|ĎThey canít say, donít tell
ó Pooja Bhatt:
How did the daughter in real life become the mother
Ever since he began talking of
making this film, Dad kept telling me that I would have to play this role,
that this would be the role for me to play. But I was frightened. I was
completely unsure. I didnít know what I was capable of.
First of all, the pressure of having to play the role
of somebody whoís been an important part of my own life. Then, knowing
that this film is really so close to his (Mahesh Bhattís) heart. Itís a
film about a part of his life and I didnít know whether I wanted to even
get into it, would or could do justice to it.
So, I kept refusing, delaying, saying, no, no, not me.
Take somebody else, postpone the shooting. But, he had decided that it
had to be me. He told me once, I want you to play my mother. I donít want
any one else to play my mother. So that was that. But I was extremely frightened.
How close were you to your grandmother?
I was quite close. I mean, I hadnít lived with her for
the last so many years. But until I was seven, we lived in the same house.
I didnít see her very often, but I did not need to either. She was not
the kind of woman who you had to go and see every week, to prove that you
loved her, or whatever. She was crazy about seeing my name on the billboards
or my photographs in magazines, on a film poster, on a cassette, whatever.
No matter how bad my film was, she wanted me to organise a screening for
her! She would also always call me on my birthdays and other important
occasions. She always remembered, I donít know how.
How old was she when she passed away?
She passed away on April 19th this year when she was
around 73. Sheíd had a full life. In recent years, she was not keeping
very good health but she was a tough, stubborn lady.
What do you remember most of her?
She was the one who taught me to cross the road! I used
to live in Mahim, near Shivaji Park My mother would not let me cross the
road alone but grandmother would go stand across the road and say, ďNow
runĒ. I would run half the way, then sheíd look around and say, ďOK, now
run againĒ. It used to give me a great sense of accomplishment that Iíd
crossed the road on my own, darted across the main Mahim road on my own.
I also used to be the one who would be taken with her to all the religious
places she visited.
Was she a very devout woman?
Yeah, she was a great believer in everything. I mean,
Good Friday, Navinas, Ganpati, and her namaaz of course. I remember, every
morning I used to see her on the kitchen thalla. She would be sitting on
top of the thalla, her hair covered and saying her namaaz ó early in the
Do you see the film as being particularly significant
at this juncture in India?
I think this film is important because itís got a certain
amount of honesty about peopleís lives, I think itís important because
itís taking you into someoneís life that must be shared and shared openly.
I think itís very special in that way.
My father has had the privilege of growing up in very
special circumstances in terms of who his parents were and what these circumstances
have turned him into. He wouldnít have been Mahesh Bhatt if his mother
were a normal Hindu or a normal Muslim woman.
If we didnít have this cacophony of religion, none of
us would be who we are today. I wouldnít have been this way either. My
mother is an AngloĖIndian, I grew up in the Shivaji Park area with my father
who didnít believe in God, while my grandmother kept dragging me from church,
to mandir, to mosque!
My mother used to take me to the Byculla church every
Sunday, where there was a distinctive Christian atmosphere. We would drink
wine and it was OK. Then the Bandra fair used to happen and weíd be there.
So, I grew up watching all this, taking all this in. And, probably getting
the best out of each and every religion. Most importantly, I was allowed
to choose who I wanted to be.
Yeah, I pray. Sometimes.
Where, church, templeÖ
No. I could be sitting right here saying a prayer in
my head. I donít think itís important for me to go to a religious place
to show that I love God more. Maybe Iím completely wrong, but my parents
have brought me up to believe that you donít have to go to a mosque, or
a temple or a church to prove that you are a devout believer. Theyíve taught
me that, you know, if you have your God and if youíve got whatever that
gives you solace, you are entitled to your own beliefs and others have
to respect that.
So, whenever I go past the Siddhi Vinayak temple, or the
Haji Ali dargah or the Mount Mary Church, my hand just happens to move
in different ways (Gesticulates). Whichever gesture I make, this or that,
I donít do it consciously. It just happens like an acknowledgement: OK,
Iím going past your home, so, I must acknowledge you. And, I do pray
to you occasionally!
Has the role you played in Zakhm affected you in any
I understand so much more of my fatherís life, my grandmotherís
life and life in general, after I did Zakhm. One tends to look at life
in terms of black and white, and all our ideas, especially about love in
the 90s are different. In terms of what weíve been brought up on, weíre
so used to quitting if something doesnít work out in a relationship. But,
now I know this woman, my grandmother, and think about her: just staying
on, and having faith. I mean, just the fact that her lifeís agenda was
this man whom she loved so dearly. And, she was willing to do whatever
for that love but at no time behaving like a martyr, seeking sympathy:
ďSee how Iím suffering!Ē. She just did it.
I think that is something that really made me look at
her with wider eyes, and I said, ďOK, so sheís been through this, you knowĒ.
You learnt this about your grandmother for the first
time in the process of the film?
