Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mahesh Bhatt

“You cannot make high cost, low profit films”

By Ankita R. Kanabar

(This interview has been published in the January 31, 2015 issue of Super Cinema)

At first, Mahesh Bhatt can be slightly intimidating, owing to his plethora of knowledge. Not to mention, the fact that he can make almost anything philosophical. But, that also explains why he is a delight to interview. His latest venture, ‘Khamoshiyan’, yet again, starring young, fresh talent, has hit the marquee recently, so here we have the man sharing his views on this one and his kind of cinema…

What was it about ‘Khamoshiyan’ that attracted you enough to produce it?
After a long time, a script gave me the feeling that we are going into the medium of an erotic thriller, in a supernatural space, which was attempted by us in ‘Raaz’. We had been very successful with ‘Raaz’ which created space for a triangular drama with erotic components and great music. ‘Khamoshiyan’ in a way does that, but in a more energised
way, with the woman’s character more dramatic, because the 21st century woman in India has changed drastically. She is no longer that woman who was struggling to find her voice. More changes have taken place in this country in the last 10 years, than in the last 300 years. Female sexual desire is touching the zenith, and the character of the girl in this film (played by Sapna Pabbi) is a fascinating one. That is what attracted me towards the film. While it is a supernatural thriller, it’s a love story, and not with the uni-dimensional narrative of the bygone days. Multi-partner relationship is a reality today. Women are stepping out of the prison of the patriarchal male-dominated world.

So, is it fascinating characters that you’re inclined to?
It’s the overall feel that the film leaves you with. We immediately go for a film which gives us a feeling that it can have great music. Music of a film becomes great only when it can be blended with the story and goes into the space of the heart. After a long time, ‘Khamoshiyan’s’ music is a more complete one, in terms of its variety. We work from the heart, and we work a lot on the lyrics. For instance, the title track of the film is exceptional, not only because of the melody but also the lyrics. It’s got tremendous depth and that’s what I love.

Is it also because music with such lyrics is rare these days?
That’s why people love it. But there’s a kind of space where a lot of variety is welcomed. Light-hearted, frivolous songs and lyrics are also being accepted and all kind of music is working.

A lot of actors who’ve worked with you say that you’re of great help for them to deliver a good performance. Is there any brief or piece of advice you have for them?
We make it very clear that if the actors don’t work, if the performances don’t work, the film will have an inferior sub-standard look. We trust our actors and we insist that the performances shouldn’t be compromised on, because these days, the standard of performances has gone very high. Everybody expects good quality work. Gone are the days where you could get away with mediocre performances. Obviously, the director on the field ultimately has to call the shots, and make sure that the sensibilities should not clash with what we have agreed upon.

With ‘Khamoshiyan’ you’ve yet again worked with fresh talent…
It was director Karan Darra’s insistence and it was because of his young gaze. No matter how experienced you are, your look gets jaded. It’s always the young talent which gives you a fresh new look. And, newcomers are more willing to go by what the script demands. If you have a script that works, music that works, backed by good actors, the chances of it working are maximum. With ‘Aashiqui 2’ we proved that. For a low-budget film made under Rs. 10 crore, to make about Rs. 90 crore is no small feat. I think it all depends on our own belief in a film. If we don’t believe in it, who will?

Most people say that films don’t fail, budgets fail…You’ve always made sure to make a film under a right budget.
You cannot make high cost, low profit films. Making films that do more than a hundred crore and still hardly break-even because of the high cost, is not worth it. That’s just like making too much noise after making profits of wafer-thin margins. Ultimately you have to create wealth. With a good story and a good cast, not necessarily in terms of big names, newcomers but good actors and great music, the chances of you striking bull’s-eye are higher.

But how difficult is it to make a film under a low-budget, and yet not compromising on the quality?
It’s a struggle to do that. It’s not easy to cut down on the cost when prices of everything have sky-rocketed. The market has become so unreasonable. Even the so-called reasonable people are difficult to get for reasonable rates. So, we work with newcomers, and keep our script very tight. There’s no room for trial and error. For instance, we shot ‘Khamoshiyan’ in South Africa and it looks lavish. Ultimately the film has to look good, so you cannot compromise on that.

Your films largely deal with human emotions with a lot of depth. Yet, how do you steer clear from making the film complex?
I don’t think that at heart, ‘Khamoshiyan’ is a very complex emotion. Simplicity is difficult to arrive at, but it’s only when you have the simplicity in your narrative that it touches a lot of people. Complex films come from complex minds and do not connect with the masses. A mass entertainer needs to have a simple messaging and appeal to a maximum number of people. What my films communicate is clear, identifiable emotions which are as old as man is having said that a film needs to have depth. It has to add up to something, it has to move you. If it doesn’t do that, then it’s an empty film, with just one scene after another, trying to bluff people. Depth doesn’t require profound knowledge. Depth is all about simple, human observations packaged together!

Tell me about the line-up of the films from your stable in 2015.
So after ‘Khamoshiyan’ which was our opening batsman, we have much to look forward to. There’s ‘Mr. X’ which is a very unusual film. It’s a big film for us and Emraan (Hashmi). He needs a hit and hopefully this will give him one. It has state-of-art special effects. Then of course, we have this moving, emotional saga – Hamari Adhuri Kahani. Vidya (Balan) will dazzle the world with that, with Emraan as you’ve never seen before. Not to mention, Rajkummar Rao in an exceptional role. Mohit Suri has given his heart to it. This was the line-up for the first half of the year, and hopefully there’ll be more as we dig deeper.

Lastly, what do you have to say about the year gone by, which hasn’t really been exceptional at the movies?
We are waking up to the world where anything which is mediocre, tired and intellectually done down will not work. We need to respect the audience who has evolved in this age of information technology sweeping the world into another direction. The minds and the hearts have become richer and you cannot engage them with trivia. You have to really give them something, which has some insight, some other view of the world, some experience which they don’t get easily, otherwise they won’t come to watch your film. 

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