Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who has often spoken out on issues of national importance quite in contrast to others in the film and entertainment industry who choose to remain silent, has raised his voice against the growing atmosphere of intolerance in the country, saying that such acts "ridicule" our constitution and "debunks" India&’s claim of being a democracy.
Bhatt, who has made ‘Janam’, ‘Arth’, ‘Naam’ among other acclaimed films, said that although he is happy that the nation has collectively responded to the shameful deeds, the ink attacks and the banning of Pakistani artists like legendary singer Ghulam Ali and actors Fawad Khan and Mahira Khan from performing or working in Maharashtra is a question mark on our democracy.
"It kind of ridicules our constitution, it shames the police, and it debunks our claim of being a democracy. And when you tamper with a god-given gift in men of free thought and free speech, to create fear is not good for any individual, nor for society," Bhatt said in an interview.
Last Monday a group claiming to the Shiv Sena workers, blacked the face of former BJP ideologue Suneendra Kulkarni with ink while he was on his way to the launch of a book by former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri in Mumbai.
A week later, Kashmir legislator Engineer Rashid, who has been protesting against the killing in Udhampur of a truck driver for allegedly carrying a cow in his vehicle, had his face blackened while addressing a press conference here.
Ghulam Ali, who was scheduled to perform in Mumbai, was forced to pull out after the Shiv Sena threatened to disrupt the proceedings. As for the two Pakistani actors, they have been told they would not be permitted to promote a film that is currently being shot in Mumbai.
At the same time, Bhatt admitted that one would have to live with the kind of elements that staged the attacks.
"Instead of using this moment to create a further gap between them and us (the attackers and civil society), I would request them (the protesters) to fall in line with what our forefathers fought for. In a country which has such diversity, the most important thing that we need to do this time is to fight for the right of somebody else to be different, which we are not doing," the "Hamari Adhuri Kahani" producer and writer said.
And, in an attempt to find common ground between India and Pakistan, Bhatt is coming up with a play titled ‘Milne Do’, which is a collaborative effort of theatre actors from the two countries.
"‘Milne Do’ is through theatre. Theatre has got a limited audience but nevertheless reflects the ideology of civil society; celebrating the human values, those values which are as much sacred in Pakistan as they are sacred in India. ‘Milne do’ would celebrate those values," the 67-year-old said.
The play is an intense love story between two culturally-crossed individuals during times of abject hatred. It will be staged on April 24 at Shri Ram Centre here before travelling to other cities of India and Pakistan.
In another attempt on the same lines, Bhatt who made his directorial debut with ‘Manzilein Aur Bhi Hain’ in 1974, has upcoming Punjabi film ‘Dushman’ in his kitty, which will unfold a new chapter of friendship between the two countries.
"‘Dushman’ is a Punjabi film because I feel that this is the time the regional cinema all over the country today is asserting itself; there is a resurgence of regional cinema. India doesn’t live only in Bollywood. Bollywood doesn’t represent the voice of India alone. There is Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Hyderabad, Bhojpuri and Punjab!," he said.
"Punjabi cinema has an audience of its own and it has suffered a lot during partition. There is a yearning to make a Punjabi film which looks at the issue of Indo-Pak hostility with enlightened eyes. I think ‘Dushman’ also revisits that idea of the enemy and there is a great quote of Nizamuddin Auliya that to live is to love your enemy…," Bhatt said.
Associated with the Hindi film industry for over four decades, Bhatt is now seen as a narrator, exploring tales of some of Bollywood’s most iconic personalities in the The EPIC Channel TV show ‘Khwaabon ka Safar with Mahesh Bhatt’, which started on October 19.
Talking about the quality of the narratives in Bollywood movies today, Bhatt said these have gone down even as technological progress had taken the films to global standards.
"The mainstream is not as adventurous as our predecessors used to be. If you look at the stories of the people in the past, they were very brave people who went against the tide and told stories in their own unique way. They did not worry so much about whether it will work or not work. We have today lost the spark of being unique and distinct. We are frightened of being ourselves," he concluded.