Yeah, and, I think Iíve also come closer to my father.
When I was doing those scenes, especially with that little boy, I looked
at him and realised that this is my Dad. My Dad has done this, done that,
felt all those scenes that Iím now enacting. I thought about how lonely
he must have been while growing up, you know. You canít grow up with parents
like that, circumstances like that, and be a normal kid. I can understand
that also because all my life Iíve also felt like a loner. Not lonely,
but a loner. Thatís come from my background, from my relationship with
my parents, with what I saw my Dad go through with his parents, the whole
So, Iíve come closer to my family. I understand their
lives better. I understand myself more. I have different priorities today.
I look at love, life, religion, motherhood differently.
Apart from your father and yourself, how have other
members of your family responded to the film?
Well, when my grandmotherís sisters, who are Muslim,
saw the first round of the film and saw their sister being identified by
her real name, Shireen Mohammed Ali, in the tributes, they went up in arms:
ďMat dalo naam, let her be Shireen Bhatt.Ē
ďWhyĒ? my father asked.
ďWhy unnecessarily rake this thing up now?Ē they said.
So, today in 1999, this is how some of my own family
members are talkingÖ.So why talk about the outside world?
What about relations on your fatherís side?
When we buried my grandmother, my dadís eldest sisterís
husband said, ďShuddhi karvao (perform the purification rituals!)Ē. Thatís
how we got that shuddhi ka scene in the film. So, in a sense we thank him.
We got that scene, again out of real life, and put it into the film. All
this is happening in our own family, right now, in the
Bhatt family. So what can we say or speak of the world
Why did they want shuddhikaran?
They told my Dad, ďYou cheated us. I married your sister,
I did not know that your mother was a Muslim. And, now youíll have unleashed
this thing on the whole world. You have conned me, so, shuddhi karvaoĒ.
How did you react to this?
I find it completely ridiculous, because youíre going
on about this woman, who I saw doing all these things ó worshipping the
Cross, her Ganpati, doing namaaz. OK, sheís a Muslim, but she could have
been anything else. She never forced any of us to believe in her God or
to believe in any God. When she used to take me to wherever, she never
said, now do this or do that, fast or whatever. Itís crazy.
I mean, why must you force anyone to believe in
anything you believe in? Why donít we let people decide whether they want
to believe or donít want to believe. I think itís a matter of personal
choice, I donít think that anyone is in a position to say that my God is
better than yours, or you must believe, otherwise you donít fit in.
Is that the filmís message for everyone?
My Dad told somebody, ďWhat are you talking about?
Iíve lived this life, donít teach me about secularism. I mean, I was born
to a mother who was this and a father who was this and they never tried
to convert each other. My granddad didnít try to embrace Islam at any point.
He was a Nagar Brahmin, and he did what he had to do. But she had her God
and she had her means of praying and she did that. There was no question
of meeting anyone halfway.
I remember, before the funeral, he (grandfather) walked
in with his first wife, reciting these Hindu prayers, rudraksh around his
neck. His first wife put a tulsi leaf in my grandmotherís mouth and there
she was, lying with a Quran under her head, and a Cross on her chest.
So, who am I? What is my religion? It was never an issue
for me. But, itís an issue for everybody else, somehow.
Some people seem to have problems with Zakhm?
Well, I think anyone who wants to stop this film is completely
idiotic because this film will not make you come out of the theatre and
want to kill a Muslim, a Hindu, a Catholic or whoever. It makes you want
to come out and love people more. It makes you kind of come out of the
show and say, hello, let me call my mom, first thing. If anything, it just
makes you want to love more.
I donít think itís the kind of film that will have Bombay
or any other city break out into a riot tomorrow. But people are imagining
things or wanting to somehow impose their fears.
The film does show up certain leaders, some policemen,
a certain mindset, in a bad light?
Yeah, some people wonít like this, some people are going
to be threatened by the film. But, what do they not like? Are we telling
lies? No, weíre not telling lies, and they canít say, donít tell
What if the truth hurts?
Well, thatís what freedom is about, isnít it? Itís when
you can say something that someone else does not want to hear. If I donít
have that freedom, what are we talking about?
Isnít it ironic that a film based on the personal, lived
experience of someone can be so politically threatening to others?
Because itís so personal, itís more dangerous, you see.
Because, youíre talking of your own life, what you experienced, what you
felt. No one can tell you, you were wrong in feeling the way you did, or
this didnít happen, because youíve actually gone through it. Thatís
what makes it so much more dangerous Öyou know that line in the film, when
Ajay Devgan, the main character slaps the other guy and says, ďTere
baap ka Mulk hai, kya!Ē, that is basically what my Dadís personality is.
To be able to speak and say what you feel, no matter what the consequences
I think, thatís the enduring quality of Zakhm.
Itís a very honest film. Itís not trying to be smart. Itís not trying to
be artistic. Itís quite Ďcrudeí in a way. But it speaks the truth. Mahesh
Bhattís lived, experienced version of it.