"For Me Sex Is Not A Bad Word": Pooja Bhatt
Faridoon Shahryar (FS): We finally have Pooja Bhatt after a lot of chase. She’s coming up with a hot film jiske baare mein buzz bhi bahut hot hai – ‘Jism 2’! Huge pleasure to have you back on Bollywood Hungama!
Pooja Bhatt (PB): Pleasure to be back with you Faridoon finally and I am sorry to have given you such a long chase. Hope it would be worth it, just like how all our interviews are eventually!
FS: You made this statement recently that “Women have their own fantasies about they would like to be wooed and made love to”. Would you like to elaborate? In the same interview, aapne yeh bhi bola hai ki ‘Ram Gopal Varma told you should think from a male perspective’…
PB: Basically, what I was trying to say is that ye jo film industry hai, right from the board room that you go to where you try to sell your idea, there are generally a male board that decides ki yeh jo idea hai, woh appealing hai ya nahi hai. Aur kiske liye appealing hai? Generally, for a male audience. So you are looking through sensuality in Hindi films largely through a male perspective. You have the classic item song in most films today, where the lines between the vamp and the heroines have merged considerably. There was a time when a heroine would not be doing a song standing on a stage surrounded by 500 men who are lusting and groping her. In today’s age, it’s considered a very funky thing to do. Children dance to those songs and everyone’s having a great time. I am happy for everybody who’s involved in them. But that’s not really my gaze. I am tired of seeing woman constantly as a male play thing. What made ‘Jism’ earth-shattering, forward and a game changer in 2003 was when you had a lady called Bipasha Basu who played the character of Sonia who actually tells the hero in the end that ‘Ye jism pyaar karna nahi jaanta. Jaanta hai to sirf bhookh…jism ki bhookh’! And he asks, ‘You didn’t love me even for a second?’. She replies, ‘Not even for a second. I shamelessly utilized you!”. So she was a woman who had no qualms. And that shook things up because a woman said that it’s my body and it feels lusted and doesn’t have any iota of guilt in it. And that was a game changer and not the fact whether she showed skin or there was a love scene. ‘Jism’ in today’s age is extremely tame in terms of skin show and sensuality. But it had an inherently bold theme and that’s what makes the product bold or not bold, conventional or unconventional. For me, sex is not a bad word. My father told me that ‘Pooja, in Hindi films, bad people have sex while good people fall in love!’. But that’s changing considerably I think.
We had created a wonderful character in Sonia with Bipasha in ‘Jism’. That was a very tough act to follow. So we had to take a different route. We had to get into a new kind of woman. India needed a new fantasy and we needed to give you a combination of sensuality and vulnerability that was not there in Sonia. Sonia was hard and in control. Isna (Sunny Leone’s character in ‘Jism 2’) was not in control. Isna uses her body for profit. She’s aware of the kind of effect that her looks and persona has on people, especially men. She exploits that shamelessly but she’s vulnerable. She longs for love and is very traditional in that sense because she’s somebody who met this man, felt his great passion, got a taste of that and when he was gone, spent the entire life trying to replicate that taste. So we are talking about anguish, belonging, erotica…very different from pornography.
FS: Absolutely. Before ‘Jism 2’ trailers were out, I admit that like many others, I too had apprehensions that ‘presentation kaisa hoga’ and all. But my thoughts changed as subsequent promos came out. Especially the song ‘Kasoor’ where Randeep is giving massage to Sunny, I think it’s a very sensuous scene. It’s not vulgar or cheap at all and presented beautifully.
PB: Well thank you but it’s the scene the censors had problem with!
FS: Also, primarily, it’s not only about male gaze because the way Randeep Hooda and Arunoday Singh have been presented, I am sure that women and even homosexuals will be looking forward to the film!
PB: There’s a saying that you don’t become a male icon until the gay men want you! And this is accepted worldwide. And that’s what I am trying to say that we see sexuality and sensuality through a male perspective. But ‘Jism 2’ is fiercely a female gaze where the attempt was to make the men look beautiful. I feel that why should we take only the heroines’ close up with a certain degree of care? I think that men need to be cast opposite each other like you cast a hero and heroine opposite each other. Hence, when I cast Randeep and Arunoday, I wanted two distinctly different types of men. And that combination is also making people look out for. It’s not only Sunny-Randeep and Sunny-Arunoday; it’s Arunoday-Randeep - the unusual men together – and you wonder what is gonna happen. And they look believable.
