Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Saaransh: The Life and Times of Mahesh Bhatt

It has been such a long time since I did one of those 3000-word jaw-dropping, migraine-inducing compendium posts on Bollywood. So, while watching Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke the other day, I decided to do one on Mahesh Bhatt, best known for having a cynical opinion on life, universe and everything. Might as well because the number of good films he has done is surprisingly low. (For me, good is usually a subset of original.) But even that number might be enough to get him a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Mahesh Bhatt films have three kinds of characters: (1) Illegitimate children of famous people, (2) People falling in love with psychotic characters and (3) Illegitimate children of famous people falling in love with psychotic characters.

There are some films that don’t have the above characters but they were either rumoured to be ghost-directed or a copy of a Hollywood movie. At the peak of his career, Mahesh Bhatt used to direct anything between three to six films a year so I guess all of the above could well be true! At one point of time, he never made a film without Mushtaq Khan, Avtar Gill and Akash Khurana. At approximately the same point, Pooja Bhatt never made a film without him either! I am certain Pooja Bhatt holds a couple of records like – Most Number of Films Under Daddy’s Directorship and Most Number of Films as Character Named Pooja.

Manzilein Aur Bhi Hain (1974) – I heard some vague rumours that this film was rejected by the Censor Board since it presented a depraved view of life involving a prostitute and two criminals. I have no clue whether this film actually released or what?

Arth (1982) – An art house classic, this was Mahesh Bhatt’s first claim to fame. Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil both turned in terrific performances while Kulbhushan Kharbanda continued to chew while delivering dialogues. From Shakaal to a photographer was a huge comedown but not as much as having to go back to your wife when your girlfriend turns psycho! This is generally hailed as a feminist favourite but I failed to see why. I mean, leaving your spouse because his/her lover is paying for your desserts is hardly a female monopoly. Anyway…

Saaransh (1984) – Mahesh Bhatt selected an unknown actor (in his late 20’s) for the lead role of B V Pradhan, a 65-year old retired headmaster. His production house wanted a bigger star so they forced him to take Sanjeev Kumar. The new actor came to his house and gave him hell, even calling him a cheat! When Bhatt saw the outburst, he realized he had got the man who can give his climax a completely new dimension. So he told his producers to bugger off and took the new actor in. Incidentally, the new actor’s full address was Anupam Kher, c/o Mrs Kaur, Khetwadi, Khar!

Janam (1985) – Illegitimate son of famous director. Makes first film despite severe odds. Father recognizes him at awards night. Yawn. Anupam Kher was the father and Kumar Gaurav the son.

Naam (1986) – This was produced by Kumar Gaurav (or Rajendra Kumar) thought it should have been produced by Sanjay (or Sunil) Dutt. As the misguided youth teetering on the brink of collapse, Sunju did his first role of consequence and became the toast of the industry. The even more famous feature of this film was the NRI anthem – “Watan se chitthi aayi hain” (sung on screen by Pankaj Udhas). Musically, it is one of the worst songs I have ever heard but when cute Sardars cry to a song, its hit status is the surest thing on this side of SRK’s abs!

Kaash (1987) – An interesting take on male chauvinism, this was about a declining Bollywood star (Jackie Shroff) who is averse to his wife working to support him but is even more averse to giving up his bottle and moving his arse a bit! Dimple was very good in the wife’s role and Jackie played the role in the only way he can – like a Teen Batti tapori!

Daddy (1989) – A teenager’s attempt to reform her alcoholic dad was a film made for television. Anupam Kher gave a lovely performance as the alcoholic. This was Pooja Bhatt’s debut film, I think - and she turned up in dad's films at unfailing regularity.

Awaargi (1990) – Govinda. Anil Kapoor. Meenakshi Sheshadri. Don’t even recall which film this was lifted from!

Aashiqui (1990) – Along with QSQT and MPK, this was the final nail of the action films’ coffin! Even hair as bad as Rahul Roy’s and acting talent as non-existent as Anu Agarwal’s could not stop this movie from becoming a runaway hit. T-Series, Nadeem-Shravan and Kumar Sanu tasted stardom for the first time and raked in the moolah! Sanu’s house in Bombay is apparently called Aashiqui! And before you ask, Rahul Roy’s mom was his father’s second wife.

Jurm (1990) – Vinod Khanna plays a cop and Meenakshi Sheshadri his wife. He has to protect Sangeeta Bijlani, who was a witness to the murder of Akash Khurana. The horny cop sleeps with his ward and his wife throws a fit. In between all this, the bad guys zoom in on the elusive ‘saboot’ (which, in typical Hindi fillum style, was hidden in a railway station locker) and you have a extra-marital crime thriller. This movie is primarily known for the song “Jab koi baat bigad jaaye…” – which, as you have rightly guessed, is a lift!

