'A woman, with her clothes on, can be more sensual than a naked woman.'
Pooja Bhatt releases her film Cabaret after a long two-year wait, and she's relieved.
Starring Richa Chadda, Gulshan Devaiah and S Sreesanth, the film opens digitally on the ZEE5 platform.
Pooja looks back at her career, and passes on some prized life lessons.
"Even when I wore a swimsuit, I wore it with innocence. When I painted my body for a movie cover, I did it with innocence. I did not do it to titillate," Pooja tells Rediff.com Contributor Ramesh S.
Cabaret is finally releasing. How does it feel?
Normally, an unborn child is born after nine months. But this has taken two years.
So you can imagine what the director (Kaustav Narayan Niyogi) and I feel like!
My debut movie Daddy was made for Doordarshan (in 1990).
At that time, everyone asked (Mahesh) Bhattsaab why he was launching his daughter through television. It was considered to be a step down.
But he said he wanted the world to see his daughter because he wanted to reach the maximum people (through Doordarshan).
The rest is history.
After that, we did Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayee.
Even then, people were asking Bhattsaab why he was making a satellite film, as it is a Pooja Bhatt-Rahul Roy starrer, with terrific music.
The rest is history.
The same goes with my father's films, Janam and Swayam.
So Mahesh Bhatt has always treated alternate platforms with integrity.
I wish there were digital platforms when I designed it two years ago, then I would have done Cabaret for digital release only, and not been burdened because we have a film budget on one hand and a P&A (Promotions and Advertising) budget on the other.
I don't believe in fake publicity because there is no point in lying and then doing business.
The joint producers of Cabaret thought the P&A budget should be cut down to Rs 3.5 crore (Rs 35 million) from Rs 7.5 crore (Rs 75 million).
I explained that in today's times, Rs 7.5 crore is a bare minimum budget for a film's theatrical release. How can it be possible to release a film with a new director that stars Riccha Chadda, Gulshan Devaiah and S Sreesanth?
Nobody will even know that my film is releasing!
We gave a dignified release to a film like Holiday even when we knew it would not recover the money.
That's why people come to the Bhatts because they know their film will at least have a proper release in theatres.
So I cannot let down my director, cast and crew of Cabaret.
So there was a standoff, and we decided to part ways.
Everybody asked me what clarification I would give since the promos had been released.
I said what I have been saying my whole life: The truth!
The film was made with good intentions, but a resolve did not come out between its mother and father (the financial and creative partners).
So we have decided not to have an indifferent film release because it will be like giving a birth to a stillborn baby.
So I hung on, and days and years passed.
After two years, I got a call from Zee, who was interested to release Cabaret through their digital platform ZEE5.
Today, what I thought was a road block has turned out to be a boon for this movie. Although it released on January 4, there's no hurry for people to watch it on that day itself.
They can watch the film at any time, on any day because it will always be there on the digital platform.
That's what we need for Cabaret.
You have always been a gutsy producer, with films like Tamanna, Dushman and Zakhm.
Yes. I have won a National Award for Tamanna and 13 Screen Awards between Tamanna and Zakhm in 1998, the year when Kajol won the Best Actor award for Dushman.
But Jism and Jism 2 made me more money than all those movies put together.
So people say something and watch something totally different, and that's what Bhattsaab told me.
He said make a Jism and then four different films of your choice.
I have learnt something from my family and it's that we make flops, but even in our flops, nobody loses money.
You may say it's a bad film, but there will be something different from the rest.
My women in films are not victims. They have strong attitudes, fight against odds, and take charge of their own destiny.
I don't look at the female form as something vulgar, whether it's Bipasha Basu, Sunny Leone or Richa Chadda.
I cannot make a woman vulgar.
In Cabaret, any other actor, apart from Richa Chadda, would look vulgar in that visual where she sits on a red horse, wearing stockings.
Richa brings a certain depth to it.
There is speculation that Cabaret is inspired from Helen's life.
That's not true.
Before I cast Richa, people asked me what kind of actor I had in mind for Cabaret.
I said, the new-age Helen.
What I meant was to have the capacity to be able to do any kind of dance step, in any song, and make it look pure, not vulgar.
That's what we all have learnt from Helenji.
That was a challenge to my choreographer Shabina Khan, and she succeeded.
Richa looks stunning in the version of Ghoonghroo Tut Gaye in Cabaret, which I feel is the best portion of the film.
She looks stunning, and I told her just one thing: Helenji.
So after watching Cabaret, no one will feel vulgar about it.
If you look at the portion where dance girls barely wear anything, there is no vulgarity in it.
My choreographers Shabina and Caesar Gonsalves have really worked hard.
Honestly, I gave them very little. I said I cannot compete with 50 dancers coming from the Dhoom 3 sets because I had only one prop, one Richa Chadda, and one floor. So create magic in that.
Do you feel your films were ahead of its times?
Yes. Daddy was my debut movie and I always ask my father where's the female version of Daddy?
I had my own share of battling addiction.
It has been two years now and my life has changed after I gave up alcohol.
You see Sharaabi with Amitabh Bachchansaab and Daddy with Anupam Kher. Society allows the man to give up his child because of his alcoholic nature, and also accepts if he wants to come back to his child.
But is that allowed to a mother?
If she leaves her child and comes back after 15 years, will society accept her?
No, because that is the hypocrisy of our society.
My dream role and film is the female version of Daddy.
Being bold is not just taking your clothes off.
I see digital films where women are just walking across the frame, naked. And there are cuss words too.
But after a point, it doesn't have an impact on me.
I am planning Jism 3 and Jism The Series because the amazing thing about the first part was not the skin show.
The skin show is mild; Bipasha is wearing a shirt in her lovemaking scene, and a gown when she comes out of the sea.
She is not wearing a swimsuit.
But a woman said for the first time on an Indian screen: 'Jism pyaar karna nai jaanta yeh jaanta hai sirf bhookh... jism ki bhookh.'
I put Bipasha in the first part of Jism and launched a porn star in Jism 2 and gave her an alternate career.
It has never happened anywhere else in the world.
But my point is, now what?
Another Sunny Leone, another titillating woman or another beautiful body?
No, because you need more than that.
You need a new kind of woman because sensuality goes beyond taking off your clothes.
A woman, with her clothes on, can be more sensual than a naked woman.
What advice did you give Richa Chadda?
I was watching everything, from her toes, her hair, her eyebrows...
She must have hated me for constantly fussing!
The only tip I gave her is what my father gave me on the sets of Sadak.
I had to do a kissing scene with Sanjay Dutt, and we were feeling very awkward.
Sanju had seen me as a child and he told Bhattsaab that he couldn't kiss me.
Bhattsaab told him, if you cannot kiss her, you have no business kissing anyone else.
My father said that if one does this scene thinking we were doing something wrong, it would look cheap.
But if you considered it pure, it would look innocent.
I have always maintained that throughout my life.
Even when I wore a swimsuit, I wore it with innocence.
When I painted my body for a movie cover, I did it with innocence.
I did not do it to titillate.
I passed it on to Richa, saying that if she is not comfortable, it will not look good.
She is a bright girl and a ballsy chick in more ways than one.