaddaar sets

Filmmaker Sriram Raghavan whose Andhadhun is still making waves across international film festivals reveals how many memorable scenes turned out from accidents

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A sword-wielding black-robed warrior confronts Indiana Jones in a Cairo market. The swordsman shows his prowess with the weapon, impressing the crowds as you wonder how the hell can Indy defeat him. Indy, with a weary sigh, pulls out his .38 and shoots the guy down. I remember, the entire hall applauded. It’s a scene that still has me chuckling. This scene would not have existed, had Harrison Ford not fallen sick with dysentery, whilst shooting in Tunisia. In the script, it was meant to be a highlight action sequence. A ferocious duel between a sword and a whip. They had rehearsed it for days. But Ford was too weak for any rigorous action. You can actually see it on his face.


Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Some of the most iconic scenes and moments in films happen thanks to a mishap…what we call the Happy Accident. I remember vividly one such incident on the sets of Johnny Gaddaar. SPOILER ALERT: Vikram (Neil) and Seshadri (Dharmendra) are discussing the heist that went wrong, wondering who could be the culprit. In a slip of the tongue, Neil inadvertently gives himself away, and Seshadri realises it immediately. Seshadri gently starts probing and Neil knows his game is up. Neil goes to the bar to make a drink. Seshadri follows him, gun in hand.

Script extract:

VIKRAM GOES TO THE ICE BUCKET AND FILLS HIS GLASS WITH ICE…He’s wondering how to extricate himself out of this mess. IN A SPLIT SECOND…HE GRABS THE ICE-PICK AND PLUNGES IT INTO SESHADRI’S HEART. A shocked Seshadri staggers as the gun drops from his fingers….

An ice-pick is a handy weapon in a Hadley Chase novel or maybe a Matunga sugarcane stall, but our location was a middle-class Juhu apartment. Surely out of place. So, we substituted it with an ornate paper-cutter, shaped like a Jodhpur sword and as sharp and pointed. It looked lethal. We made a rubber dummy and forgot about it till the day of shoot.

Dharmendra came early that day and watched curiously as I was stabbing myself in the heart and neck with the rubber dummy. I told him this is the murder weapon. How do you like it Sir? He took it and tried stabbing himself in his heart and frowned. ‘Yes, he can certainly injure me with this, but it will take at least half an hour for me to die….and in that time, I’d have grabbed the rascal and killed him!’ I politely asked him why he thought so. His reply: “…because I am Dharmendra!”

I consulted my DoP who said Dharamji is bang on. It’ll look quite silly actually. Suddenly we were all ready to shoot, but the scene was not working.

Dharamji said this is just my feeling. You are the captain. He went into his vanity van and we went into a huddle. We cracked it amongst ourselves and even did a couple of rehearsals before he came to the set. We changed the weapon to the gun, which was already a prop in the scene. The solution was so simple, and more important, SO EFFECTIVE. I remember the audience at Chandan going GASP when it happens. Thank God, Dharamji came early that day and voiced his opinion loud and clear. Or else the scene would have become a laughing stock.

The very first sequence in Badlapur had a child falling out of a speeding car. Of course, we used a dummy, but we had not blocked the roads….We wanted spontaneous crowd reactions. We rigged the camera to the car and threw the baby out at the right moment. And guess what? A stray dog entered frame out of the blue and started chasing the car. The camera kept rolling, and we got a wonderful shot. No retakes required.

Later, whilst sipping chai at a tapri, I wish I had thought of this in the script. But that would have taken all day to shoot and we still may not have got what we got by sheer accident. There are times in a film shoot, where I totally feel that there’s some source guiding you.

It happens to the best of actors. You get stuck on a line or word. In ANDHADHUN, Pramod Sinha (Anil Dhawan) could not say ‘Happy Anniversary’. It was an elaborate shot. The camera follows Anil Dhawan as he enters his house armed with a bouquet and a wine bottle. He searches for Tabu and finally hears some sounds in the kitchen. On the way, he notices a gun lying on the dining table and he picks it up curiously…. during which the door opens…and Anil Dhawan has to say Happy Anniversary.

We did several takes, but somehow, were not getting it right. Happy Wedding. Happy Birthday. Happy Bhool gaya…but no Happy Anniversary. We wondered what to do and then I said, Sir, instead of Happy Anniversary, just say SURPRISE. It worked and I’m so glad we didn’t get it right earlier.


