More than three decades after he directed the cult classic Umrao Jaan, Muzaffar Ali is back with the period drama Jaanisaar. Hindustan Times spoke to the legendary filmmaker about his acting debut, his multifaceted personality and more as he stopped by in Chandigarh to promote his new film. Excerpts from the interview…
Lets begin with the obvious... What took you so long to return to film-making?
The fact is that I wanted to direct a movie that would touch my soul as a film-maker and also showcase my creativity. Jaanisaar is that film. Set in 1877, the film follows the journey of an anglicized youth who discovers the spirit of being Indian. I felt there are a lot of details that our own people need to be acquainted with.
We all know that you have an affinity for period setting. But, was there anything in particular that inspired you to make this film?
I believe I don’t make films. I live them. It is a world where you are constantly observing and till date I notice things that make me feel that this realm needs to be shown on the big screen. Breaking mosques, temples, is all a cause and effect of the larger struggle, when the British tried anything and everything to dominate us. Similarly, I have been feeling the effect of this film and I feel when the audience will watch it, they will have something to reflect on.
The film also marks your debut as an actor. We hear your son had a role to play in this. Tell us about it.
(laughs) Well, as much as I wanted to keep this under the wraps, I don’t think I can run away from it any longer. The role was offered to Mr Bacchan and Naseeruddin Shah initially who refused, and it was my son who prompted me to cast myself in the role of a revolutionary who witnessed the 1857 massacre after Begum Hazrat Mahal lost to the British East India Company forces in the first war of Indian Independence. He takes the spirit of freedom forward and the film opens and closes with his perspective.
From the likes of Umrao Jaan, Anjuman to Jaanisaar, what are your views about the evolution of Indian cinema? You are also said to be fighting against big budget multi-starrers.
Certain commercial truths never change (smiles). In that sense, it seemed easier to make a new film with lesserknown faces. Technology also changes with time, but I wanted to pursue my own aesthetics... I wanted to have a young team and work with people who think smart. Rest assured, one is enriched by form and content as one grows.
Muzaffar Ali is not only a filmmaker, but also an artist, a poet, a fashion designer, a social worker... How do you manage and what do you connect with the most?
I feel I am none of these things. Somehow you are one, as a human being... a whole rather. An artist, a creative person... deeply local yet enormously global. I am not a poet as such; I just like to include a take on a poetic journey which reflects in my films but I will never be able to write a poem individually. A poetic journey is a continuous activity, and similarly I paint because I love sketching. I have to sketch the scenes of my film, the camera angle, everything! I begin from disillusionment and move to poetry of submission like Sufi poetry. As Iqbal has said ‘Nations are born in the hearts of poets, they prosper and die at the hands of politicians’. So I am simply a person who is seeking a balance between humanity (creativity) and aesthetics (content).
We hear you have plans to visit Pakistan to promote the film. So what is your take on cinema’s role in bridging the gap in IndoPak relations at the backdrop of the success of a film like Bajrangi Bhaijaan?
There are two ways to look at it. One is by reacting and the other by reflecting. The reactions are more instant or immediate in nature and are used by the media and politicians, who want to see quick results. Reflection is a longer process. So, while Bajrangi Bhaijaan has a lot to do with the hype created by the media, it is not to say it is not a good film. It reminds me of Griffith’s saying ‘...through moving images bring brotherhood of men’. Sab hota hai, sab hota jayega (Everything happens, and it will continue to be so). But people need to be rooted and we need to empower audiences with ideas reflective in nature.