Turning a new leaf - the Sufi way

A versatile film-maker and a devout musician and painter, Muzaffar Ali is now all geared up to start a "musical movement". RANA A. SIDDIQUI speaks to the man behind "Umrao Jaan", who has just come out with a new album on Sufi music... .

IN A silent, cornered abode at Saket in New Delhi, silently works a multifaceted man who has had many a transformation in his life, both professional and personal, good and bad and who, from time to time has been bestowing audience with meaningful entertainment, films and designer clothes and even livelihood to countless others. From a painter to adman, designer to filmmaker, music director to philanthropist - the list of his attributes is endless. Muzaffar Ali is still as vibrant as his creativity in the much-acclaimed "Umrao Jaan" that received several awards at the 29th National Film Festival as also Filmfare Award for best director and music.

Now, the man is out with his fourth cassette on Sufi love - Jahan-e-Khusro - after Paigham-e-Mohabbat, Jaam-e-Ishq, Raqs-e-Bismil.

"Jahan-e-Khusro is essentially a tribute to Amir Khusro and attempt to find a music that should have been contemporary but is not," says Ali. What the poet and the music director means is that "an artist should surrender to musical purposes and thereby integrate humanity". This objective has been achieved by mystics and Sufis.

"The cassette is a resolution to spread the fragrance of humanity, the task that I have been doing since long," he says while all set to have a quick glance at work that goes in his office, "Can you make it little bold," he queries his employee politely?

One can recall the "Jahan-e-Khusro" festival that happened at the Old Fort last year, making the famed Nizami brothers, the famous qawwals, who claim to be the direct descendants of Sufi saint Khusro, complain about not being invited to take part in it. "What kind of Jahan-e-Khusro festival is this where those who know the real art of Sufi singing were not invited to sing... " they were found feebly complaining. Ali retorts stoically, "I have no grudges against those senior singers or any for that matters. I always believe in contemporising Sufi music so that young generation could also be motivated to have a taste of class that is within their understanding. Those who are skilled artists are a bit difficult to handle for they are inflexible. They think they know best and refuse to sing the way I want them to, without affecting the purity of music. So I try to take those in whose bodies, music flows like blood and who are ready to surrender for the pure love of it." Ali has had a few bitter experiences on that count which he refuses to share, politely.

But he is all geared up to come out with an amalgam of Sufi village and Jazz band to popularise the music. "I need singers for it, those who love experimenting with music, are flexible and sing for the pure fascination for music, not money."

This maker of historically, thought-provoking and emotionally sound films like "Gaman" -- his first feature film in 1978, won him Silver Peacock at the 7th International Film Festival and a special Jury Award -- "Aagman" in 1983 and "Anjuman" in 1988, is turning a new leaf. After that he was all set to make "Zooni", lovingly called "Habba Khatoon" in Kashmir Valley whose songs are an integral part of people's life there. "Since 1989, I have been trying to make this film of historic and legendary importance but the strife in Kashmir is not allowing me to shoot there. I have run from pillar to post and even persuaded Government to allow a shooting there for it is a Government-sponsored film only. It depends on their decision as to when I get to start the film. Nobody realises that this is the best time to make this film as it will prove to be healing touch to many living there and outside," rues a visibly sad Raja of Kotwara as people, specially in Lucknow know him - he is the scion of Chavdas of Gujarat. A student of La Martinere College, Lucknow, and a 1966 batch science graduate from Aligarh Muslim University, Ali is first and foremost a painter who works mainly on Sufi ballad, winning him acclaim worldwide.

Turning a new leaf - the Sufi way

Kotwara is a place that he has always tried to keep alive through his garments and promotion of art and culture of Lucknow. As many would know, he is a fashion designer too. Along with his Wife Meera, he designs what one names as the traditional, Lucknowi embroidery known as Kotwara. Through his house in Qaiser Bagh at Lucknow, this designer is spearheading a movement in upgrading the art, craft and culture of this city more through his fashion designs. Having presented at India Lakme Fashion Week and also abroad, which met with "resounding success for people abroad like traditional Indian art and craft very much." Hence to the people of Kotwara, he has been providing ample employment opportunities but also keeping the art and craft alive. Ali's penchant for traditional art and craft found a movement called Dwar pe Rozi -- now a registered society, to provide employment at doorstep with a special emphasis on silk plantation of mulberry, rearing of worms, reeling and weaving, embroidery and styling. It also now runs a charitable school in Kotwara for children, emphasising on rural employment.

Many would remember "Husne Jana", his 27-episode serial, more of costume drama on Doordarshan that drew attention of people for its aura of never seen elegant and heavily designed costumes. Only a few know that these costumes were not created by any famed designers but craftpersons of Kotwara only. "Fashion designing is my bread and butter. But one has to keep innovating in traditional designs so that people don't get bored of the repeated pattern. Traditional Indian designs must go global," Ali emphasises.

Many know Ali for his many marriages too. One of whom was Subhasini Ali, an activist and a politician, from whom Ali had a separation more than a decade back. Ali does not hide the reason.

Muzaffar Ali's labour of love.

Muzaffar Ali's labour of love.  

"She is a very good soul but a political activist and I am an artist. Our interest would always clash. I always disliked political interference in my artistic pursuit, hence, we parted ways." With Meera, his architect wife, he gels well. "We share same interest and thoughts, hence life is easier with her and hassle-free", a coy smile plays on his 58-year-old face still untouched by creases of the age.

Ali's has two sons and a daughter. His eldest son Shad Ali is all set with a film called "Sathiya" and 11-year-old daughter Sama, finds herself mentioned in the Music company that Ali has ventured into now - Sama World Sufi Music.

Why the new music company? "Because I just can't see my creations go awry at the hands of other music companies knowing little about music and more into commercial ventures. I can't let them hand over my labour of love." The cassette Jahan-e- Khusro is the first venture of his music company that boasts of divine music of spiritual ecstasy.

What next? An international film on the Sufi poet Rumi he is ready with. And `India, Garden of Saints', a film on sufis in India, Ali says with a smile.

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