In an ever changing world, if there’s somethng that can be said with certainity about Pooja Bhatt, it’s that she marches to her own tune. She has a hugely independent streak and she lives her life on her own terms. She doesn’t need anyone’s validation and she doesn’t care about criticism either. In a career spanning almost three decades, she has acted, produced and even directed movies. And she’s been fairly successful in all of them. She’s made movies the way she wanted to, not bowing down to market forces. After a hiatus of several years, Pooja has come back to acting in a big way. She is the central pillar of the series, Bombay Begums. Fans are raving about her performance and she’s basking in the praise with a smile, knowing that shadows are never far away. In a no-holds-barred interview, the star tells us about her upbringing, her alcoholism and and her digital debut. Presenting the inimitable Pooja Bhatt…
Your digital debut is winning plaudits from everywhere…
I’m delighted and humbled by the reception that Bombay Begums has received. Women from across the country have reached out to say that finally, we can see stories about real women and how it plays out in the real world. Spring has arrived in the backyard and I’m exulting in it. I’ve also been moved by messages from within the fraternity, who’ve reached out to me and showered me with so much love.
Did you relate to your character in Bombay Begums
I think there’d be so much less pain in the world if we kind of levelled with each other instead of talking down to each other. I’ve always had the privilege of parents who’ve treated me as an equal. If you look at my character in Bombay Begums, she’s someone who’s never had that life, she’s had to suppress so many secrets. Someone had asked me what drew me to this role? Was it the fact that she was a lady boss and in charge of the workplace? I said, yes, that world was fascinating but I think my greatest privilege is to be cast as someone playing my age.
What made you take up the role of Rani Irani?
It’s a show where human beings are flawed. We all have our sides that aren’t perfectly curated. Even Rani who has to wear a saree and slap on makeup like a mask, almost like she has to cover up any insecurities like am I being judged? Am I being looked upon in a certain way? Do they know I’ve got menopause? Aging is a reality. We live in a world which is so obsessed with aging. I’m just glad I got to play this part at this stage of my life. Bombay Begums was, in so many ways, a win-win situation for me. It was a great part, a great platform. They say that actors are emotional athletes. So I was glad that I could reach inside and touch a chord within myself. There is a lot about Rani that I could relate to and a lot that I couldn’t. That is why I took up the part. Rani has gone through sexual abuse. I don’t think I’d have been able to bottle it down like she does. That’s what drew me to her. How does she manage to suppress so much and still be so calm? You see her in control in the boardroom and then she goes home and one comment from the kids makes her feel so unworthy. When I was approached for this, I said, “Hey, life is banging on my door and I can’t shut the door on this. I need to let life take me along.”It was also an amazing cast, full of wonderful actors. When you’re able to sit in a room and be vulnerable with your co-stars, it makes life so easy and that’s what helped here. An actor is like an animal and an animal knows where it’s safe and where it’s not. For me, it’s mportant, in my private life and in my professional life, to be around people who I know have got my back.
Bollywood is suddenly giving precedence to content-driven films rather than following a set formula..
All of my work which has sustained and all of my father’s work which has sustained, have been stories which have been dug out from his heart. Commercial success is important but think about those songs that are on the charts for six weeks and then you can’t remember that tune after five years. You play the songs of Dil Hai Ki Manta Nahin, Aashiqui and Kalank today and it still touches people’s cores. If I impress you, you won’t remember that very well but if I move you, you’ll carry that memory for life.
Do you feel the film industry has become an easy target these last few years?
Oh, it certainly has! Everytime the world needs a target, they point towards the film industry. And all of us are not forthright about defending ourselves or to counter them. I think it’s obvious that, in the world we live in today, there is a tendency to provoke a response. While I believe that you have a right to say what you want to say, I have the right to respond when I want to respond. And I’m not going to respond to everything that provokes a response.
Unlike other stars, you’ve never hid your faults. In fact you’ve been quite open about your drinking issues.
We try to cover up many things. But four years ago when I decided to quit drinking, I decided to be open about it. I began my career with a film like Daddy, which was about a young girl getting her father who’s an alcoholic to stop drinking. And there I was dealing with the same problem. I reached out to people to let them know that it’s something that could happen to anyone. Women especially need to be a little bit more open about that. And I was overwhelmed by the response that I got from random strangers.
Is being happily married a myth, especially for a woman?
No matter what we women achieve in the world, a lot of us come home and our achievements are reduced to ‘haan, theek hai na, tumne Nobel Prize jeet liya magar abhi khaane mein kya hai?’ (Good, you’ve won the Nobel Prize but what’s for dinner?) Are you a mother? Are you not? Are you married? Are you not? I’ve been asked by so many people why aren’t you getting married again. And I tell them that I’ve grown up from thinking ‘and they lived happily ever after’ to ‘and she lived happily ever after’. I’ve been there, done that, tried it and recommended it to people too. But my life is not incomplete because I choose to live the way I do.
What’s a usual dinner table conversation at the Bhatt house?
Rocking, in every way! The conversations range from world affairs, plants, thunderstorms to the best cheesecake – it’s a riot! You’d enjoy being a fly on the wall or, in our case, a lizard on the wall because we love lizards in our household. Between my father, me, Soni, Shaheen and Alia, we have different interests and strong opinions and ways of putting those opinions across.