Exclusive: My dad was always like a star as I’d see him once in a while, says Alia Bhatt
Ahead of Father’s Day, Alia Bhatt says she would love to be directed by her father, film-maker Mahesh Bhatt. However, he doesn’t “look at life as a journey where fathers and children must work together to run an enterprise”.bollywood Updated: Jun 18, 2017 07:30 IST
Since the 1980s, he has been one of the most respected film-makers in Bollywood. And once she made her big debut with Student Of The Year (2012), a new star was born. While a generation apart, Alia Bhatt and her father Mahesh Bhatt are top talents in their fields — and they have a close familial bond. When you meet them, you can’t miss the warmth and chemistry they share. We catch up with the Bhatts for an exclusive shoot and a chat for the Father’s Day.
Alia, what have been your fondest memories with your dad?
For me, my father — for the lack of a better word — was always like a star because I would see him once in a while since he was busy working and as he had to bring food on the table and I was consuming a lot of that food as I was a chubby child. When I was younger; I’d love to go on his sets. I also remember him coming back home and play snakes and ladders with me after I mentioned to him that we don’t spend enough time together. And the go-getter that he is, his solution was to play a game with me. My sister (Shaheen Bhatt) would get jealous about it. But he is a competitive person and he did not like losing even then…
Mahesh: I would always dread the number 99 because when the snake bites you, you come down to number six or seven (laughs).
Alia: I think it was number three but I remember that.
Mr Bhatt, do you feel you didn’t spend enough time with Alia?
Mahesh: I am not a textbook dad. If we go by the prescribed culture and if they throw the rule book at me, then I’d be a disaster by their standards. I have not lived by the diktats of what is called ‘culture’ as I feel human beings need to have their own standards and heart. Even I was physically absent, they — including my other family, Pooja and my son, Sunny — were a part of my inner world, were the earth beneath my feet, and the sky above my head. So, we haven’t lived by the diktats such as coming back home at 8 o’clock, having dinner together or going for holidays etc., but we tried to create memories.
Alia: He is missing his workout for this (shoot and interview).
Mahesh: I was busy writing for her. They have pushed me into this (workout) because I am very competitive. Today, size zero girls might be the icons but I’ve not forfeited my rights at 68 to outshine them and I think that is the genetic component that she has and that’s why she is growing from strength to strength (smiles).
Alia, has he been a strict dad?
My mother was always the one I was scared of. But both of them have always left a lot of room for Shaheen and I to make our own mistakes; fall and then get up on our own. But I really give a lot of credit to my father and my mum, too, as they sort of knew that this is going to be my life and I am made for the movies. He told me certain things — how you behave once you have tasted success, how you treat others, punctuality, respect for time and other people’s work and respect for everybody — that have always stayed with me. He was never strict, and would tell Shaheen and me, ‘If you want to fail, it’s fine.’ What mattered to him more was how we were as human beings.
Mahesh: I have always believed that children don’t follow what you say, they follow what you do. Actions are what children watch. I used to watch my elders and I used to see a contradiction between their actions and their words. So, I felt that before asking them to become somebody or do something, I must first appropriate those values personally before I get on a high horse. I also attempted to make them realise that parents are also human beings. We are frail, vulnerable, we stumble, we fall, we are compassionate, gracious, mean, petty, and that’s what life is all about. Families learn to live with each other’s shortcomings and since we all accept that we walk into a room with our shadows, it has kept the air in our home liveable.
Alia, would you like your father to come out of his retirement to direct you in a film?
Yes, of course. If you can wake up a dormant volcano then you can get Mahesh Bhatt to direct a film because that’s what he calls himself. In fact, Sanjay Dutt recently told my mother to tell me, ‘Tell Alia she must work with Bhatt saab. She doesn’t know what she is missing out on.’ I have told him but he doesn’t want to. I also don’t want to push him. But he has given me other things that maybe no one else can.
What qualities do you like in each other?
Alia: The best thing is that he just never says no to me. I ask him anything and he will give me. Even before this interview, I asked ‘papa, will you come?’ and he said, ‘you ask and I say yes’. It has always been that way.
Mahesh: It’s Alia’s thirst to astound people and herself. I see the hunger in her to outdistance her own best work. She doesn’t want the crumbs or loaf, but the entire bakery. I learn from her and when I say that, I mean that.
For daughters, their fathers are always the hero. Is it the same for you too?
Alia: In a way yes because I have, unknowingly, grasped a lot of things from my father. And one of the main things that I look up to him for is his willpower and his power to commit. When you are young, you are ignorant; but now, when I am working, I realise that whatever qualities I have is probably helping me do well in my own standards. And I’m like this because of the way I have seen him and the things that he has done. So, in that sense, he is a hero but I would correct that a bit because I will say he is my heroine (laughs).
Mahesh: It’s difficult to use a word like discipline with a person like me because I have lived in the heart of chaos. I have never been out of what is called a stormy phase of my life. But discipline comes when you dare yourself, so I’ve always dared my own limitations and that’s what has kept me continuously on the edge. In fact, I used to keep telling Alia, ‘Never be in the centre; be on the edge. Never get corrupted or be a part of the establishment.’ It’s very comforting to be a part of the herd. But a thinker has the courage to walk alone and if you don’t do that, you don’t bring a distinct view to the work you do or to the life you live. And I think, she in her own way, has inhaled what we have lived.
Alia Bhatt is not just a beautiful face, for which she has much to thank her grandmother and my mother, who was another pretty girl, but I think what she has inhaled is their spirits. She is kind of a cocktail of her grandmother, who fought in the Hitler’s regime, and my mother, who was a woman who lived without getting married to my father and brought up six children without the approval of the society. So, she has got the spark of real rebels in her.
Mr Bhatt, Alia has impressed everyone with her performances. Did you see flashes of brilliance in her as a kid too…
Mahesh: Parents do not look at their children that way; I never thought what this child of mine will become when she grows up. I take great pride in saying that at 24; she has outdistanced and outshone what I had done at 34. I made Saaransh (1984) at that age and it was my highest creative peak. She is 10 years younger.
But I also fear for her as I know with great success comes great expectations, and accolades. That’s intoxicating but with that comes the brutality of the world because in the discovery phase, the world opens its arms to you, but demolishing stars is a global pastime. But the moment she feels she has arrived, the idea is to jolt her and wake her up. I think what possibilities lie in front of her is inexhaustible.
Alia, being Mahesh Bhatt’s daughter, have you ever felt any pressure that you will be compared to your father’s talent?
Alia: I was always aware that there’ll be comparison, especially after Student Of The Year (2012). Student… was a glamorous film and I knew there would be many people who would question whether she has the kind of depth that Mahesh Bhatt has. Honestly, I don’t have that kind of depth since he has too much of it. But in my head, I knew that I, as well as my family, would eventually be happy. And I’ll make them proud.
There has been a rumour that both of you will soon work together under the family banner.
Mahesh: First of all, I am not her model; I have never put myself as a model that she should emulate me. I do not look at life as a journey where fathers and children must work together to run an enterprise. I have been a lone wolf, and my brother and I have somehow survived for 46 years in this business. I think there is no pressure on me or Alia to ever bow down to the needs of the marketplace and do something to amuse them. At the moment, we do not have any such great concrete plans that we are going to do something together. There are always ideas that we are exploring and maybe, someday if she, being a star, gives a nod to it, it will happen. They say that the industry is run by stars but her father has lived a life outside the stranglehold of the stars (laughs).
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