FS: Recently, ‘Hate Story’ makers came up with a bold promo that instilled a lot of expectations in the minds of the people. But when the movie came out, a lot of these scenes were diluted to a lot of extent. In that context, those who have seen ‘Jism 2’ promos and you have promised them that the erotic content will be there in whatever content that they are looking forward to, how would you be dealing with it? I believe the print is already out…
PB: The print is out and I have the got the CC (censor certificate) and that’s the day I announced that August 3 is the day that is locked. Strangely, a lot of rumours were floating around that the film is banned or that the censor certificate was denied. I was wondering where that was coming from. After all, a censor board cannot deny you a certificate, to begin with. They are meant to give ‘A’, ‘U/A’ or ‘U’ certificate .Aap uss certificate ko accept kar sakte hai ya nahi kar sakte hai is upto the filmmaker. When we went to the board, they congratulated me for the film and said that they would like me to reduce four particular scenes. One of them was the massage scene, where you can see Sunny’s breasts as well. Ironically, just two days before that, the front page of Bombay Times had a full page story of how the side cleavage has become so fashionable world over. So you don’t mind that coming into your living room but you have a problem in a cinema hall when an adult goes to watch that! Anyways, breasts or lack of it is not going to make or break my movie. Regarding the other three scenes, they requested me to reduce its length because they are long. They had no objection with anything per se and I was given the freedom to chop it as per my discretion. Now, I had two choices – one was to go to the revising committee and fight tooth and nail like a parent would fight for their child’s each strand of hair. But I thought that I should look at it at a larger perspective and try this edit. I’ll view it then with my core team and if it doesn’t dilute my story, sensuality and the inherent passion that is necessary between these people, then I’ll consider it. And honestly speaking, it made my edit far crisper and made the impact of the scene far greater because it took out the iota of awkwardness that anybody might feel. Even people who are open to an adult film might feel a certain degree of discomfort on occasion if they are watching an adult film with another adult probably who might be known to them. But after the edit, the length is actually quite right and yet, the impact is not diluted.
FS: You had plans of approaching Sunny Leone long time back, in ‘Jism’ part 1 I believe…
PB: Yes. We actually saw her photograph in India Today in 2002 and there was an article on her that she’s the first Indian to have broken into the world of adult entertainment. What struck me was her face and how cute and innocent it was! Hence, I thought that it would be interesting to get somebody who is bold enough to go against many norms and come from a background which is kind of supposedly conservative, i.e. an Indian background, and break into a world that people generally stay away from. We contacted her but her agent wrote back that she’s got other plans. Last year, before ‘Jism 2’ went on floors, when we were pulling our hair as to who do we cast for the film and at the same battling reports that Bipasha or Mallika have bagged the role, my husband suddenly reminded me of Sunny. I immediately called Dino (Morea, the co-producer) and asked whether he had heard of Sunny Leone. He replied in the negative. I told him to check out her pictures on the internet and then get back, also adding that he shouldn’t get shocked! After some time, he called me back and said ‘Pooja…I just saw it. She’s beautiful but NO”! I laughed and can understand where he’s coming from. 3 months later, she was on my television set thanks to Bigg Boss. I then had an emergency meeting with key people from my unit whose opinion matters. I said that what I’ve harping about something since the last 10 years is now finally come into my backyard. This is life knocking at your door that there’s destiny that each role has and this role has found its destiny. Dad being dad, he called makers of ‘Bigg Boss’ and asked as to how can we meet her. He then went on ‘Bigg Boss’ and the rest is, kind of, history. So there are so many firsts and I feel that when you are giving an industry and the world at large people’s debuts, then the people need to accept and look at it like you were look at a baby that’s just born. We don’t say that ‘ye bache ka naak tedha hai’ and ‘bache ke ye aisa hota’. Arre bacha hai yaar! It’s a baby – react to it. So ‘Jism 2’ is very flawed. It’s got lot of loopholes in the sense that the performances could had been slightly better or maybe worse..
