Actress Nafisa Ali talks on cross-border relations, the Commonwealth Games and a movie Lahore that promotes kick-boxing.
Lahore, the title of your next film could spark off a controversy?
I hope not. It’s an apt title for a small-budget, non-star cast, thought-provoking film on kick-boxing. I’m playing the mother of two young boys who supports their passion for the game.
I saw this same passion in Sanjay (Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan), the young director of the film, who is a martial arts expert himself. I was a national swimming champion too, from 1972-’74.
How many people would be interested in a film on kickboxing?
The actor who played one of my sons in the film had to train for the role. By the time shooting wrapped up, he was a fit, muscular young man with a six-pack. Kick-boxing is a wonderful fitness regime that beats any gym. I hope more youngsters will be interested in taking up the sport after seeing Lahore.
The film also reaches out to our neighbours across the border. Sixty odd years ago, we were one country. We need to weed out all the anti-social elements who are trying to promote cross border terrorism and concentrate on improving Indo-Pak relations. Instead of being dictated by the politics of hate, we should heal old wounds. Shah Rukh Khan’s remark that Pakistani cricketers be allowed to participate in IPL Season 3 snowballed into a major controversy that almost threatened the release of My Name Is Khan.
I saw his movie recently and really liked the message at the end. Our trailer was playing along with the film and it also talks about the magnificence of our culture and our constitutional rights.
I believe that politics should be kept separate from sport. The heart of a sportsman is large and all encompassing. We can do without any kind of rabble rousing. The other day, I was shocked to see the foreign minister of a neighbouring country running down India in his constituency while bilateral talks were on.
That’s an interesting take, coming from someone who is a part of politics today.
I believe that all parties should adhere to the principles of equality, social fraternity and justice. The world is looking up to us for guidance. It’s important that we carry Mahatma Gandhi’s message forward.
After Sanjay Dutt was barred from contesting the elections, you were the Samajwadi Party candidate from Lucknow. But you have subsequently moved back to Congress.
I was put off by the caste politics in UP. When you vote for a leader, you should be swayed by his vision rather than his caste. While campaigning, I visited every ‘mohallah’ (locality) and ‘galli’ (bylane) in the city and was shocked to see that nothing had changed in decades. Things are static and progress is stagnant.
That bothered me because I’m a social worker who came into politics in search of a larger platform and the intention
of making a difference in people’s lives. But that doesn’t seem to be everyone’s concern.
You publicly admitted that it was a mistake to switch parties.
Yes, I’ve always been a soldier of the Congress party. In 2004, urged on by Mrs Gandhi (Sonia) and Pranabda (Pranab Mukherjee), I contested the elections from South Kolkata against Mamta Banerjee.
I lost, but Mamta was the only Trinamool leader who won.
Four years later, I wanted to contest from Delhi where I’ve been living for 30 years since I got married. This is my home. Unfortunately, I did not get a ticket from there.
Was that the reason you moved to the Samjawadi Party?
I was persuaded by Sanjay Dutt to contest from Lucknow. His first film, Rocky, and my debut film, Junoon, released around the same time. Duttsaab (Sunil Dutt), wanted us together in his next film. I marched with him. That memory made me emotional.
Also, the Sikh riots that had bothered me for years may have triggered off my decision. But I soon realised that this kind of caste politics was not for me. I believe in the Sonia Gandhi kind of politics, so I returned to the Congress. Amar Singh and Sanjay Dutt, along with Jaya Prada, have since been expelled from the Samajwadi Party.
I believe Amar Singh wants to start his own party.
If he were to approach you, would you join his party?
No, I belong to the Congress now.
You are the co-chairman of the hospitality committee for the Commonwealth Games scheduled for October. With the capital in a state of chaos, there are apprehensions that the Games could be relocated.
I was part of the delegation to the Beijing Olympics and till the nth hour, I saw roads and gardens being laid out. There is no need to panic.
The Games are still seven months away. The CWG Committee is working overtime, the state government is cooperating hugely with them, the Games will happen in India.
What’s your take on Nandita Das, the new chairperson of the Children’s Film Society, a post you’ve held too?
Nandita is an experienced and intelligent girl, I’m sure she will keep the flag flying high.
Sushmita Sen has got the rights to the Indian franchise of the Miss Universe contest. Given that you were a Miss India too, do you have similar plans?
No, but I am ready to help Sushmita. I was a judge when Aishwarya (Rai) and she were contestants. The wheel has come a full circle.
You’re doing one more film, Guzarish, in which you play the wheelchair-bound Hrithik Roshan’s mother.
It’s a sensitive film on a tragic subject and it’s wonderful to work with creative geniuses like Hrithik and Sanjay Bhansali. Cinema was never my profession but it was always my passion. When I was 16, Raj Kapoor showed an interest in me, Shashi Kapoor launched me in Junoon.
I’m grateful that even after 32 years I’m still getting to make such wonderful movies. Money has never been the incentive, it’s always been the message. In Life In A Metro it was about how widows have a right to live and love too. In Lahore it’s about true sportsman spirit.