By K. Ashwin Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Mob: 00919920183006
Firebrand Pooja Bhatt and her father Mahesh Bhatt are probably the most hated producer-director duo amongst the young breed of aspiring and established Indian actresses. They pulled off a coup by casting an international porn star Sunny Leone in the eagerly awaited sequel ‘Jism 2’ to be released on August 3, 2012. They shattered the hopes of many! Subsequently, there were violent protests in Mumbai by budding actresses, who refused to accept that an international porn star could be better or more ‘dare-to-bare’ than them. Others felt that the Bhatts were promoting vulgarity in Indian cinema corrupting the morals of the younger generation. K. Ashwin spoke to the Bhatts and got them to defend themselves against a volley of attacks… excerpts…
How did you conceptualise ‘Jism 2’?
Pooja Bhatt: Well, ‘Jism’ released in 2003 and the game-changer film was acclaimed as India’s first adult thriller. ‘Jism’ dealt with the complicated matters of the human heart in conflict with itself. John Abraham’s character represented a man with passion and obsession — be it with alcohol or women or death! I realized that brand ‘Jism’ could be taken forward in the same way! It so happened that I was sitting outside Bandra court awaiting the verdict on my controversial film ‘Rog’ when I decided to go ahead with ‘Jism 2’. My dad backed me by saying ‘why not?’ I had a germ of an idea that one can kick the drugs habit but not love and this battle is the worst one in life. It took 3 years to get everything in place and writer Shagufta Rafique, the queen of sequels, has done a wonderful job. We were debating the choice of the right actress when Sunny Leone stepped into ‘Bigg Boss’ and my dad met her to finalise. We finalized the script on January 5, 2012, and started shooting on April 1, 2012 (All Fools Day). And now Clockwork Films and Fisheye Network along with us are ready to release the film on August 3, 2012. I had 4 flops in a row and am in the same situation as my Dad was before he made ‘Arth’ and ‘Saraansh’. ‘Jism 2’ will do for me what recent films haven’t and when our obituaries will be written, this film will be mentioned therein.
Why did you choose Sunny Leone?
Pooja Bhatt: Very few people know that I wanted Sunny Leone even for ‘Jism’ before Bipasha stepped into the lead role. The lead character in ‘Jism 2’ is so complicated and complex that to love her is to die. She is an obsession from the past that changes lives forever. However, her personality is not just skin deep but also has a good soul. I would like to point out that the first poster we did of ‘Jism 2’ was so fabulous because it had a voluptuous woman whose face was covered. Everyone was bidding for the role. Remember that we didn’t get Sunny Leone into India but Endemol and Colors did! Once we saw that Indian families accepted Sunny in their living rooms, we were justified in our initial belief that she had a saleable and acceptable image in India. Then, it was more about who belled the cat first and my dad went into Bigg Boss house and rest was history. When we released the trailer online, we got a million hits within 24 hours.
Mahesh Bhatt: I saw in Sunny Leone an Indianness, which was inherent and all pervasive. She is a typical girl, who has ostensibly traversed a path of sin but deep inside is so innocent with a heart of gold. Children watched her on TV and loved her. We wanted to capture her persona of being an innocent lotus trapped in the muck of life. She lives life on the fast track and only true love could slow her down and make her silent and still. Initially, we did consider Mallika Sherawat and Bipasha Basu but somehow I realized that Pooja felt that something was missing. When she saw Sunny Leone, I felt an urgency in her and everything fell into place. And Sunny’s first scene of the film, which is written and directed by Pooja, is so impactful that we all knew that the film will ‘stir’ the country. Sunny Leone is integral to ‘Jism 2’ and I can’t imagine the film without her. In the film, Sunny says, “Mujhe us swarg se kya lena jisme tum nahi ho and us narag se kya darna jisme tum saath ho”. That says it all when it comes to Sunny and us!
Why did you not choose an Indian actress?
