Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt gets candid as he turns host for unscripted talk show 'Pehchaan'

Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt opens up about the emotions behind the show, what he learnt from some stand-out stories of people in the show and witnessing Alia's growth as an actor
Mashesh Bhatt in a BTS shot from the show
Mashesh Bhatt in a BTS shot from the show

Veteran director Mahesh Bhatt is often known to many as an auteur who has carved his niche and presented some engaging opinions on various subjects across his filmography. However, the talk-show host in him has now been out to test with the recent release of  Pehchaan - The Unscripted Show. In our chat with the veteran, we learn more about the emotions behind this show, what he learnt from the conversation of some stand-out stories of people in the show, the state of Indian talk shows, the future of Pehchaan and the evolution of Alia Bhatt as an actor.

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What was the idea behind exploring these stories specifically from within the Sikh community in Pehchan?
It was the brainchild of Mr. Vinay Bhardwaj who felt that if you want to go into the depths of Sikhism, we must explore it not through the scriptures but whether those scriptures have made some deep enduring impact in the living human beings around us. So he hand-picked 13 eminent Sikh gentlemen whose contribution to the world at large is enormous and in them, you can see and feel the pulse and fragrance of the Sikh faith.

How do you think the format of talk shows has changed or evolved?
I feel that we still need to scratch the surface of talk shows in this country. Ultimately, stories reside in people and if there is a person across the table genuinely listening with his heart to the story, that is locked in the heart of the person he or she is interviewing. Only then will that person be compelled to touch those parts within him that perhaps he is not aware of.

I feel that we have managed to do that to a great extent in Pechaan, thanks to my director Suhrita Das who asked me to be as candid and human as I am with people in my daily life.

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What are your learnings from these conversations with the guests of the show?
I learnt that real faith lives when the people who wear that faith on their sleeve live the preachings of the great gurus of Sikhism. I learnt that only when you walk your talk and there is no dichotomy between what you teach preach and you live only then do you impact the world around you.

Are there any specific moments from their stories that stuck with you?
I was very moved by Montek Singh Ahluwalia who, as a person with a very strong bureaucratic background, touched his most vulnerable and fragile side by talking about the impact his late wife had on his life and his journey.  I also was very moved by Shanti ji, the person who has been a phenomenal icon during the dreadful COVID in Delhi.  I was very moved by innumerable other people and I would say each one of them has touched me immensely.

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You are following an unscripted format for this show, as the name suggests. Do you feel such a format works for talk shows focusing on such subjects?
I feel that when you talk to human beings as a human being, it is the heart that compels you to ask the question and it is the heart which answers. And they cannot be scripted merely on the resume of that individual. The person is hidden behind the resume and he's vast and he's like an untapped ocean. That's why most of the talk shows do it very superficially like seagulls touching the surface of an ocean on the top and thinking that they have the entire understanding of the entire ocean. The entire ocean is embedded in the body the heart and the soul of the individual you're interviewing. It is essential to understand that it has to be an unscripted heart-to-heart talk. The heart leads and the heart follows.

Will you be exploring more such stories by other communities in future episodes of this series?
Vinay Bhardwaj wants to go for season two of the various iconic Sikh gentlemen who he has lined up. However, the more people we have on our show, the richer it will get.

Shifting gears to cinema, what are your top five favourite films?
David Lean’s Doctor Zhivago, Mehboob Khan's Mother India, K.R. Siv's Mughal-e-Azam, Aparna Sen ji's 36 Chaurangi Lane and the (Apu) trilogy of Satyajit Ray.

How do you feel Alia has evolved over the years as an actor?
She has astounded me. She has opened dimensions to the world which they never thought existed and that world includes a man like me, the father. I never knew my child had this vast potential to explore the depths of her being and that is displayed in the variety of roles that she has performed which come outside the ambit of her lived experience.

Will we see her featured in any project of yours that you might be planning?
She had recently already featured in a film which was released Sarak 2 and I feel that I don't see the remote future of the possibility of us working together. I feel there is a generation here — younger, more vibrant, and more thirsty. She should work with such young, daring storytellers and filmmakers.

With so many people in the film industry from your family, what do the dinner table conversations often revolve around?
Not about movies. We talk rarely about movies and that's only to pass on information and basic information. But yes, we do exchange notes about something that we have liked and we would like the other member of the family to watch.

What is your comfort food?
Simple dal, roti and a sabzi.

Pehchaan - The Unscripted Show is streaming on SonyLiv.

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