FS: You have dubbed for Sunny?
PB: No I have not dubbed for Sunny because I didn’t had the time. I was upto my ears with post-production. Also, I didn’t want the topic of discussion to be ‘my voice and Sunny’s face’. I wanted to ensure that the film is seen neutrally by people. Lot of people know Sunny and there are some who don’t. A lot of people who have heard her voice and there are those who haven’t. So I thought it would be fair to present somebody as an actor with a neutral voice which people would believe is her’s.
FS: So who has dubbed for her?
PB: There’s a dubbing artiste Smita and she has done a wonderful job. The voice sounds right on Sunny’s face. She added so many nuances as well. Sunny learnt the dialogues like a champ. She got the lines out of her way and this is what I told her because once she does that, we can work on the nuances and performance. And she picked up the script like a student who went back to school and learnt the lines wonderfully!
"Sunny Leone Was A Great Casting Coup": Pooja Bhatt
FS: In the first part, we had Bipasha Basu who puts her leg around John Abraham while they are driving - the body language was a deciding factor and in ‘Jism 2’, the same can be seen in the body language of Randeep, Sunny and Arunoday. So can that be considered as one of the highlights of the film?
PB: Certainly. John and Bipasha shared an easy camaraderie because they were involved in a relationship back then. Once they were clear about the scenes to shoot, there was absolute trust from Bipasha as well as John. Same goes for ‘Jism 2’. Me and Randeep spent a lot of time discussing the character before. Once we were on the set, there was no room for any discussion. We approached Kabir through poetry, for example. Kabir, also, is an idealist and has got a kind of a world view that comes directly from my father which is a take on whether it is the war industry or a take on why the world is in a state that it is. He’s much bigger than the average cutout cardboard assassin that you see in Hindi films. You are going into the head of somebody who is an idealist, a patriot and why he does what he does. It’s not that you show 5 cars exploding to establish that he’s a terrorist. So we have chosen the intimate kind of route with every character. The reason we chose Sunny for Isna is because, there’s a voiceover in the beginning of the film ‘Mera naam Isna Hai. I am a porn star’ and you don’t have to establish that background and persona with Sunny. If I had somebody who is an established actor, then you would have to create scenes to establish what she does and how she does it. So this is where we casted organically and true to the film. As for songs, we had a tough act to follow since songs in Part 1 was melodious and soulful. M M Kreem, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated music directors. Of course, he has got its due. What a great album he gave me! We asked ourself, ‘Can we better that?’ We then decided that let’s not try to get an album together that would be better, technically or otherwise. Let’s just cast each song like you would cast a person. We had to find songs and we did that. ‘Adhoora’ for example was found even before we had a bound script because the movie began with the woman in that kind of state. We picked up OST (Original Sound Track) that might have released but they are apt for that situation and the film. So it’s an outdated way that for every film, you would record new songs.
FS: The response to the music has been great. How does that make you feel?
PB: Thrilled because that means that when your taste is what you go by, not by market dictates. When people respond with their hearts to the music that you have actually brought out with your heart, what can be more gratifying than that?
FS: You yourself have been an actress and some would say was far ahead of your time. You had no inhibition kissing on screen…
PB: I didn’t kiss that much on screen and even though I was not one who had a hot body, I actually wore a lot of swimsuits for photographs that most people didn’t in their films. Just the other day, I was joking that when we painted our body or wore swimsuits, we didn’t do it for profit in those days. It didn’t convert into wallpapers and downloads! We did it because it was a fun thing to do. We trusted the photographer while the magazine had a great concept. It was an annual coming out and we used to say ‘Hey! This seems aesthetic, fun and natural’. Hence, we did it. Today, when people ask me why you aren’t back in movies, I reply that I am a rather ordinary looking person. I fought battles with my weight all my life. I think I have a spirit that is irreplaceable and is probably on par with the most stunning bodies out there and that’s what people respond to. Eventually, that’s what makes or breaks somebody in terms of their appeal is you and not whether I have this hair or I have platinum blonde tomorrow. I was appalled with people going on about Aishwarya Rai Bachchan putting on weight! I mean, you have one of the world’s most beautiful women who have just given birth and even if she’d not given birth and decided to put on weight, how can you sit there and gloat about it? What is the point of discussion there?
