By Deepa Gupta
When I meet Muzaffar Ali, he has just finished directing a ballet — Radha Kanhaiya ka Qissa, written by the last Nawab of Awadh — for the Wajid Ali Shah festival in Lucknow. He is also intensely involved in promoting tourism and skill development in this city.
Meeting Ali is similar to meeting a quiet river — his demeanour is that calm. His words flow with an intellectual alacrity. Ali is an artist who not only wields the brush and the pen, but also expresses his master strokes on celluloid and through fashion. Be it the larger-than-life persona of Rekha or the earthy talent of Shabana Azmi, the glamour of the ramp or the drudgery of the artisans’ lives, Ali handles it all with poise and humanity.
Director, musician, painter, designer, writer — which role would you say gives you the maximum satisfaction as a creative artist?
I don't know. Possibly I am a seeker in quest of spiritual balance in beauty and the human situation. Art comes in an organic medium to express my feelings which are deeply rooted in my culture. I am drawn to music and poetry to experience the truth of this human predicament. This takes me to the threshold of the language of moving images in which I try to express myself. I am not clever but certainly impulsive. The visual language as a painter comes easy to me and gives sensitivity to my films. This is a holistic creative process, whatever it could be defined as.
Do you think you would like to make another film on the lines of Anjuman with the current scenario as the backdrop, talking about the problems of chikan embroidery artisans and their lives in present times?
Anjuman is timeless in its essence so the need to address the issue as a film is not needed. What is needed now is redesigning the lives of artisans and reinventing the craft and repositioning it as a contemporary world product with a story weaved into it.
Were you to think of making Zooni today, who among the current brood of stars do you feel would fit the roles that Vinod Khanna and Dimple Kapadia were to play in the film?
Zooni today is a new dream altogether. There is big gap today between women who inspire finance and who tell a story. I have suffered to such an extent that I don't dare to dream of Zooni till a powerful inspiration arising from the larger environment arises. Casting is a spiritual alignment of person with a character and one cannot take it casually by assigning actors to roles.
The beauty of meaningful lyrics is lost in the noisy Bollywood songs that have become the norm. Will the Hindi film industry ever feel the magic of yesteryear songs again? Or are we really short of fine lyricists?
Lyrics are the driving force of a film. They express the voice of the soul, a resonance of the characters’ emotions. I don't wish to generalise what happens in Bollywood. I can only talk of my journey of using poetry in my films as a comment or working with poet characters such as Umrao Jaan, Anjuman, Zooni or Wajid Ali Shah.
It has been a very elevating journey and I hope I have taken people with me on this. Jaanisaar too was a poetic journey and hopefully those who got the chance to see it will agree. There is no shortage of lyricists but giving them an inspirational position is missing. It is a soul devouring journey for them in Bollywood. And Bollywood unfortunately doesn't explore poetry or give respect to poets. Commercial milieus are not conducive for poetry.
Sufism seems to be ingrained in your soul. In today’s times especially, do you think the Sufi ideology could give us a better world?
Sufi is a manzil I have arrived at both out of the quest of my soul and the socio-cultural circumstances of the world we live in. In this journey I have discovered unlimited ecstasy in lyrics, voices, instruments and rhythm which now resonate in my life and art. The quest is on. The search is endless as we are nothing in this universe full of wonder.
Hairat mara ze har do jahan be niyaaz kard, Ein khwaab kar e daulat e bedaar meekunad — Rumi
(Bewilderment has absolved me of both the worlds, This is the consequence of awakening from my dream…)