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'It's not enough to just have a dream or a script: Pooja Bhatt

Pooja Bhatt on the role that film festivals play, the struggles she faces as a filmmaker, and how her father might still have a movie left in him

She was the first from the Bhatt clan to leave the so-called Bhatt camp to set up her own production house. But then, fiery independence comes easily to Pooja Bhatt, who’s known for supporting films that she believes in. On Sunday, Bhatt was part of a panel discussion on cinema at the fifth edition of the Jagran Film Festival (JFF). Giving her company on the panel were Manoj Srivastava, strategic consultant, JFF, and Ajay Brahmatmaj from Dainik Jagran. Needless to say, hitlist’s tête-à-tête with the feisty lady on the closing day of the week-long festival made for an interesting chat...

Pooja Bhatt
Pooja Bhatt

There are not many women filmmakers in our industry. Do you feel stereotyped because of your gender?
Bollywood has been a man-dominated world, so I know this happens at times. But thankfully, I don’t crave for respect from the industry. I’m just happy doing what I’m doing. But to address your question, it’s true that a female director tends to make films that concentrate on female-related concerns and as a result, they get branded. I think this is pretty much true for other professions too. I, for one, look at myself as an actor who turned into a producer before directing films and then I became a production designer too. How are you going to slot me in terms of my gender?

Ajay Brahmatmaj from Dainik Jagran, filmmaker Pooja Bhatt and Manoj Srivastava, strategic consultant, Jagran Film Festival (JFF), at a panel discussion on the final day of the fifth edition of JFF. Pics/Satyajit Desai
Ajay Brahmatmaj from Dainik Jagran, filmmaker Pooja Bhatt and Manoj Srivastava, strategic consultant, Jagran Film Festival (JFF), at a panel discussion on the final day of the fifth edition of JFF. Pics/Satyajit Desai

Would you call yourself an independent filmmaker?
As far as the funding for a film goes, I don’t take any help from the so-called Bhatt camp. I raise money on my own. But when it comes to seeking advice on something, I turn to both my uncle (Mukesh Bhatt) as well as my dad (Mahesh Bhatt). Having said that, getting funds is never easy. You have to keep telling people all that your film will boast of, the budget that you have in mind and of course, the profit you’re looking at making. At times, you have to credit yourself a bit more and forget all the bad reviews your movies got (laughs). Or else, you’ll never make a film again.

As a filmmaker, how do you go about differentiating between mainstream and non-mainstream films?
Not very long ago, there was a clear demarcation between arthouse cinema and commercial cinema. But over the last few years, we’ve seen the two streams merge into one. Lines between the two are blurring at a rapid pace. A film today can have the best of both worlds as well as the worst of both worlds.

In such a scenario, what role does a film festival play?
A film festival can do a lot of things; it can change the way cinema is perceived. But then again, a film festival can’t afford to be elitist; it’s something we’ve seen take place with literary fests. A film festival has to embrace the common people and make him/her part of the process. A common person should be able to walk in and watch something s/he wouldn’t otherwise. In this way, smaller films can get the space that they deserve and the appreciation they are eventually going to earn.

And what about these small films not getting a commercial release?
Today, releasing a film is an art form in itself. The most common argument put forward is this: we only offer what the public wants. What this means is that the market is wide open for what the consumer demands. It may be sad, but that’s how commerce works. A lot of money is invested in making a film, let alone the money spent on advertising and publicity. If the cinema owners are taking a risk, expecting returns is quite natural. And because of these harsh realities, it’s important that we make a start with a regular film festival — if not a separate event. Here we can have a discourse and a filmmaker can tell aspiring film students that it’s not enough to just have a dream or a script. Things can get messy here.

Bollywood is getting increasingly bold nowadays...
We tend to believe that boldness is all about skin show; it’s not. Boldness has a lot to do with our thoughts. Jism released around a decade ago and it opened a Pandora’s box for us. We had a female protagonist (Bipasha Basu) tell us that the human body understands lust, not love. And if you remember, there weren’t many scenes showing skin in that film. After this film, we’ve seen a spate of bold films where the female character isn’t afraid of speaking her mind. She doesn’t have to prance around in a bikini to put forth her point of view.

Do you think your father is going to direct another film?
His book, A Taste of Life, which talks about the last days of UG Krishnamurti, is too relevant to not be transformed into a film. You can put all his films on one side and then put this book on another — it’s that good. I keep telling him that there’s one more film left in him and it has to be this book. But he keeps saying that he can’t go through the grind again.

Does Alia (Bhatt) approach you for your guidance?
She doesn’t need anyone’s guidance. We should go to her for guidance (laughs). She isn’t just a pretty face; she’s someone who’s very sorted and has a sensitive side to her. And she was clear about one thing: she wanted to be a star and she is one today.

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