His productions do not objectify women, says Mahesh Bhatt in conversation with sangeetha devi dundoo
The promos of Murder 3 have brought the focus back on the Murder series. The successive sequels of Murder, Jism and Raaz have made many wonder if the Bhatts will ever revert to the era of Arth and Zakhm. Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt was in Hyderabad recently as part of a panel discussion organised by Moving Images with producer Elahe Hiptoola, film critics Meenakshi Shedde and M.K. Raghavendra as part of the Krishnakriti Festival for Arts. Ahead of the event, we quizzed Mahesh Bhatt on the shift his production house has seen and the role played by women. Excerpts:
Your daughter Alia and nephew Vishesh have entered the industry. With youngsters stepping in, how has your role changed?
In 1998 when I hung up my boots as a director after making Zakhm, I set a target of creating a company that doesn’t lean on stars. In the first decade of the 21st century, we did incredibly well with a number of box office hits, launched new actors, composers, directors, writers, technicians and singers from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. So the most productive phase happened after I gave up direction.
My brother Mukesh looks into financial aspects and I take care of the creative and marketing strategies. We do not impose our world view on youngsters who work in our production house. The demographics that consumes cinema is a younger generation and no matter how experienced you are, you cannot connect with that generation unless you are one among them.
Vishesh Films celebrated 25 years and in 2011, Raaz 3 was one of the biggest hits and made Rs. 90 plus crore. We believe in return on equity; the margin of profit we make is more than what most films belonging to Rs 100 crore club make.
The margin of profit may be huge but content wise there’s been a shift — from ‘Arth’ and ‘Zakhm’ to ‘Murder’, ‘Jism’ and ‘Raaz’ series.
The India of the 80s that consumed films like Arth, Naam, Janam and Saransh is different from India of today. Economic liberalisation in the early 90s paved way for satellite revolution and made content easily accessible. Worldwide, there’s been a dumbing down of content. Mass success became the focus.
Artistic films have become rare even in Hollywood. Filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and closer home, Rituparno Ghosh, turned to stars to make niche films reach out to more people.
Does it mean we won’t see films other than the ‘Murder’ and ‘Raaz’ series from Vishesh Films?
We made unusual films like Gangster and Kalyug as well. Murder has unfairly been stigmatised as an erotic thriller; at the heart of it was a post modernist woman who does not whine when her husband fails to give her emotional and sexual gratification.
She rebels, leaves home and finds happiness outside and when she finds that the person was not the right choice, she returns home wiser and makes amends.
People who dismiss films like Murder as pandering only to their senses are grossly unfair to the content that does not look at women as commodities.
All your recent productions have drawn attention because of nudity rather than content. Don’t you think your films have showcased women as commodities?
Not at all. When you show a woman reduced to an object where she plays a secondary role merely following her man’s commands, you call that objectification. There are films where women are fully clad, performing religious rituals but have no voice of their own. Whether it was in Arth, Daddy, Zakhm, Tamanna or my television series Swayam, women are at the heart of the narrative. Murder and Jism had women who rebelled against the idea of enduring love. Murder 3, due for release, also has two women at the centre of the plot. These young women characters are taking up the threads left by Shabana Azmi in the 80s. We live in an age of questioning democracy, religious ideas and just about everything but why don’t we question the fairy tale idea of love?
In the recent weeks, after the rape incident in Delhi, there’s been a constant debate on the role of cinema in objectifying its women. What role do you think cinema plays?
Since the beginning of cinema, filmmakers have used the female form to titillate viewers. The item numbers have been around since the 70s. Yes, Bollywood has objectified its women and it’s time for filmmakers to introspect and do course correction and not behave like politicians and cops who live in denial. At the same time, there’s no credible evidence to back allegations that Bollywood is to be blamed for the increasing number of rapes.
There’s also a difference between movies that talk about sex and those that objectify women. Sex is not a dirty word and all these films pass through the scrutiny of the Censor Board.