Threatening my family is ploy to muzzle me: Bhatt

Sep 14, 2007 Subhash K. Jha

Mumbai, Sep 14 (IANS) Director Mahesh Bhatt, threatened by a person who claimed to be underworld don Ravi Pujari for sympathising with minorities in his film "Dhokha", says he did that to discourage him from making a socially conscious film.

Directed by Pooja Bhatt, the film, starring Muzamil Ibrahim and Tulip Joshi, was released on Aug 31. It revolves round a Muslim cop whose wife turns out to be a suicide bomber. The film had an objective and neutral attitude towards all the religion and it irked Pujari who called the Bhatts and threatened them.

Bhatt, who scripted the film, told IANS: "This is a cunning way of telling me not to touch communally sensitive subjects like 'Dhokha'. This is what alarms me. This is censorship beyond the official censorship. If the terror network succeeds in reining-in themes like 'Dhokha', then our film industry will continue with 'safe' themes."

The threatening calls started coming on Sep 7 but Bhatt was not cowed down by it.

"It's nothing but the cowardly act of an aspiring goon. He wants to intimidate me by terrorising my daughter. This is a sorry reflection of the times we live in. Does the fearless expression of our belief lead to this?"

Bhatt says he and his daughter Pooja Bhatt won't stop making socially conscious films.

"I like to speak up about the persecuted people, and I'll continue to do so in my films and outside them. I've spoken about the Kashmiri Pandits and faced the wrath of Kashmiri militants.

"I've spoken about the brutal murder of Khwaja Yunus in custody and faced the consequences. Listen, we all want the world to be a better place but we are not willing to take a stand. It's time to go beyond rhetoric and translate your values into action."

However, Bhatt does fear for his daughter's life.

"Now I don't just fear for my own life. Threatening my brother and daughter, who don't have anything to do with my social concerns, is a cunning ploy to muzzle me. But Pooja is unfazed. She has inherited some of my traits. She has written to the prime minister, the national minority commission and the national human rights commission.

"If merely making a movie about the minorities is going to make her vulnerable to a bullet, how can we hope to deliver justice to that community? The freedom to address her indignation so fearlessly to the state is possible on India."

Strangely, the alleged gangster made no direct extortion threats to Bhatt.

"Money was only an afterthought. He didn't mention money to my maid or daughter. During one incoherent conversation with my servant, he told my staffers to flee from the office because their boss was going to die. There he mentioned money. He has never spoken to me although everybody has my number. I'm so accessible to the world. Why hasn't this individual called me directly?

"Never in my life have I received any extortion calls from anyone. My brother was asked for money way back in 1997. Maybe this individual is trying to terrorise other businessman by pretending to get money from me. I think he should be treated with contempt."

Bhatt says such incidents will encourage him to make more such films.

"I'm further emboldened. I'll speak my mind even more vociferously. If speaking up for my fellow human beings makes me a target, so be it. I'm ready to face the outcome."

But Mahesh was asked to keep quiet so as not to give the accused any publicity.

"But then the goon went on air because television channels find such people attractive for the TRPs. Then I had to speak up. Otherwise, my silence would've been construed as possible guilt. The intention of the individual is to stigmatise me so that whenever I stand up for a particular community, motives will be attributed to me each time."

Amidst this bleak babble of bullying, Bhatt got a warm call from Sanjay Dutt, who had acted in his super hit films "Naam" and "Sadak".

"Sanju was very concerned about me. I told him I'm as concerned about him. The ghosts of 1992 hover over both our heads in different ways."

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