In the living room of his apartment, filmmaker Saeed Mirza mulls over the multiple characters that jostle for narrative space in a script tentatively titled Saudhan Meri Jaan.
After 13 years away from the screen, Mirza seems ready to dive back into direction with renewed hope of peddling lost memories.
For 15 years he has been missing in action, traversing the inner roads of the country acquainting himself with the faces of India and their ordinary lives.
Powered by his travels, Mirza has returned with his first book and a script that will be his comeback to films. "I made a conscious decision to travel in 1993. <b1>
After witnessing the riots at close quarters I needed to clear my head," says Mirza, who took a break from his travels in 1995 to make his last film, Naseem.
Mirza's book, Ammi: Letter to a Democratic Mother, materialised during this voluntary exile, when the unrest in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the 9/11 attacks in the USA stole his peace of mind and translated his troubled thoughts into words.
"There was never an intention of a book. I went about taking abstract notes on my travels and experimented with narrative forms much later. The result is Ammi, part essay Sufi tale, travelogue, diatribe, film script, love story and a combination of history and polemics also," says Mirza.
Once upn a time While Ammi relies heavily on the author's memory a re-introduction to Mirza is in order for people to relocate him in theirs.
"I've been away so long, I think a reminder will do me plenty of good," admits the 64-year-old. Mirza traces his initiation in the art of movies to his father, Akhtar Mirza's move to Mumbai, then Bombay "Bombay doesn't have a history of its own.
Authors and historians like Premchand, Viraf Gorakhpuri, Ismat Chugtai and my father came here with dreams in their hearts, hoping to weave new histories. <b2>
My father chose the celluloid format to launch his assault. That's when he scripted Naya Daur and Waqt," he says.
After graduating from St Xavier's College, Mirza pursued advertising for a while before enrolling with the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, to fashion himself in the image of his father.
"We came from a generation that believed it could change the world. There was great upheaval across countries and we lived by the example of icons like Pablo Neruda, Che Guevara, Dalit poet Namdeo Dhasal," Mirza recalls.
He first forged an identity as the co-director of Nukkad, a TV series set in a middle class colony in Mumbai, dealing with the travails of everyday living. "We made movies with a certain vision and integrity and prayed like hell that they would work. It wasn't intended for amorphous viewing, but they got collectively branded as parallel cinema. But we came from the same tradition as Mehboob Khan and Guru Dutt," Mirza says.
Harbouring little concern for TRP ratings and box office success, Mirza's films Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho, Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kvon Aata Hai, Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastan and Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro consistently skewed towards the non-commercial, mirroring the conflict between the individual and society.
Sense of history
But that was then. Now the new author divides his time between worldweariness and Goa, catching up on the latest cinema releases somewhere in the middle.
Even though he admits to have become more reflective, knowing that cinema won't change the world, his concerns soon catch up with him. "People who handle memory have a deliberate design to cut it short. This memory snipping is occurring at the doorstep of TV in the era of 'what's next' and 'breaking news'. <b3>
It's all right to entertain the burgeoning middle class, but you can't deny them memory and history," rues Mirza. While lamenting the loss of memory, Mirza also rues the type of cinema and TV being fed to the unsuspecting masses. "People remember Nukhad even now We literally fought with the gods featured in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and held our own. However, such a show won't be allowed to work again because it doesn't follow the dictum - "Our films weren't intended for amorphous viewing. They got branded as parallel cinema" - of short memory.
Even in cinema, the platform for films with serious intent is rapidly shrinking."
A printout of a detailed shooting schedule brings Mirza back to the present. He directs his attention to impending song sequences and shoots through gridlocked hutments for Saudhan Meri Jaan. <b4>
"It's about time I came back with a film. This one also materialised while traversing 45,000 km through nooks and alleys, interacting with the real India. It has multiple stories, events and characters and strong Sufi elements. It will feature Sourabh Shukla, Vijay Raaz and Rajat Kapoor," says Mirza.
Even though films have been Mirza's preferred medium of expression, his current bias towards the guill is evident in his constant references to Ammi. "Writing is deeply satisfying. My publisher panicked on hearing from a French critic that Ammi would never be read in France. I comforted her saying that there's another France rioting outside, Ammi's meant for them," Mirza asserts.