March 27, 2001


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'The establishment hates independent thought'

Pritish Nandy

Mahesh Bhatt Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt is forever tilting at windmills.

But behind this Quixotic posture is actually a brave man ready to stand up for the causes he sincerely believes in. Even when, at times, those causes are not easy to defend.

Like that of Bharat Shah who, it now appears, was pretty cozy with the underworld. Do these revelations leave Bhatt disillusioned?

Are you finding it difficult to defend your earlier position that Bharat Shah is not guilty? The police has filed a rather elaborate chargesheet detailing conversations between him and the underworld.

To be honest, the chargesheet did come like a body blow to me. I could not look away from the fact that the nature of the conversations reproduced in the chargesheet suggest that Bharat Shah did have what looks like an intimate relationship with Shakeel.

However, when I ventilated my immediate emotions to one of his counsels, he gave me a perspective which convinced me that we were still looking at the case partially.

From a point of view that may not necessarily be right.

If you ask me, Pritish, nobody at the moment knows the complete truth. It would be unfair for me to let go of my personal opinion of Shah and join the popular chorus.

Moreover, I am only vehemently fighting for his right to be innocent till proven guilty. Now, for God's'sake, you cannot crucify me for my opinion. It is, after all, my opinion and I have the right to stand by it. Mahesh Bhatt

Did the founding fathers of my country fight for our independence so that I could not have what may be looked upon as a dissenting view?

A dissenting view, certainly. But as an opinion leader, one who helps to shape public attitudes and beliefs, do you think in retrospect that you did the right thing by defending a person who played footsie with the Mob?

We Indians are, by nature, obedient to authority. I would unhesitatingly say that we are a nation of one billion slaves. We have put up with tyrannies of all kinds, political, religious, social, you name it.

Enough is enough! I am not going to be a willing victim of the state propaganda machinery. Declaring zero tolerance towards crime is more of a rhetoric which politicians use. Weeding out organised crime needs a kind of tenacity and commitment which I am afraid the state has not exactly demonstrated in recent times through their actions.

The point is simply this: The Establishment hates independent thought.

That is why we hide inside a herd. Like animals. It makes us feel safe, protected. It makes us feel invisible. Anyone standing outside the herd runs the risk of being conspicuous and therefore vulnerable to attack.

We are too frightened. We are frightened to question the state. We are frightened to take a stand even when we know something wrong is being done.

But in this case, how can you say something wrong was being done?

I do not know. None of us know all the facts of this case as yet. But I believe it is my responsibility as a citizen of India to stand up and question the system whenever I suspect it is going overboard.

Mahesh Bhatt In the case of Bharat Shah I was oscillating between dread and hope. Dread that what the police was alleging was true. Hope that what Bharatbhai was saying was true.

The chargesheet almost swung me over to the other extreme, the so-called popular view.

Dissent is not an easy street to walk on. There are plenty of dissenters I have seen who, after being attacked, chose to join the ranks of the assenters. I held on because I believe that I am entitled to my personal opinion of the man.

You must remember one thing: We, as a people, are very, very gullible. We are very, very easily swayed by propaganda. Especially state propaganda.

We are never ready to raise our head against any kind of authority. That is why I called India a nation of one billion slaves. We are easily terrorized by the ruling Establishment, we are easily reduced to submission.

On the other hand, look how Tehelka has humbled the ruling establishment, brought it to its knees! How can you say we are slaves?

When the evidence is strong, we are ready to bring down the most powerful Government. Remember Bofors?

Whatever you may say, the state uses its entire machinery to suppress dissent. To ignore it, ridicule it, censor it.

Finally, there is the last resort: An appeal to our sense of patriotism. When everything else fails, the Establishment resorts to the most powerful weapon. Our sense of patriotism. The fascist state is always ready to destroy the dissenting opinion in one way or the other. Bharat Shah

Why does the media often become a willing accomplice in this?

Because it is now a part of the feel-good industry. The preoccupation of those who have the money power to buy is to keep themselves perpetually happy.

The media is a product that caters to that particular need of the consumer. It helps them descend into that stupor they want. It is responsible for comatosing us. It is a narcotic. It fulfils our desire to always feel good, to escape unpleasant realities. To live in a trance, a coma.

But your entertainment industry does the same? It lulls us to sleep with candyfloss dreams of romance. Why do you blame the media alone?

I blame no one. I see them both as the same. They are seducing people away from thought, from introspection, from reality. It is escapism.

Everything is being driven by entertainment today. Even news.

Entertainment is the opium of the twentyfirst century. There is nothing bigger than it.

I always thought it was our job, as filmmakers, to entertain people. But now I find that the media, which is supposed to give me news, which is supposed to tell me what is happening out there, is also getting into the act of entertaining people.

So the question now is: Who the hell will give me the real news? Who will tell me what is actually happening in the world out there? Who will make the politicians accountable? Who will expose the truth?

Mahesh Bhatt But it was the entertainment industry which subverted reality by trying to vanish the distinction between truth and fiction, by attempting the suspension of disbelief?

That is why you have reality television series like Survivors which make it impossible for even the most discerning viewer to know how much of it is for real, how much make-belief.

I agree with you. The big business houses are getting into the game of fibre optics. They are going to wire up the entire country and sell entertainment products right inside our homes. They will lull us into sleep. Distract us from reality. So that we do not become participants in governance.

This wall to wall entertainment carpet will soften us as a people. If we spend even a small fraction of what we spend on entertainment in building and improving the real India, can you imagine what we could have done with this nation? But it suits everyone to keep India drugged and comatose.

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