Junoon (1992) – Ever seen Cat People? Apparently, its an English flick about an ichhadhari tiger! I think the scriptwriter of this movie is the only person in India to have seen it. You see, Rahul Roy got bitten by a pregnant tigress whose hubby he killed. This made him turn into a tiger on every full moon night! He had no recollection of his murders and when he woke up every morning in the buff, he wondered why there was blood on his hands and mouth and news about his enemies getting killed.

Sadak (1991) – Okay, if the serious movie buffs promise not to dissolve in laughter, then I will tell you that the plot is loosely based on Taxi Driver! The original had none of the foot-tapping music by Nadeem Shravan. Imagine De Niro singing "Rehne ko ghar nahin / Sone ko bistar nahin" and you’ll realize what you missed! Pooja Bhatt played the golden-hearted virgin prostitute and Sanjay Dutt the Habib-styled, long-haired cabbie. The scene stealer, obviously, was the villain (vamp?) – an eunuch called Maharani, played with great relish by Sadashiv Amrapurkar. (Incidentally, Filmfare inaugurated its Best Villain award this year to honour Maharani.)

Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin (1991) – Oh damn, this is a copy again. This time, Frank Capra got ripped as Aamir Khan did the suave Clark Gable act of It Happened One Night. He and Pooja went from Bombay to Bangalore by road while singing all their songs in Ooty! Tiku Talsania, as Aamir’s manic boss, was hilarious. As were the stories of Aamir’s perfectionism – which were recounted by Pooja Bhatt to anyone who cared to listen. Net result: Aamir never worked with her again.

Saathi (1991) – This was Mohsin Khan’s debut film. Who is Mohsin Khan, did you ask? Mohsin Khan was a Pakistani cricketer, who opened their innings along with Mudassar Nazar. He married Reena Roy and tried his hand at acting. The name suggests a story about friends but nobody knows too much about it anyways.

Saatwan Aasman (1992) – A love story between two terminally ill patients, played by Pooja Bhatt and Vivek Mushran or somebody equally insignificant. Why was it called Saatwan Aasman? Search me!

Tadipaar (1993) – What if Roman Holiday was remade and instead of a reporter, a roadside tapori became the hero? What if the ending was happy? What if the Gregory Peck role was played by Mithun? And the Audrey Hepburn role by Pooja Bhatt? Aaaarrrrrggggghhhhh – I died after the last possibility came true!

Gumrah (1993) – Copy of Bangkok Hilton. Dumb belle Sridevi gets conned by her boyfriend (Rahul Roy) into carrying drugs into an Oriental country (I forget, which), which has the death penalty for drug traffickers and Occidental jailers in their prisons. Her hunky boyfriend – Sanjay Dutt – followed her into the foreign country and the prison to get her out. Also, to elongate the storyline, a sentimental dad (needless to say, estranged) in the form of Anupam Kher was injected.

Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke (1993) – Everybody has seen this movie. Everybody has heard the Most Popular Bad Lyrics of the Century – “Bombay se gayee Puna / Pune se gayee Dilli / Dilli se gayee Patna / Phir bhi na mila sajna…” Everybody has also heard that this film was completely ghost-directed by Aamir Khan. It was his home-production anyway!

Sir (1993) – Chhappan Tikli! Long before Nana Patekar polished off 56 goons, Gulshan ‘Get-up’ Grover played a small-pox infected villain, who polished off his enemies on tennis courts. His nemesis was Paresh Rawal, whose daughter was Pooja Bhatt, whose boyfriend was Atul Agnihotri and all of whom were taught the lessons of love by Sir (Naseeruddin Shah)! Joke of the day: What do you call a Jurassic professor? Dino-sir! Thought of the day: Who counted the 56 spots on Gulshan’s face?

Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayee (1993) – Yet another rehash of a filmmaker’s affair with a mentally unhinged girl. Rahul Roy and Pooja Bhatt starred in this film – which was made for the inaugural transmission of Zee Cinema or Zee TV. I have never seen a film on television with so many ads… and to think, this was more than a decade back. Just in case people missed the Mahesh Bhatt touch, he flicked the poster design from Basic Instinct!

The Gentleman (1994) – This was the remake of a Telugu hit called ‘Gentleman’. For a very enlightening discourse on the addition of The in the Hindi version, Juhi Chawla’s dance steps and Chiranjeevi’s reactions thereof, please read this.

Naaraaz (1994) – Mithun (in the title role) was the Untouchable friend of upper caste Atul Agnihotri. Their romantic duet (“Tere bin main kuch bhi nahin”) while looking dreamily into each other’s eyes was in the pioneering traditions of Dharam Veer described here.

