‘I don’t think only certain community’s people are all negative’: Baba Azmi on villains of Mee Raqsam

Cinematographer-turned-filmmaker Baba Azmi has made his directorial debut with Mee Raqsam. In this interview, he talks about his film, his father and Mijwan.
Naseeruddin Shah in Mee Raqsam.
Naseeruddin Shah in Mee Raqsam.
Updated on Aug 25, 2020 07:09 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By

Baba Azmi has made his directorial debut at an age when most filmmakers contemplate hanging their boots. He says being a cinematographer kept him from making a film of his own. But with Mee Raqsam, Baba has finally realised his dream.

Mee Raqsam releases on the centenary birth anniversary of his father, legendary poet and lyricist Kaifi Azmi. It’s produced by his sister Shabana Azmi and the siblings call it their tribute to their father.

But considering current trends, wouldn’t a biopic have been a more organic idea to honour their father’s memories? Baba says Mee Raqsam, with its story about a brave, progressive father who fights social bigotry for his daughter’s happiness, captures the actual essence of Kaifi Azmi.

The Azmi family in 1972.
The Azmi family in 1972.

“I never wanted to make a biopic or anything like that. It’s a script, an extension of his personality. This was the kind of mindset in which we were born and brought up. It is not based on his life or anything,” he said.

It was Kaifi’s dream to make a film based on and shot in his beloved, Mijwan, where he was born and spent a big part of his childhood. The film could not be made while Kaifi was alive but Baba decided to fulfil on his promise to him regardless.

But Mijwan is not the most easily accessible areas for a film shoot. A small town in Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh, it made Baba nervous about the logistics. “Before starting, I was quite intimidated by the fact. It’s not where I wanted to shoot, in Mizwan, which is such a small village. So the infrastructure that is required for a film’s shoot with about 70 people - where will they stay, boarding, lodging and stuff - Mijwan doesn’t have any of these facilities as such. But when I went there, everything fell in place. For me, it was like my father’s blessings were there with me. NO one fell ill, even for a day. And it was very cold! It gets very cold in January-February,” he said.

Aditi Subedi and Bada Azmi in Mijwan.
Aditi Subedi and Bada Azmi in Mijwan.

With an almost fairytale-like quality, Mee Raqsam can seem ‘salt and peppered’ with white and black characters throughout. Naseeruddin Shah plays a bigoted community leader who would not let Danish Husain’s kind Muslim father go against community rules. Rakesh Chaturvedi Om plays a Hindu patron of a dance school, who sees the Muslim man’s dancing daughter as nothing but good PR. The two try all tricks, sometimes so evil they can qualify as the next Disney villain, to trouble the father and his daughter.

Also read: Ganesh Chaturthi 2020: Manushi Chillar brings Ganpati home, says ‘I’m from Haryana but Mumbai is my home too’

However, Baba says he doesn’t keep this black and white view of the world. “I don’t have a pattern kind of opinion about people. Everybody has got their little shades of grey. We all have our weaknesses and all. So for Naseer also, those are his beliefs. There might be some good qualities to him. Like in the beginning of the film, when he says ‘If you need anything just come to me’. That means he is also a character who helps around and all of that but you have to move according to his terms,” he said.

But is there any hope of redemption for these villains? “See there is no scene as such but yeah, I do feel so. If there was a scene on something like that, I would have preferred that after she gets the award, she also gets the respect from her aunt or somebody. Because the aunt also actually loves Maryam a lot,” he said.

 

“Not of a character like Naseer but someone like the khala might go slightly soft because her love for Maryam is equally strong and she believes she is telling Maryam to start taking sewing classes for her own good,” he added.

Mee Raqsam’s choice of villains, however, is quite secular. If Naseer’s Muslim leader wanted to cage the father in intangible, conservative rules; Rakesh’s Hindu patron was an opportunist, masking his bigotry as considerate advice. “You see these kind of people everywhere, in all communities. At least I don’t say that as I don’t believe that only a certain community has grey and black areas. I don’t think only certain community’s people are all negative,” Baba said.

“With the film, what one is trying to celebrate is the composite culture of our country. Because that is the atmosphere that both Shabana and I have been born and brought up in. These are our beliefs so I cannot say that ye community ke log sab bure hote hain,” he added.

Mee Raqsam is available to watch on Zee5.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Soumya Srivastava is a senior web producer at Hindustan Times. She writes about movies and TV because what else is there to life anyway.

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