Pooja Bhatt: Well, India needs a new fantasy in the new decade. Our choice of an international porn star is based on conviction and we stand by it. My Dad was born in controversy and his films like ‘Arth’, ‘Zakham’, etc. were all controversial. As a family, we have always lived on the edge. When we stand on the edge, we get a completely new perspective of the world around us. Since we chose Sunny as the lead character, we could skip some initial introduction scenes and plunge directly into the main plot. This was easy as Sunny comes with a certain image, which an Indian equivalent would be hard to find. I am a hard taskmaster and a bitch when it comes to perfection in work. I know what I want.
Mahesh Bhatt: Today, we are in the golden age of Indian cinema. There is space for everyone. There is scope for lots of good work. I fail to understand why Indian actresses become insecure due to the entry of foreigners. Today, the ruling actresses are all Indian but still there is a scope to do daringly different films. And if the script demands an international porn star, so be it.
Will ‘Jism 2’ corrupt the morality of India?
Mahesh Bhatt: India has a strong moral and social fabric. India cannot afford to be global in some ways and ‘tribal’ in others. There have been controversial films since decades and I don’t think any single film can corrupt our moral fabric. ‘Jism 2’ is not just an erotic thriller but has a high emotional quotient (EQ) and intellectual quotient (IQ) not present in today’s staple fare. It belongs to the erotic adult thriller genre and but in its veins, there is a truth of life. It’s a complex work of art. I have full faith in Indian filmgoers. I know they will realize that ‘Jism 2’ is a conservative film in a way. It’s the journey from lust to love. It’s the immortal saga of a porn star, who longs for enduring love! Its goalpost is traditional but complex. Our narrative dealt with an item girl and a porn star, who peddles fantasies. But eventually, she bares her soul and heart, not her body. And she rediscovers tradition in a violent way. She realizes after a point that pure lust makes her lonely and her redemption is in enduring love. India has always been liberated and is the land where it is accepted that every saint has a past and every criminal has a future. If a foreigner comes and adheres and abides by rules of the Indian Censor Board, why should anyone have a problem? In fact, I would love to see the film released in Pakistan in the international film category after Ramzan. Don’t see the Jism, see the ‘rooh’ and ‘atma’ to understand the ‘janam’, the ‘arth’ and ‘saraansh’.
Did Sunny Leone leave any scope for the heroes to perform?
Pooja Bhatt: Well, Sunny Leone had all the fun with the studs around. And Randeep and Arunoday may get popular with another kind of cinema after this film. I admit that the boys were ‘manhandled’ by Sunny. But underneath the exotica and erotica is a strong emotional fulcrum. The boys realized that the limitless worth of love that lasts and remains often unfulfilled. In fact, Randeep told me that ‘baring my soul worried me than taking my clothes’. When the boys saw the film, they said they can’t and won’t be able to do it again. The actual emotional content came through in their performances after they realized that. Arunoday admitted that he had no problems playing second fiddle to women on the sets because we all have mothers and he has no problems listening to her. He also felt that Sunny is a brave girl because she learnt the entire script and performed in an alien land in an alien language. After all, what every man wants is to be loved and they are willing to move heaven and earth for it.
Did the censors maul your film?
Pooja Bhatt: Pooja Bhatt doesn’t allow anyone to maul my film, my baby. No, the Censor didn’t maul my film and they didn’t tone it down either. Brand ‘Jism’ is unabashedly sensual and I stand by it. I promise that viewers won’t cringe. I resisted the urge of putting item numbers even though I had Sunny Leone.
If Sunny Leone is the USP of the film, why was she absent during the promotions of the film? In fact, she is not even in India?
Pooja Bhatt: In fact, I told Sunny Leone that more people will want to see you fail in your debut film. I am getting her to fly down to India around August 2, 2012, and make her meet all her fans. The media will get to meet her only after they have seen the full film so that they get a different perspective of her as an actress and as a person.