His critics never spare a second in listing Kartoos, an immensely forgettable film he made in 1999, to argue that director Mahesh Bhatt is no more relevant in Bollywood’s new look, high-on-adrenaline modern-day face. That his production house has only managed to churn out a string of sleazy thrillers of late hasn’t made Bhatt’s case any stronger. Add to all this his foot-in-the-mouth disease, courting controversies with statements that could only be called atrocious at times, only make him the industry’s enfant terrible of sorts.
Still, the fact is, that Mahesh Bhatt, in his prime during the 80s, was one filmmaker any serious cinema lover looked up to. Remember those semi-autobiographical stories he has turned into legendary films in the past?
On his 67th birthday on Sunday, we revisit five classics he will always be remembered for.
Saraansh: Without doubt, one of the most powerful films ever made in Bollywood. Saraansh traces the struggles of an ageing father fighting for justice for his son who was killed by criminals. The 1984 film received three Filmfare awards and one National Award that year. It also marked the debut of Anupam Kher in Bollywood. We have heard in the past that Rajshri, the film’s producers, wanted Sanjeev Kumar to play the lead for the film, but Bhatt insisted on Kher. The rest, as they say, is history: Saraansh wanted Sanjeev Kumar to play the lead but Mahesh Bhatt insisted on Kher. Bhatt gifted his Filmfare award for Saraansh to director Hansal Mehta after watching his film, Citylights, in May 2014.
Daddy: Many say Daddy marked Bhatt’s daughter Pooja’s best performance. The film explored the bitter-sweet relationship between a father and his daughter. The 1983 film also dealt with social issues and addressed atrocities of class-divide, alcoholism and much more. Anupam Kher got a Filmfare and National Award for his performance in the film. Mahesh Bhatt had said in the past that Daddy was about his own struggle with alcoholism and that’s why it emphasises on Pooja’s role in getting him off the addiction.
Arth: In many ways, there is no match for Arth in the Indian film industry. It explored human emotions and relations in a way no one has ever managed to till now. Arth was ahead of its time, with Shabana Azmi portraying the role of a weak housewife-turned independence-loving woman who won’t marry a guy just because he helped her when she was in trouble. The 1982 movie got two Filmfare awards and also got Shabana her second National Award for her performance.
Zakhm: Ajay Devgn got his first recognition as a performing actor with Bhatt’s 1998 film Zakhm. The movie dealt with issues like communal tension and illegitimate child in a remarkably sensitive manner. The Pooja Bhatt-Nagarjuna-starrer got Nargis Dutt Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration.
Kaash: The story of a filmmaker on the downfall in his industry, who is struggling with his own failure even as his son fights his own battle with brain tumour was a touching one. Unlike the over-dramatic capers that Bollywood churns out, Mahesh Bhatt gives a realistic view of the situation in this 1987 film.