Not many may know, Maqbool Fida Husain, who passed away in London yesterday, was also a part-time, casual film critic. He saw metaphor in movies that most would miss. One of his observations, for instance, about Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2009), referred to the scene where young Jamal jumps into a pile of shit to emerge thereafter with a picture of Amitabh Bachchan unsoiled. This was, he said, the state of the Indian poor, desperate, deeply buried in dung, with merely mass entertainment (Bollywood, in particular) for an escape.
Gaja Gamini (2000), his first brush with film direction was a movie that few watched, fewer still understood. What was unmistakable was his incredible infatuation with human beauty in every form, in this case, Madhuri Dixit’s. He saw in her (as did the audience), an inspiration for Kalidas’s works as well as the Mona Lisa.Meenaxi: A Tale Of Three Cities (2004), by far his most textured work was pretty much a stunning series of paintings in motion picture, travelling between the old Deccan, Jaisalmer and Prague: An Urdu author with writer’s block (Raghuveer Yadav) imagines his female muse, and a frustrated singer, as heroes of a much-awaited piece on love.
It’s a lyrical, novel dream set to strains of AR Rahman’s wonderful score. Again, not many may remember this film, let alone having seen it. Among other things that the prolific Husain left behind in his art collection was probably the most aesthetic poster ever made for an Indian movie.
His romance with the movies of course started with painting cinema hoardings as an apprentice, before he became India’s highest paid artist. His personal biopic, The Making Of The Painter, starring Shreyas Talpade as young Husain, is still on its way.
Madhuri Dixit-Nene, Husain’s first cinematic muse who he paired with Shah Rukh Khan in Gaja Gamini (2000), admits she was charmed with the artist’s youthful outlook on life. She says, "I loved his young-at-heart attitude. We shared a very close relationship and I admired his work." Since his obsession with her is legendary, Madhuri reveals, "His paintings of me were a huge compliment and I often joked that I was embarrassed by his constant praise."
Amrita Rao joined Husain’s list of muses after he became besotted by her in the movie Vivah. She says, "The last we met, he escorted me till Dubai airport as I prepared to return, and said, ‘I can only drop you till here.’ Coming back to India was his dream unfulfilled." She adds, "He was the most energetic person I ever interacted with and didn’t let age give him an excuse not to do something. His enthusiasm rubbed off on me."
Tabu, Husain’s muse who he cast in Meenaxi (2004) opposite Kunal Kapoor, pays her respects, saying, "I am deeply pained to hear of his death. May God grant him peace and a wonderful journey ahead." She confesses that working with the artist in a film opened her eyes to a new world, "I loved working with Husain saab. His unique presentation of colour palates on a film canvas was just magical." Gushing about their collaboration, Tabu adds, "Every frame of that film is like a portrait in itself. I saw life in a colourful manner through his eyes."
Anushka Sharma, among his last film muses, says, "Since I was a newcomer, being complimented by Husain saab was huge for me. I deeply regret his death and the fact that his last wish to be in India remains unfulfilled. I hope we are more tolerant towards our artists and don’t make their work a political game."
—With inputs from Priyanka Jain