Anil Dhawan in Andhadhun (2018)

The production keeps a hawk’s eye on you whilst filming your first film. In EHT (Ek Hasina Thi – 2004), we had asked for a Jimmy Jib for a sequence, but then realised that it worked better without the jib. The problem is the Jib is expensive, and the production would surely report that these guys ask for costly equipment that they don’t use. So my DoP and I decided we gotta use the Jib and shoot something, even if we don’t use it later. The lead actors had been packed up so what do we do.

We were shooting in a remand home which simulated a portion of a women’s prison. And then I saw some remand home cooks carrying hundreds of chappatis to feed the inmates. So we requested them to carry it once again, and sprinkled some of our junior artistes amongst them. It was a good shot though we had no plan of using it. And then, during the edit, we found a superbly appropriate place for it.

There is a scene in RAMAN RAGHAV, where Raghuvir Yadav, having lost his first murder weapon, goes back to a local iron-smith to get another welded. We shot the film in 1992, and it was very tough to find lohars, who manually worked the bellows and hammer. We finally found one forge in Jogeshwari.

I was chatting with the owner, explaining our story and he froze. It was the same forge where the real Raman Raghav had made his weapon, back in the 60s. The iron smith then was this guy’s father.

Often, the behind-the-scenes drama of a film is more exciting than the film itself. Truffaut’s DAY FOR NIGHT is an ode to movies and movie-making. A film is being shot, but the real drama is what happens on and off the sets between the cast and crew. Look out for a hilarious scene when the cast and crew are waiting for a cat to do the action right.

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Sheetal Mafatlal decodes the trending logo craze in fashion

Logo Mania Rules: Sheetal Mafatlal decodes fashion’s hottest trend du jour, which has been embraced by the glitterati and cinemarati with elan…

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Every fashion season ends up being a palatecleanser. If Fall Winter signals the comeback of statement feathers and shine-on sequins, then Spring Summer makes way for sleek minimalism and refined silhouettes or viceversa. The last five fashion weeks which include couture, ready-to-wear, resort and pre-fall, have seen designers and luxury conglomerates leaving no stone unturned to appeal to the Millennials and Gen Z, who are reportedly driving luxury sales.

While a few seasons ago, there was a push in the luxury space to embrace logo-less products and toning down the brand mentions, fashion today seems to be moving towards a scenario of ‘If you’ve got it, flaunt it’. Hence, most design houses have gone back to their rich archives and brought back their key insignia, and re-presented them with an of-the-moment flourish. Also, the new season has heralded the introduction of new logos.


Sheetal Mafatlal wearing Balenciaga

The new-age Burberry under the talented Riccardo Tisci has introduced ‘T’ in the British label’s emblem (an homage to its founder Thomas Burberry), and the French heritage house Balmain, under its social media star designer Olivier Rousteing, has reimagined their symbol.

Logo frenzy has been the mainstay over the past few seasons and its escalating popularity shows no signs of fading out. An offshoot of the grunge 90s, the logo craze has reached new heights with design houses like Fendi, Gucci and Balenciaga warming up to it like never before. From T-shirts emblazoned with brands’ letterings, to sneakers printed with it all over – they make for chic travel companions.

Over the last few seasons, Vetements — the cutting edge, street-inflected label has been a recurring presence in my closet. Its dynamic designer Demna Gvasalia (who is also the force behind the revival of Balenciaga) has defined and refined street style, and made tracksuits unimaginably uber-chic. Currently, I’m digging their twin-set casuals and ripped denims.

Also worth mentioning is the ever so subtle Lanvin — a label which too couldn’t resist the all-encompassing allure of the logo madness. The design house has succumbed and plastered the label name all over their silk dresses and playsuits.

Gucci, under the aegis of maverick minstrel Alessandro Michele, has always been at the forefront of developing a new design vocabulary. The Italian brand playfully spelled out their name as ‘Guccy’ (as in teddy) on jumpers and T-shirts, which became a rage on Instagram. Fendi’s offerings, like their mink zipper vests and varsity jackets, come unapologetically embossed with bold FF.


Sheetal Mafatlal’s column Logo Mania Rules featured in CineBlitz March 2019 issue.

A classic label like Max Mara’s runway too had sling bags echoing the label’s letterings, and Moschino’s jumper dresses come kissed with the brand name. Maria Grazia Chiuri at Dior brought back the ‘J’adior’ from their rich archive-showcased coats and feminist T-shirts with the brand’s name printed on it.