FS: I agree and we never carried that because personally, we are on the same page. My question actually got diverted. Since you yourself have been an actress and have done magazine covers, as you said, and some of them have been controversial, it was way ahead of their times…
PB: This is because I spoke my mind and I lived my life according to my dictates. I had only my parents and God to whom I was answerable to. As long as my conscience is clear, I went out and lived my life – fully and unashamedly. That’s what is bold and not whether you are in a swimsuit or whether you curse. Eventually, people should equate the same thing to brand ‘Jism’ because it’s bold in terms of its concept and core idea. So it doesn’t really matter whether you have a love scene that is 1 ½ minute or for 3 minutes because that is when you don’t have a story and have to pick on these things. But when you have a concrete story and a world view, then everything else is just frivolity.
FS: The way you have designed the film and also the camerawork, lighting, top angle of the swimming pool…everything is beautiful. Do you apprehensions because of the sensuality and sexuality in the film, these elements will get diluted?
PB: Fortunately or unfortunately, for people, abhi unke dimaag mein woh sensuality hai aur Sunny Leone ji hai aur uske beyond woh kuch dekh hi nahi rahe hain!
FS: Par usme koi burai to nahi hai!
PB: Burai kyon hai? Warna main kyon banati? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sensuality and that’s why I made ‘Jism’, ‘Jism 2’ and in future, ‘Jism 3’. I believe that people will be rather mortified to find out that they are actually going to forget what they are only harping on right now. The film is a story of the human heart in conflict with itself. It talks about the longing and the anguish that sexual encounters bring you. These are primarily adult feelings. It’s not frivolous ‘I-am-17-and-my-hormones-
raging-and-I-want-to-go-out- and-do-something-about-that’ feelings. The characters are adults who are rather doomed with their interactions. You don’t see Hindi films touching upon the feelings of solitude that people feel after a sexual encounter. You probably feel lonelier when there’s a sexual encounter not backed by feeling. Even in ‘Jism’ part 1, John tries to gratify himself with endless sexual encounters, alcohol and whatever that came his way. In that way, it is unashamed but let me tell people that aap thoda shock ho jaayenge magar kahaani to unfortunately hai isme! To logon ko blinkers utaar ke uspe focus karna hi padega because they have no choice!
I met Ravi Kissen yesterday at the place where my final mix was happening. This is the first time I met him probably. He shook my hands and said that he loves the promos while his daughter loves the song ‘Maula’. Moreover, he added that Sunny Leone was a great casting coup but the film has already gone beyond that! When a man like him who is so basic makes a comment like that, I think that’s a compliment to receive with a certain degree of pride.
FS: How easy or difficult was it for you to instruct your actors, reduce their inhibitions and understand their feelings?
PB: It was easy for me because I’ve been in front of the camera so I didn’t face any stumbling block there. But I feel Randeep especially made my life very easy because he’s extremely open about trying out a scene in 500 different ways, whether it’s a love scene or dramatic or any other scene. Log hamesha iss cheez pe harp karte hai ki jab koi sensuous scene hota hai, tab heroine ki feelings kya thi ya heroine ne kitni boundaries push ki ya usna kitna expose kiya tha. Nobody asks the man ki aapne kya mehsoos kiya! We assume that the hero will be okay kissing on screen and not ask him whether he’s feeling vulnerable taking his shirt off or feeling awkward lying on a bed with somebody only covered with a sheet. Since men are not always in that position, they feel more vulnerable. So it’s very easy to say ‘how lucky Randeep Hooda is kissing Sunny Leone’ and the other way round for women! But nobody asks the man as to how awkward did they feel and that’s unfair. I was very glad that all 3 actors were comfortable with their bodies. Sunny learnt that sensuality is not something when you are in a position with someone physically. Also, it’s not just bare-ing yourself physically. Camera is something you have to be emotionally naked in front of it and that is the mainstay of a sincere performance. And I feel that when they are watching your first movie, they are anyways very generous with you and allow a lot of kind of rough edges. But what you have in your first film which you’ll never have in the same degree again is a burning sincerity which you can’t replicate again. So, everytime when I felt that she was acting from a position which became kind of standard, I would push her to make sure that she reached into herself and thereby pushed herself to respond because Isna is on the edge because a lot is happening to her. She’s overawed, vulnerable and trying to grapple. Hence, it’s a character that needs someone who’s got a lot of experience to display to the degree that it could have been pushed to. Hence, it was a complex character and not an easy part.
