He has already assured himself of a place in the history of Indian cinema and has earned the right and the reputation to have an entire chapter on his life and career, he could also have one of the best obituaries written about him and could perhaps even stake his claim for a chowk or a lane named after him or a statue installed in his honour, but he has gone public to say that he would prefer to have nothing of all that and rather be remembered as the maker of the films he made.
It all started when he made his first ever film, “Manzilein Aur Bhi Hai” produced by one of his friends, Johnny Bakshi. The film made in the sixties talked about live-in relationships when nothing was heard about them in public even though there were relationships like that in existence. The film raised one hell of a controversy and was passed with an “A” certificate after a public outcry. The film was not a big success, but it was the hero, Kabir Bedi who was noticed because of his handsome looks and his past as a leading model and his controversial image of a man who had a steaming affair with a dancer called Protima who was a shocker herself and once walked nude at Flora Fountain for the cover of a magazine called “Cine Blitz”. Kabir’s performance in the film marked his entry into films from where he grew into an International star with an Italian serial called “Sandokan” and followed by a leading role in one of the James Bond films.
Mahesh found his next chance to direct “Lahu Ke Do Rang”. Vinod Khanna was already established as a star, but it was Mahesh Bhatt who brought out the best of the actor in him with this film. It was during the making of the film that Mahesh and Vinod grew into very good friends and disciples of Bhagwan Rajneesh…
He next directed a film called “Vishwasghaat” with one of the most outstanding actors, Sanjeev Kumar in a double role and Sanjeev considered his performance in the film as one of his best…
It was then time for Mahesh to make one of his most memorable films called “Saaransh”. He had first considered Sanjeev Kumar to play a sixty-seven year old man fighting the authorities to claim an urn containing the ashes of his dead son. He had a change of mind and decided to cast an almost unknown actor called Anupam Kher and Anupam’s performance changed the entire course of his life. Anupam continued working with Mahesh in all the films he made for the next ten years without charging any fee and when he finally asked for a fee, the two parted ways but Anupam had established himself as a formidable actor and to this day, he always considers Mahesh as his guru.
Mahesh continued his speciality of creating actors when he directed the new star- sons Sanjay Dutt and Kumar Gaurav in “Naam” and it was their performances that was a major highlight which was appreciated by one and all, with Amitabh Bachchan being so moved that he sent both the actors bouquets with his personal notes of appreciation…
Sanjay Dutt was still struggling to find an identity of his own and was almost being considered as a lost case because of his habits, his bouts of alcoholism and drugs. It was Mahesh who took the badnaam actor into his hands, literally and groomed him to be a very sensitive actor in his films like “Kabzaa”, “Gumraah” and “Sadak”.
Ajay Devgn was still being considered as a B-grade action hero when Mahesh got him to do two very sensitive roles in “Najaayaz” and “Zakhm”. Ajay won all the appreciation for both his performances and his first National Award for the best actor for his performance in “Zakhm”. It was the beginning of a new life as an actor for the son of the veteran fight director, Veeru Devgn and there has been no stopping him since…
Mahesh worked with Aamir Khan in two films, “Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahi” and “Hum Hai Raahi Pyaar Ke”. They had creative clashes during the shootings, especially during the making of “Hum Hai Raahi Pyaar Ke”. There were times when Aamir literally took over the making of the film, especially when it came to handling the children and the picturisation of the songs. Mahesh never worked with Aamir again.
Mahesh had always been an admirer of Anil Kapoor because of his dedication to his work and when he found the opportunity to cast him, he did in a film called “Thikaana” which saw Anil as a very different actor, it saw the beginning of the powerful performer that Anil was…
Jackie Shroff was best known as a non-performer and some of his directors even called him “a wooden actor”, but Mahesh took on the challenge of proving that Jaggu Dada too could act when he decided to make “Kaash” with Jaggu and Dimple Kapadia. There were times when Mahesh made Jackie do one scene seventy to eighty times and Jackie begged of God to help him or begged of Mahesh to relieve him or throw him out of the film, but Mahesh persisted and Jackie came out with one of the best performances of his life.
He needed a good actor to play a challenging character in “Criminal” and after a great deal of thinking, he opted for the superstar of Telugu films, Nagarjuna to play a role which was very different from the image he carried….
He not only made superstars and stars act but also made what were known as supporting actors play roles that almost made them outshine their heroes. Among the actors he portrayed like no other directors had were besides Anupam, Ashish Vidyarthi, Ashutosh Rana, Manoj Bajpayee and Sadashiv Amrapurkar who he inspired to play the role of “Maharani”, the first eunuch villain of Hindi films in “Sadak”.
In fact, his ways of making his films and making stars play to his tunes without any complaints or regrets even made actors like Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan think of working with him, but some stories are left incomplete.
Mahesh Bhatt has now decided never to direct a film again like he has decided never to touch alcohol again. His not directing films is a major mishap at a time when we need directors like him to groom stars who think the sky about themselves and need a strong director like Mahesh Bhatt to bring them down to the ground. Will Mahesh reconsider his decision, at least in the interest of the industry which gave him a junior assistant all the opportunities to grow into a messiah, a mahatma and a miracle worker?
And as we talk about Mahesh , the truth dawns on urge that Mahesh , the one time rebel has turned seventy. Some years ago, he had taken an oath that he would not direct a film again and not drink. We can’t say anything about his drinking or not drinking , but we have it according to very reliable sources that he will soon start a new innings as a director and make “Sadak 2” , strictly on the loving advice of his daughter , Alia. It is a story of beti ke liye kuch bhi karega.
BY ALI PETER JOHN