Every brand that promoted a discreet no logo look has not only joined the trending logo mania, but even created logos to partake in the frenzy… the best example being Valentino with their 80’s revived logo VLTN. Ask any fashion observer the logic behind logos’ resurgence, and they’re likely to say that these pieces spark off an immediate connect with the brand.

While it’s one thing to stay on trend, blindly aping the runway and catalogues isn’t smart. It’s all about striking the right balance, between style and comfort, structure and fluidity, form and function, neutrals and metallics, separates and accessories. Also, each piece you don should reflect your personal style, but be warned that mixing logos will create a ‘fashion police’ alert.

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Sriram Raghavan had an idea similar to Danny Boyle’s Yesterday twelve years ago!

Andhadhun director Sriram Raghavan recalls the idea he had twelve years ago which was similar to Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle’s new film Yesterday. The film had a RD Burman connection. Read to find out…

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A Reader’s Digest joke said Mixed Emotions is watching your mother in law go over a cliff, in your brand new car. A few days back, the first trailer of Danny Boyle’s Yesterday came out and within minutes, was the talk of the town. Everyone was WhatsApping it to each other. What a great, fantastic premise and so on. The basic idea is Jack, a struggling musician, who wakes up one day, after an accident, and finds he’s in a world where no one remembers the Beatles. They don’t exist. But Jack remembers all their songs… and naturally, everyone around him loves what Jack is singing.

He plagiarises the Beatles and is soon on a route of super success. Until…. Of course, the trailer doesn’t reveal much more, so we got to wait till July, when the film releases. Hmmm. Very exciting premise and yes, I too am totally looking forward to watching this first-day-first-show. Only, I feel like a comedian. Because I had a very similar idea some twelve years ago. In my story, it wasn’t the Beatles, but RD Burman.

My story was this. Dhruv, a doctor in a general hospital is depressed. It’s his 40th birthday and he feels he’s generally missed the bus in life. He’s single, not thrilled with his job or himself, and wishes he’d pursued his dreams as a kid and become a musician. Of course, like a thousand others, he succumbed to parental pressure and is stuck in a job he has no passion for. His guitar lies in a dusty cover, under the bed.

That night, whilst doing the hospital rounds, he sees a crippled patient trying to jump off the third floor and kill himself. Dhruv rushes to save him and during the struggle, loses his balance and ends up plummeting to the floor. He is rushed to emergency and is fast losing consciousness.

The next morning he wakes up and finds he’s in a parallel universe, where everyone is a different avatar of themselves. A zapped Dhruv also discovers that by a quirk of fate, RD Burman was never born in this universe. Nobody has heard of Pancham or his tunes. Of course, Dhruv starts plundering RD’s trove of songs and sounds, and within a few months becomes a super successful musician and composer…a rockstar! He falls in love with a girl who totally adores his work….and today he plans to propose to her…. he wonders whether to tell her the truth, and whether she’d even believe it. Armed with a bottle of champagne and a diamond ring, he crosses the road to greet her, when a speeding car hits him.

He wakes up in the ICU of his old hospital. He is told he was in a coma for six months….and the doctors played RD Burman music hoping that it would help….because they knew Dhruv loved the music. It was meant to be a love story, a musical and a science-fiction tale all in one. We had great fun making lists of RD songs we’d use and so on….but the third act of the script kept eluding us.

I and my co writers tried various versions of the story but I was somehow never satisfied. So we put it aside and went into other movies. And occasionally opened that file to see if a brainwave strikes. All that was yesterday. I love Richard Curtis and Danny Boyle’s work so am totally looking forward to the film.

Sometimes, you work on an idea and then find someone else has already made it. I had read Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying and loved the book. I wrote a script and excitedly narrated the story to Tinnu Anand who told me that they were making Baazigar, which was based on the same story. You can imagine how tough it was for me to watch Baazigar at Anupam, Goregaon East, in a housefull show, and the guy next to me jumping up and down his seat in excitement.

These little heartaches are part of the game. And sometimes it’s good to wait. Many years back, director Neil Jordan was stuck on a script. It was a good story with strong elements, but something was eluding him. He knew something was missing but he didn’t know what. Exasperated, he put it aside and moved on to other work. And then, TEN YEARS LATER, out of the blue, he got a brainwave. An idea that was the vital key to the story. The brainwave is a huge Spoiler so I wont reveal it here. But it was a twist that changes the story on it’s head…. The film was THE CRYING GAME (1992) and it won the Oscar for Best Screenplay. Kal kya hoga kisko pata, (KASME VAADE) Music: RD Burman.

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