He became a household name after creating the legendary movie Umrao Jaan. A poet at heart, painter since childhood, lover of Sufi music, and a revivalist of handicraft, Muzzafar Ali is a man in constant quest mode. Hailing from the royal Muslim family of Kotwara, he describes his life as a constant journey of self-discovery. We catch up with him to find out more about his life and his home.
You have a beautiful home, the House of Kotwara. What does home mean to you?
My home is a dialogue with me. I am a painter and I love indulging in craftwork. Home is a place where I can fulfil my aspiration for beauty, but it’s a continuous human affair. I have a passion for working with the pure sense of artistry and craftsmanship, which is never-ending. In this process, you can also create some ‘ghastly horrors’ if the quest remains incomplete and then you may have to live with your mistakes. If in your quest, you do not go deep enough, that is what happens. People say little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I feel that more than that a closed mind is a dangerous thing. If you feel you know everything it’s the beginning of the end and one’s entry into the world of ugliness
You have an eye for beauty, from films to fashion to art – is it inborn or is it something that one can cultivate over the years?
It’s a mix of both, actually. Art is inherent and yet the passion needs to be nurtured and chiselled with exposure to great experiences. I feel you have to be in a quest mode in life, and then one thing just leads to another. If one door is opened, you find all doors opening, but you have to make the effort and take the initiative to open that first door
Doing up your home has been a labour of love...
It was a process and a dialogue of design that one was engaged with. The main thing has been that you have to see everything with the third eye, and that is the inner eye. Then there is no conflict between the world within and without
What is the best part of the house?
The biggest and the best part of my home is that it allows me to go barefoot. In our Hindustani culture, going barefoot has been a way of life. I feel it’s an amazing way to rouse sensitivity in a human being since the foot has nerve endings connected to almost every part of the body. It makes you far more alert and alive to human experiences if you can feel things literally. For instance, I make durries in my village and when I walk on them, it awakens sensitivity to the human effort. Going barefoot also implies cleanliness and stress on hygiene in the house that allows you to move around like that. In many ways, it means being able to have tactile experiences to the vast beauty around you and awakening your senses to a variety of experiences. For me, anything made by hand or handcrafted is divine and there is a spiritual meaning to it
What type of paintings and art do you like to live with at home?
I know more clearly what I cannot live with and that is any kind of artificiality. I love everything natural and appreciate a sense of honesty and originality. I admire things that come with a sense of history or are high on aesthetics. Art has to be organic. It can be anything, abstract or portraits, but it has be sensuous
What’s keeping you busy and what’s coming next?
I am exploring a few things with my series of films called Dastaan-e-Dastakari. So whether it is the pachikari (marble inlay) work from Agra, or zardozi and chikankari work from Lucknow or brass work at Moradabad, for me it’s a journey into the world of craft in India.