Free Press Journal

Pooja Bhatt reveals the one big regret about her Bollywood career


Thanks for existing, Pooja Bhatt,” a random young lady shouts from an auto rickshaw whizzing past while I am walking with Pooja from her car to Kkosh studio for the ‘The Dinesh Raheja Workshop. The non-conformist icon of the 90s exults, “Today is my day, it seems. In the morning, a leading newspaper referred to the body painting cover photo-session which I did for you when you were the editor of Movie magazine as ‘iconic’. Imagine, after 25 years the cover has still stood the test of time!”

Pooja enters the room and is greeted by a round of applause from 14 male participants (the girls are fashionably late). She stands arms akimbo and exhales, “Phew! I must tell Alia that I too can still attract so much male attention.”

Once the laughter subsides and Pooja plunges into a Q&A session, the candid actress of ‘Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin’, ‘Sadak’, ‘Zakhm’ gamely addresses the elephant in the room: ‘As someone who has once experienced similar adulation, how does Pooja react to Alia Bhatt’s current success?’ Pooja shrugs, “Come on yaar, she is my younger sister, I feel happy for her. And she is very talented and successful and takes her own decisions. Also, we are in different time zones of our careers. She is only 25, how can you compare?”

Pooja has only one regret. No, it’s not rejecting ‘Raja Hindustani’ which went on to become a super hit. Pooja rues the lack of meaty roles for heroines in the ’90s. “I wish there were people who gave me roles like my dad did.” Pooja reasons, “I could not be arm candy to a hero. When I would ask, ‘Mera role kya hai?’ they would say, ‘You are Akshay Kumar’s heroine’. I would persist, ‘But what is my role?’ And they would dub me as a badtameez. They would be upset I had a brain, I had an opinion and that I thought of myself as Mahesh Bhatt’s daughter. Hindi film heroines were meant to be seen and not heard.”

Pooja always had a mind of her own which rebelled against herd mentality. She recounts an incident at a meeting chaired by Mithun Chakraborty in the mini theatre at Ajanta Arts. “All the actors had decided to boycott the Press. I remember Manisha Koirala was sitting next to me and Salman was sitting on the floor. The bigwigs of the industry were talking and I whispered, ‘What are we doing here? Let’s go to 1900 and party.’ Finally, I raised my hand to speak. I said, ‘I don’t want to be part of any war, let everyone fight their own battles. The Press has been fair to me all along’.”

She believes in charting her own course. She turned filmmaker at 25 and has since navigated the highs (Tamanna, Jism, Jism 2) with as much equanimity as the lows. Her father Mahesh Bhatt’s gene is palpably evident. She reads out from a letter he wrote to her on the eve of her debut directorial venture Paap: “Competition and rivalry are a fact of life. This is planet Bollywood, gratitude does not exist and neither do friends. It is a journey of the alone to the alone. You will discover for yourself on the day of your release that more people here want you to fail than to succeed.”

In keeping with the unspoken family tradition of giving sanguine advice, Pooja told her sister Alia on her first day on the sets, ‘Cut yourself out. Don’t try to win everyone’s approval and go yakking away. Focus.’

And that is what Pooja is doing currently. She is finally listening to her well-wishers and returning in front of the screen with Sadak 2 (alongside Sanjay Dutt who had paired with her in the original). She has been approached by Vikram Bhatt too.

Pooja says, “I am also doing the web series City Of Death in which I play a 45-year-old police officer who has fallen from grace. She is flawed, she is human, she mixes vodka in her coffee, and has substance abuse problems. This is ironic considering I have quit alcohol now…Sobriety has been the most life-affirming path for me. Somewhere in my head, I had stopped being an actor. It’s when I started the greatest love story…with myself…that the Universe just opened its arms to me.”

High on life, Pooja doesn’t need spirits of another kind now. She leaves the bedazzled participants with a final piece of advice: “No one is immortal. Don’t worry too much about your life. Just sing your song…
and go.”