Muzzaffar Ali with his wife Meera.
Muzzaffar Ali is a man of class, taste and quality. The filmmaker, whose name is etched in history for making the successful film Umrao Jaan, has now embarked on a journey that has brought him to the city of pearls. Muzaffar is working on a series of 12 documentaries to promote the crafts and textiles of India. He has completed shooting seven 15-minute films and his eighth film, on the Pochampally and Bidri arts, is being shot in Hyderabad. The man of many talents sits down for a chat about the project.
Muzaffar Ali is driven by many passions and crafts is only one of them. "I have always found crafts very intriguing. It’s not just the process but also the culture of the craft and the talent of the artisans and their lives that fascinate me. That’s what I am trying to capture in these films. It’s a very compelling medium and whenever I come across anything to do with crafts, I am automatically drawn to it. I want to document the various dimensions of the craft," he says, adding, "Pochampally is one of the crafts that we have chosen because it’s such an intricate form of dying and drying. It is called Double Ikkat. Magic is created when it is woven! Ikkat is also a worldwide tradition and it is bringing the world closer. A similar kind of craft is found in central Asia, Burma, Japan, and Indonesia. That is also one of the reasons why I am making these films. Crafts need to be globalised for them to sustain in the future and this is my attempt." The research that went into the making of the film was deep, explains Muzaffar, who is assisted by his wife Meera Ali in the project.
"Research for this was a continuous quest. I am still doing it at the moment while I am shooting. I have been meeting interesting people like Anju Poddar, who is a craft directory of the country, and especially of Hyderabad. She has helped me learn a lot. Pochampally and Bidri arts originated in the states of Telangana, Odisha and Karnataka and it is great to be in the midst of it. Writers like Shama Zaidi have also worked on this project and have done an even more intense research. We will also capture some atmospherical shots for the film from Chowmahalla Palace and Taj Falaknuma. We are in Hyderabad for four days and the journey has been exhilarating."
Muzaffar Ali and wife Meera are also into design and architecture and the Kotwara Label, started by them in the village by the same name in Lucknow, is hugely successful.
Meera explains, "It started off as an experiment to give the women of the village a livelihood and they took to it like fish to water. The women who were considered a liability have now started earning money along with dignity. They do Chikankari work, Zardozi, Tukdi, Kamdani, Zari weaving, etc. What started in 1990 with just 20 women now has over 1,000 women who are contributing to the crafts and earning."
A creative family
Ever since the success of Umraao Jaan, Ali has not seen a commercial success and he has an interesting take on it. He says, "Times have changed and so irreversibly in cinema. It has lost its sense of history and authenticity. It is trying to overdramatise everything. They’ve got the power of the medium and the technique to dramatise, but no power to delve into truth. Today, truth is very important. What brings human beings closer is important. The market conditions in India right now are not that great. People follow things mindlessly. It’s all about going with the push. We are not just into pushing. We are into the idea of discovering things," he says and talks about his family members, who have all taken to the creative field. Shaad, his son from his first marriage, is also a well-known Bollywood director.
"I think my children have chosen this path because they’ve been in my company. I don’t know till what extent they’ve reached their goals though. They are still trying to adapt and perform. It’s easy for people to find their way in but the tricky business is to find their way out and they’re in the process of doing that," he says. He doesn’t shy away from adding, "Some of my family members are lost while some others have accomplished something. We are all trying to figure out our way!"