From doing lip-lock with daughter Pooja Bhatt for a magazine cover to making movies on his past relationships, Mahesh Bhatt remains controversy’s favourite child with his proclivity to ruffle a feather or two. But now, he has waded into a big row at what appears to be the most inopportune time in his illustrious career.
The 71-year-old, once called a maverick filmmaker for making acclaimed offbeat movies such Arth (1982) and Saaransh (1984), is returning to the silver screen as a director for the first time in more than two decades with Sadak 2. A sequel to his 1991-hit, Sadak, which starred Sanjay Dutt and Bhatt's elder daughter Pooja Bhatt in the lead, the film is set to be premiered directly on the digital platform, Disney+Hotstar on August 28.
Bhatt had last wielded the megaphone for Kartoos in 1999 and taken a voluntary retirement of sorts in the new millennium. He was happy producing movies and giving breaks to newcomers under his home banner of Vishesh Films, until he decided to return to direction with Sadak 2, apparently at the prodding of Sanjay Dutt as well as his daughters Pooja and Alia Bhatt.
Ideally, the return of somebody like Bhatt, who has an awesome repertoire to boast of, should have been a cause for big celebration and his comeback project an eagerly-awaited one in and outside the film industry. He has, after all, been one of the finest film-makers in Hindi cinema. In his heyday, he not only made several avant-garde movies like Arth and Saaraansh but also delivered commercial hits like Naam (1986) and Jakhm (1998).
A sequel of Sadak, his biggest success so far, ought to have created a positive buzz all around solely because of his comeback but that was not to be. Instead, Sadak 2 is being brutally trolled and not being talked about either for the return of Bhatt or for that matter, its cinematic merits. Worse, the film’s trailer, released on August 12, has become the most disliked trailer and second most disliked video ever on YouTube in the world. (YouTube Rewind 2018 with 1.8 crore thumbs-down remains the most disliked video so far).
As of August 26, in just a fortnight since its release, Sadak 2 trailer on YouTube has garnered more than a whopping 1.2 crore dislikes. The primary reason behind the tsunami of dislikes for the film apparently is Bhatt’s open support to actress Rhea Chakraborty, whose boyfriend Sushant Singh Rajput was found dead under mysterious circumstances at his Bandra home in Mumbai on June 14. Some of Bhatt’s pictures with Rhea -- an accused in a case of abetment of suicide and embezzlement of money lodged by Sushant’s father --- went viral soon thereafter. His brother Mukesh Bhatt was also quoted in a section of the Press as saying that Sushant reminded him of actress Parveen Babi, who had allegedly suffered from depression before her death in 2005.
The Bhatts’ unstinting support to Rhea, who had played the lead in their home production Jalebi (2018), immediately after Sushant’s death, apparently angered the admirers of the late actor, who suspected foul play in his death. At the outset, Sushant's fans blamed the rampant nepotism in the film industry for driving Sushant to take his life. An online call for Sadak 2’s boycott was given by people running a campaign to seek justice for Sushant. The film was also singled out for being "98 per cent nepotistic” as per a “Nepometer” launched by a kin of the departed actor.
As the suicide-or-murder mystery over Sushant’s death has since deepened with the CBI launching its investigation now, there is no sign of let up in the anti-Sadak 2 or anti-Bhatt campaign. A WhatsApp chat purported to have taken place between Bhatt and Rhea shortly after she left Sushant’s house on June 8 has further infuriated the trolls.
Bhatt now needs to let his latest movie do all the talking. A few fellow film-makers such as Prakash Jha have come out in support of Mahesh Bhatt, calling it obnoxious, sad and unfair to drag the name of a director of Bhatt’s calibre into a conspiracy theory without any evidence but it has made no difference to the trolls. It has left Bhatt’s ambitious comeback movie mired in an unsavoury controversy that the filmmaker himself might not have wished for at this juncture, regardless of his usual predilection for anything that kicks up a storm.