When Raja Sajid Husain of Kotwara gifted his favourite car to his son Muzaffar, he had not imagined that he would sell it off for Rs 50,000. Neither had Ali thought that he would regret the decision like no other in his life.
Apart from recreating legends like Umrao Jaan on celluloid, Ali spent years trying to locate the car. It was a car mechanic who told him that the limousine is now at a museum in Las Vegas. The search over, Ali wants to buy it back. When he floated his film company in the 1970s and named it ‘IF’, Ali was facing uncertainties, including the search for the car. “Then it was a big IF whether I would ever find it. Now, it is a big IF whether I can get it back,” he says. Or when he slapped a filmmaker who, post-Umrao Jaan, said people like Ali should never make films. While directing films, Ali realised that Mumbai was not the place for him. “There is so much animosity and pettiness. It consumes you,” he says. He is settled in Delhi doing more music than films; his annual festival ‘Jahan-e-Khusro’ is as well-known
as Umrao Jaan, which was back in the news after the release of its remake starring Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai.
Aishwarya is the motivating factor for Ali’s daughter, Sama, who wants to be a designer. Sama says Aishwarya “needs help” with her wardrobe. “She is terribly dressed,” says Sama, who is privy to all her father’s secrets and anecdotes. She eggs on him to share some on Rekha and Anupam Kher and Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav, despite Ali cautioning her. Ali narrates the 15-day ordeal Kher went through when he cast him for his debut film, where the actor was to play a farmer. He wobbled in a dhoti. “Sleep on khatiya for 15 days and your body language will change,” Ali advised. Kher did that and out came “a well-baked dehati”. During Umrao Jaan’s shooting, Rekha took a train everyday to reach the sets. She didn’t have a car and the producer had no money to foot the taxi bill. Lest she be recognised, Ali’s six-foot-plus frame came to her rescue. “Walk behind me and no one will notice you,” he said.
With two marriages behind him, Ali is now married to Meera, who heads KOTWARA, which specialises in ‘zardozi’. Even here there is poetry, says Muzaffar. “When I design the clothes, I am in a trance made of moments of the past and the present. I design with a fire… with the sensibility of a painter and filmmaker”.