Milan (1995) – The only film I know in which Akash Khurana (the most sincere looking guy on this planet!) plays a villain, a psychotic one at that. He tries to molest Manisha Koirala when Jackie Shroff is sent to jail. Why? Who the hell cares? BTW, Mahesh Bhatt got a little bored copying plots from films. So, for this completely original storyline, he flicked the ad line from the Mel Gibson starrer Forever Young. “Time waits for no one. True love waits forever.”

Criminal (1995) – Copy of The Fugitive with Nagarjuna essaying the Harrison Ford role. And to beef up the length, a love triangle was inserted with the help of South Indian belle – Ramya Krishnan. Manisha Koirala is the first angle. Some of the scenes were so identical to the original that I have this feeling that they went and shot on the sets of The Fugitive! Had one hit song (composed by the strangely named M M Kreem) – “Tu mil dil khile…

Naajayaz (1995) – Naajayaz means Illegitimate. Oh god – not again! Ajay Devgan played the title role, as a cop who is trying to come to terms with his step-dad (Naseer) ignoring his mother AND carrying on a thriving racket! Juhi Chawla was the comely police inspector in uniforms so tight that criminals would auto-ignite!

Papa Kehte Hain (1996) – Mayuri Kango turns out to be this really irritating babe with a really screechy voice. She goes on a hunt for her father – oh God, again? Yup! And she is helped in her pursuits by Jugal Hansraj, who looks as Masoom as ever. Wonderful songs, though.

Dastak (1996) - Sushmita Sen played the role of an Indian Miss Universe winner - finally, an original story! And she was stalked by a crazed lover and protected by a bodyguard. Oh damn - The Bodyguard! Sushmita was gangly, giggle and could not act to save her life. Sharad Kapoor played the crazed lover and I have not seen anybody flare his nostrils as much as he did in this movie. On the night before the release of the movie, a friend heard a Hindi news channel end its 9 o'clock news with "Yeh thi khabrein aaj tak. Intezar kijiye Dastak..."

Chaahat (1996) – SRK was the Hero. Pooja Bhatt played the Love Interest. Ramya was the Crazed Lover (though she replaced flaring nostrils with heaving bosoms). Naseeruddin Shah played the Crazed Lover’s Doting Brother & Mafia Don. Anupam Kher played the Hero’s Father and featured in the landmark parent-child bonding song – “Daddy cool cool cool / Mera beta fool fool fool…

Tamanna (1997) – An eunuch finds an abandoned girl child and raises her as his own. Paresh Rawal was fantastic in his role as the eunuch but Pooja Bhatt (in the title role) could not match up and the film collapsed in a heap of melodrama.

Duplicate (1998) – One of Yash Johar’s earlier productions (before his son wielded the baton and earned him a gold mine). If you hadn’t guessed already, the film had SRK in a double role (his only?) and excellent music. SRK continued his manic act from where he left it at Anjaam and Darr as he played the growling Mannu Dada with more ham than a sausage factory.

Angaaray (1998) – Akshay Kumar. Nagarjuna. Pooja Bhatt. Who else? Who cares?

Zakhm (1998) – In between the huge numbers of copies, Mahesh Bhatt occasionally came up with a film like this and redeemed himself. The story of a Muslim woman burnt by a Hindu mob in the Bombay riots and her son’s efforts to get treatment for her was poignant at one level and brutal at another. Ajay Devgan excelled in his role as the helpless son. A brilliant twist to the story was the other son – who was a fast rising Hindutva leader and denied his mother was a Muslim. Oh – and the mother was again the second wife of a film director!

Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan (1999) – Saif played a conman impersonating a rich NRI in a ho-hum story, also starring Twinkle Khanna.

Kartoos (1999) – A death row convict is released by the cops on the condition that he will kill a dreaded terrorist. He meets a grossly overweight Manisha Koirala and wants to reform! Blind duffer… and very soon, both the cops and the terrorist are out to kill him. Sanjay Dutt sleepwalked through the film, as did Mahesh Bhatt!

Did somebody count the number of films in which there is (a) Illegitimate children, (b) Psychotic lovers, (c) Pooja Bhatt and (d) All of the above?

No? Damn – there was a question worthy of Bollywood Ka Boss in there!

Apart from the above, Mahesh Bhatt’s filmography includes: Kabzaa (1988), Siyasat (1988), Thikana (1987), Abhimanyu (1980), Lahu Ke Do Rang (1979), Naya Daur (1978), and Vishwasghaat (1977). I have no clue about any of these. Would anyone care to enlighten?

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