"Dying To See Ek Tha Tiger": Pooja Bhatt
FS: The film is all set to release on August 3. And the promotions haven’t been much and even Sunny Leone is not seen so far…
PB: I didn’t want to start promotions until I got the censor certificate in my hand. 3rd August was the release date that we had but I was very clear that if censor had butchered my film, I would have not released the film on that date and would have gone ahead. And then if I would have started my dialogue promos, I would have to keep my campaign going on for those many weeks more. ‘Jism 2’ is a modest-budget film. It might seem like a big film for whatever reasons but I am not the one who has got 20-30 crore media spend. The day I got the certificate in my hand, we broke the promo the next day on the internet. It was out to all the channels on Friday, it was broken on Monday, it was all over and we had saturated the market now. So by Saturday, July 28, my campaign is going to peak which is perfectly in time for August 3 because people nowadays have short attention spans. And let’s be honest, ‘Jism 2’ has been spoken about necessarily and unnecessarily ever since it has been launched. So we have got our share of publicity, thank you very much everybody! So I would now want the right stuff to come out at the right time because you’ve got other films releasing like ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ for instance…
FS: Looking forward to it?
PB: I am most certainly because it’s shot in Cuba, one of my dream destinations and Kabir (Khan) always picks some magical location. So I am dying to see that. Also, I am a production designer myself. For me, where the film set is also important because that is a character in itself. Sri Lanka is a character in ‘Jism 2’.
FS: The way you shot ‘Kajraare’ was beautiful…
PB: Even I feel the same but unfortunately, nobody saw the film as it didn’t release (laughs). But to be fair, Jordan looked immaculate and I would love to do it all over again
FS: The songs were immensely popular…
PB: Yes they were and looked like a million bucks.
FS: You have said that you would love to do ‘Jism 3’ in 3D and would love to have Emraan Hashmi in it…
PB: I’ll be launching ‘Jism 3’ when I release ‘Jism 2’. I plan to make and release it in 2013. I have not even approached anybody, let alone Emraan. But the name that came to me was Emraan for the simple reason that I have not worked with him so far as a director or a producer. We don’t take each other for granted in our family and show any interest beyond a point in working with each other unless the product is worthy enough. I don’t even know whether he’s interested in doing anything more in brand ‘Jism’ or ‘Murder’ but I would like to look at the idea of casting him in one of the roles because the stakes have gotten bigger. We had two people in ‘Jism’, we have three in ‘Jism 2’ and we are going to have four in ‘Jism 3’!
FS: You have also said that you would like to make one ‘Jism’ film every year…
PB: I would like to because I believe that as long as people fall in love, their hearts are going to be broken and we’ll have great stories to portray on the screen. Also, I believe in making films that are not dumbed down and deal with human emotions as we feel and experience them in the real world and not in Hindi film isolated reality that most films unfortunately get saturated in.
FS: You’ve been a part of a film like ‘Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin’, an ultimate romantic film. So when will you have plans of remaking it?
PB: I don’t have plans of remaking ‘Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin’, but I have dreams of doing so! There’s a difference between the two. I think if ‘Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin’ is to be remade in today’s age, Ranbir Kapoor will be more than a worthy successor to Aamir Khan. He would bring to the character the same effortlessness, the same amount of charm and a certain amount of intelligent humour. And I think that Alia (Bhatt) is a better version of me and that Alia-Ranbir would be a delightful combination. However, ‘Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin’ is not an easy act to follow.
