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Beyond Saaya... into the real world

Now turning down an invitation from George Bush for breakfast, now refusing to participate in a film festival in Spain because of the country's support to the invasion of Iraq by the U.S.-led forces, Mahesh Bhatt is very much his own man.

HARD TALK: Mahesh Bhatt

DOES HE speak from the impulse of the moment or are his words produced by constant introspection?

Either way, listening to him is one of the keenest enjoyments and a fine reward for winning your battle with speech.

The media may not always have been kind to him and even accused him of being hungry for publicity.

hat may even be true to some extent but in his search for fame, Mahesh Bhatt does not fall short of truth. Or guts. He is candid without being irresponsible; he is smooth talking without being dishonest.

Just sample this for proof of Mahesh Bhatt's frank speak: Writing to the organisers of Las Palmas Film Festival who had invited him to participate with his film Zakhm in the Spanish festival, he politely declined the offer.

"I am certain that you will agree with me that this is no time to hold film festivals when the world is on the brink of disaster. It is absurd to even pretend that movies can change human nature. If they did, this world would be a paradise. Moreover, since your Government is an architect of this human disaster - invasion of Iraq - I find it revolting to accept their hospitality. Sorry, I cannot be a part of this film festival while American and British troops aided by your Government bomb and kill the helpless women and children in Iraq."

His protest had immediate impact. The organisers wrote back, saying they appreciated his stance. "I was surprised by the response of the organisers. They wrote back saying they respected my decision and supported what I had to say. It is unfortunate that we have an era like this. In Spain, 90 per cent people went against the decision of their Government to support America. That is very heartening."

This is not the first time Mahesh Bhatt has come out in the open in support of the distressed, the deprived. He had done the same at the time of Latur earthquake. More recently, he did something similar for the victims of Gujarat riots. And earlier this year, wrote an open letter to the President of America. Turning down an invitation to the 51st National Prayer Breakfast with George Bush, Bhatt wrote: "It occurs to me that participation in such sessions with the President is to condone born-again Christian Bush's terrorism of demonic proportions around the globe." Calling the nuclear stockpile of America an "elephant" in comparison to Saddam Hussein's "ant", he warned, "America has entered one of its worst periods of historical madness. What is at stake is not an Axis of Evil, but oil, money and people's lives."

Accusing America of deflecting attention to cover-up their evil plans, he stated, "Bush and junta have succeeded in deflecting America's anger from Osama Bin Laden to Saddam Hussein. It is perhaps one of the most clever eye-wash exercises that the Government has achieved with the help of their awesome propaganda machinery."

Mahesh Bhatt, who has with Jism given us this year's only hit Bollywood film, warns that writers, film-makers and other creative people need to step beyond their immediate surroundings to have any benefit for the rest of the world. "It is important for film-makers and others to wake up. Interest should not be restricted to the virtual world. You have to have roots in the real world to survive even in the virtual world. We must all realise that beyond films there is a real world where people struggle, fall and get up. The real world fuels the reel world. A filmmaker is an artiste. As an artiste he is supposed to be sensitive to human suffering. How can you be sensitive if you are not concerned about the anguish of others?"

Mahesh Bhatt, never the one to hold back, believes that "the real danger is the silence of the good man. It devastates the fabric of the society. Evil can be reined in. Good men have to have an aspiration for larger good. They should get up and speak."

As a filmmaker he is wrapping up work on Saaya, a John Abraham-Tara Sharma-starrer about soul and as a writer, his work on U.G. Krishnamurty has just run into its second edition. "I am working on another book at the moment. It is called Bread and Hot Water. It should be out by year-end or early next year."

In between, he takes time out to warn all of us about the dangers that lie ahead. "We have a growing culture of intolerance. The majority is playing havoc with the minorities. The liberals in the community have to stand up and be counted. They have to combat the Hindutva forces; it is the actions of the Hindutva forces, which are destroying the nation. India is not Hindu; you have to be concerned about everyone, including the smallest of minorities. If in the largest democracy people are openly intimidating the minorities it shows that political parties, which support such acts have to be reined in. Otherwise, you are encouraging fascism. Hindu fundamentalism is more dangerous for India than Islamic fundamentalism."

Here is hoping that the powers that be and the man on the street are tuned in. After all, who can speak better on inter-faith relationships than maverick Mahesh Bhatt, son to a Muslim mother, Hindu father.


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