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A tale of two films

From Gajagamini to Meenaxi, M.F. Husain continues to stoke his cinematic canvas n with colour and passion

M.F. Husain: The films ew see today are really no films at all.

"CINEMA IS a medium for painters only, and not for storytellers." Thus spake the barefoot badshah Saturday evening, sitting in the Husain Sankalana at Koramangala, before the screening of Meenaxi: A Tale of 3 Cities to a select audience.

In an exclusive chat with MetroPlus, M.F. Husain said: "An artist and a filmmaker essentially speak the same language. For them, it is not so much a matter of narrating a tale, but transforming a vision... I had not met Satyajit Ray or seen his Pather Panchali, when (in the mid-1950s) I made a very large painting — about 50 ft. long. It was called The Earth and had 11 sections; it is now with the National Gallery of Modern Art. If you look at it, you will realise that the painting is very cinematic in its approach, structure and content. Of course, I eventually saw Pather Panchali, and was very moved..."

Visual language

An unflinching advocate of visual language, Husain averred that art could never be based on ideas. "If somebody tells you it can, then they are not speaking about art. Like (Salvador) Dali, they are only talking of illustration of ideas, which is not real art... And we all know that their (surrealist) movement lasted for only a short period. Art has to come from an inner passion and also from direct contact with the outer world. Look at the tribal art. The tribal artist is not subject to any conditioning. Nobody tells him/her that the sky should be blue or red or whatever. So when he/she does her painting or sculpture, they are just transferring pure visual sensibility and experience."

Tabu makes a ravishing Meenaxi

Queried about the state of Indian cinema, Husain's reaction was sharp: "The films we see today are really no films at all. In fact, they (the filmmakers) are abusing the medium. Only handful filmmakers in the country really knew or know the language of cinema. Ritwik Ghatak, Satyajit Ray, Adoor Gopalakrishnan ..."

Husain may be just two films old (Gajagamini and Meenaxi) but his passion for cinema was quite obvious. "I had always wanted to make films, but then it is a very expensive medium. That is the reason I had to wait all these years, rather decades, to make my first film."

Image comes first

Expectedly, for him, the image came first and then the word. "Yes. I have always believed in the visual foundation. When I did Gajagamini, I first `scripted' the film in a series of paintings and sketches. The screenplay came only later."

He credited fellow artist and well-known painter, Tyeb Mehta, for sparking off his second venture: "When I did Gajagamini, it was completely studio- based. Everything was shot on sets. Tyeb suggested that I should now tackle open spaces and that is how I made Meenaxi. I have always been fascinated by cities and the movie, which is a tale of three cities, is based in Hyderabad, Jaisalmer and Prague. It has a more formal narrative (compared to Gajagamini), mainly because of my son, who teamed up with me for the film. Funnily, the outcome is not really an outcome of the collaboration, but because of many conflicts and friction between us!"

Intriguing film

Meenaxi is an absorbing if unconventional and intriguing film, which blends both the visual and sound in a unique manner. It is all about a writer's search for a mysterious character, Meenaxi (who becomes Maria in Prague), to play a pivotal role in his novel. Curiously, the enigmatic woman seems to be probing her own personality and identity even as she watches her character's progression in the novel. "Meenaxi is a character inside the book as well as outside it," explained Husain.

The principal roles are essayed creditably by the ravishing Tabu (as Meenaxi/Maria) and talented Raghuvir Yadav (as bemused writer Nawab). Completing the triad is Kunal (as Kameshwar) who transforms himself from being an alcoholic mechanic in Hyderabad tending to the Begum (Nawab's pet name for his antique car) to the stylish lover at Jaisalmer and Prague. The film belongs to Santosh Sivan for his breathtaking photography and A.R. Rahman for his soulful music, as much to the actors and the technicians. In the end, it is not just his fleeting presence as an old man sipping tea at an Irani hotel that endears Husain to the audience — the entire film bears his signature.

Expectedly, for a venture of this nature, the film evoked mixed reactions when commercially released a few months ago. While some hailed it as `poetry in colour', others found it tedious and incoherent. To add to the drama, a controversy erupted when Husain announced its withdrawal of from public shows following objections from some Muslim organisations to one of the songs.


Today, Husain argues that it is all a media-generated hullabaloo: "I am not affected in the least by these controversies. Ours is a democratic country and different people can express differing views, and there is nothing wrong about it. Unfortunately, the media likes to blows these things out of proportion. Meenaxi ran for three months in 40 cities, but what happened for just two days in one particular place grabs all the attention. In any case, these people (who create trouble and try to scuttle the freedom of expression) are really minuscule and their actions cannot stop the creative force from expressing itself. Has anything of this type ever affected the fantastic 5,000-year-old tradition we have?"

As the cliché goes, you may like him or lump him, but you can never disregard the passion of Maqbool Fida Husain.


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