FS: Maybe a sequel to it, with new actors…
PB: Who knows? If Alia and Ranbir are listening and so is my father because he’ll have to write it!
FS: You’ve also said that you’ll like to act once again once your production comes out with a hit…
PB: Well, I have never stopped acting but then as you said, you had to pin me down for an interview because in order to do so, I had to at least attempt to open up my hair and look slightly more presentable than I am right now. But to act, you need to focus on yourself a little bit because you owe that to your maker and audience. My focus has been on my films and actors. I’ve been waiting for that one elusive hit. I’ve won National awards, got critical acclaim. I want my gratification of knowing that what I have directed has benefited everybody in the food chain since that would allow me to make my next choices with a lot more élan and freedom. At this point, I’ve nothing to lose and that’s when you are in the best position. We made ‘Jism 2’ on a budget of Rs 7 crore, we sold it overseas and in India for Rs 15 crore. That in itself is quite ground breaking. You have a film like this in a certain budget and is not compromised on payscales, technical stuff etc. Everybody is going gaga about digital but no, I would like to make my film in slightly old fashion style. Bombay territory is sold for a record price of Rs. 8.28 crores. That gives you your numbers itself. Obviously, this is the cost of my film without P&A. We did a wonderful campaign, our hoardings have already gone up. My first hoarding was ironically at the same spot where the ‘Jism’ first hoarding was put up, at Marine Drive. We’re hitting everywhere. You’ll see me, the film as well as Sunny all over the place as well! I am certain she’s dying to come back and hear the applause, not through the internet or tweet but directly.
FS: You claim that you intend to make films that are anything but safe…
PB: Yes. I want to be the outsider. I want to live my life on that edge. I am not interested in being an insider. I am going to finish this movie, run away to my farm, immerse myself under the waterfall, travel the world, plant trees and listen to music that makes me cut off from this world. And then I’ll find a new location to fall in love with and bring that forward to the audience like a gift. They are free to reject it but I have to give them what I love. I can’t gift them what you are telling me that I shall tell them me to love. Nor can I give them what the market is dictating to me. ‘Jism 2’ like ‘Jism’ will be a game changer.
FS: You also plan to make a film on Muntazar al-Zaidi, who threw a shoe on US President George Bush…
PB: Yes and it was a film that we wanted to target at an international audience. The cast and director would be primarily from there (Iraq) and make it in a language with subtitles for a market wherever it went to. But no one wants to back it. Everybody is frightened of taking on America, especially in the world of entertainment and a film on an unknown Iraqi journalist throwing a shoe on, as my father says, ‘Killer Bush’, is something that the average studio is not going to fund and give it a worthy release. But we are working on it but the how’s, when’s and why’s is something that I can’t comment on right now.
FS: Recently, a movie had a dialogue that cinema is all about ‘Entertainment, Entertainment, Entertainment’. Your take?
PB: Entertainment is most certainly a part of my cinema as well but I disagree with the second part of line that they normally add to that line – ‘leave your brains at the door’! If you plan to leave your brain as well as soul at the door, then don’t watch my movies. I would like to engage with people or body of work be it book, art or film that makes my mind tick. I would like to believe that I make the kind of cinema that makes your mind tick as well!
FS: Fantastic! So that was Pooja Bhatt in a wonderful interview with Bollywood Hungama. We patiently waited for this interview and we’ve been fully rewarded. Thank you very much for your time. We’re looking forward to ‘Jism 2’ and your future ventures. Personally, I am looking forward to your acting ventures.
PB: After this, I am going to run uphill at my farm, become svelte and then be in front of the camera (laughs)!
FS: Absolutely! Dabboo Ratnani photoshoot and everything…
PB: Dabboo Ratnani has covered up a lot of my sin. In fact, the best pictures he has clicked was when I was at my largest. And you have to conceal that and that’s when you become innovative because you don’t have the resources! And that’s what I do with my films as well!
FS: Fantastic! Thank you very much and all the best wishes!
PB: Thank you!
FS: That’s all we have from Bollywood Hungama. Keep watching!