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7Bhatts come clean ON alcoholism

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7Bhatts come clean ON alcoholism

Mahesh and Pooja are not just united by blood but fame too. The father and daughter share how they kicked the addiction at different times in their lives, says Saimi Sattar

When it comes to gumption, nothing beats the Bhatts. They have made path-breaking films, lived open, talked freely and let themselves hang out there. Literally. So it came as no suprise that the father-daughter duo of filmmaker Mahesh and actress-producer Pooja Bhatt chose to talk about their worst addiction — alcoholism — on a public platform. For Bhatt senior, the habit kicked in during the phase he calls “catastrophe of success,” that period when he was most feted and had wrapped up all the nation’s top honours as a filmmaker. For Pooja, the addiction happened as she found herself in a desolate trough, when both her career and marriage crumbled.

The two of them came together on stage for a theatrical adaptation of their hit film Daddy and to announce a serious venture from the Bhatt stable in years —a film on depression from the female perspective. This again happened to another family member, Bhatt’s daughter Shaheen. Alia, the other sibling, whom Pooja unabashedly admitted was the bigger star than the two of them, seems to be the one in control, choosing her answers for the  Press. “She knows what to tell you, what not,” revealed Pooja.

“When my younger daughter, Shaheen turned away her face because my breath was alcohol-laden, that became the defining moment for me,” recalled Bhatt senior, who also happens to be a reformed alcoholic and has been sober for the past 30 years. But he wasn’t prepared for Pooja treading the same lows. “Ironically, life came back a full circle and the girl who played the reformist character in Daddy became an alcoholic herself in real life,” said Mahesh  forthrightly.

Both had no qualms about baring it all. In these days of social media, when the entire emphasis is on appearances, it takes a lot of courage to come out in the open and accept your mistakes — especially when doing it in front of a large gathering rather than a close family member or a friend.

Reformation was not an easy journey for Mahesh, who never relied on alternative diversions or spiritual props but the little voice in his head. “One day I was very tired after a shoot. I was all alone, my daughter was asleep and my wife, Soni Razdan, was away. I had already announced that I was quitting alcohol and thought that no one would know if I had a peg or two,” he said. But then he promptly corrected himself, “I knew I was fooling myself. And that was enough,” he said with a finality. He did not enlist the help of any support group like Alcoholics Anonymous and did it on his own. As did his daughter Pooja, who is certainly a chip of the old block.  “However, if we did not take help, that does not mean that you don’t need to. Everyone’s journey is different,” said the actress.

Both of them had different reasons to start drinking. Mahesh said, “I was successful but there was this void. I remember drinking in excess at a party and then waking up on the side of a road, a nothingness in my head.”

For Pooja it was personal reasons. “My marriage fell apart, the place where I was looking for love didn’t exist and from there it was easy to spiral into alcoholism,” said Pooja. “I had lost a friend to the bottle, my father had been an alcoholic and despite that I never thought that I could become one,” said the actor who also knew that statistics were heavily loaded against her as children of parents who have an addiction are four times more likely to be plagued by a similar problem later in life.

For Pooja, it was a text message by her father that made her decide to come clean. “He told me that if I loved him, I should learn  to love myself too as that is where he lived. What was said here was not important, what he left unsaid was what made an impact on my mind,” she said. And it was then that she decided to kick the habit. “I was alone with my cats on the Christmas eve of 2016 when I took the decision. And it was on Christmas that I felt that I was born anew,” she said, dressed in black trousers and a coat. The lights  on the stage gave her hair a strong burgundy tinge.

The actress, who has been sober for 18 months now, also believes that it is the kindness of strangers that have carried her along. “After I decided to go off alcohol, friends often pilloried me to drink because they had got engaged or were getting married or to celebrate some success. They could not understand how I had the resolve to quit alcohol which eluded them,” said the 46-year-old who laughingly recalled that it was whisky that she loved rather than the milder drinks.

She had been sober for some months and one day friends were coming over to party at her place.  Since most of them loved to drink, she decided to be gracious  host and called the wine shop nearby to order. “I had been a regular customer and asked for red wine. The man asked me if it was for me and I told him that it was for some friends. His answer stunned me as he said, ‘when I saw your number I got worried that you were going to start drinking again’,” said Pooja. He did not think about losing a good customer but wanted her to have a fulfilled life.

Pooja said alcoholism among women is considered taboo and hence all the more difficult to address.“The maximum number of women alcoholics are from Kerala and that is ironic as it has the highest literacy. It practically meant that the most educated women in the country were hit the hardest,” she said.

She went on to add that Daddy looked at the question of alcoholism from the male perspective so while she had plans to make a movie on depression, she intended that women should be the focus there.

And as they headed out, Mahesh told the audience, “Today, if you do go home and drink, do it responsibly,” he said signing off. Confession time was never so absorbing.

 
 
 
 
 

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