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The Leftist Sufi

Filmmaker and writer Saeed Mirza belongs to a breed of filmmakers who consistently made a comment about the society through his movies and now his writing. Many facets of his personality are now reflected in a documentary based on his life which will be screened today, at MOG. In conversation with NT BUZZ Mirza speaks about his movies, his travel and the changing socio-political scenario and its impact
ARTI DAS | NT BUZZ
He is a filmmaker, writer, traveller, thinker and a leftist Sufi. Yes, among many titles Saeed Mirza loves to describe himself, as a leftist Sufi, which also happens to be the title of a documentary based on his life, made by filmmakers Kireet Khurana and N Padmakumar, which will be screened today, January 21 at MOG. “This title is actually taken from my first book, ‘Ammi: Letter to a Democratic Mother,’ where I tried to describe myself to myself. I am quite a contradiction and thus the title ‘leftist Sufi’ caters to the empirical and spiritual view,” says Mirza sitting comfortably on rocking chair at his home at Reis Magos.
Speaking about the making of a documentary about his life, he expresses that he was surprised when Kireet approached him. “I did get surprised, as documentaries on a personality are usually made posthumously. But, he is a next door neighbour in Mumbai and intelligent filmmaker. So, I told him you do want what you want to do. I will not interfere,” says Mirza.
The documentary which traces Mirza’s life and works is mainly shot in Mumbai (where he was born and many of his movies are based), Goa (his second home now) and in Ladakh. “I spent lot of time there in Ladakh. There is lot of open space there. It is a nice place to reflect. I am an urban person but Ladakh gives me lot of sense of relief. It is a comforting place,” says Mirza who only travels by road.
About Cinema
Saeed Mirza’s movies are not your regular movies, but they make you think; and are based on common people and their anxieties. Like his first movie, ‘Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan’ (1978), about the frustrations of a youth caught in the trap of a feudal money culture. This movie won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie for the year. The most famous one ‘Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai’ (1980), which featured Naseruddin Shah, in a title role along with Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, was about an angry youth, in search of his identity. This too won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Movie. His other movies are ‘Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho!’ (1984), about an old couple which struggles in a legal case that runs for years under a corrupt judiciary in nexus with real-estate developers; ‘Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro’ (1989), starring Pawan Malhotra, about a Muslim youth caught in the circle of crime and recrimination, and their collective state amidst growing communalism, and a search for an ethnic identity which does not clash with a national identity.
Interestingly all these movies have rather long titles, more like sentences. For Mirza they depict a conversation with his audience. Thus, when a viewer buys a ticket of his movie he knows that it is based on a character called Albert, who will get angry. “It is like a conversation with my viewer. They can accept it or reject it. So, I try to make it as democratic as possible. They are like essays rather than purely storylines,” says Mirza.
When asked whether these titles came naturally to him, he ponders for a while before saying he was not really sure. “I don’t know that process. May be my mind works in a certain way. Also when I give that title it helps me to script my story. I know the end and then I have to arrive at it. It is a process of discovery,” says Mirza who started his career as a documentary filmmaker in 1976. His last film ‘Naseem,’ which starred well-known Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi was based on infamous demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.
However Mirza had made another movie after that, but it never saw light of the day. “My friend Rajat Kappor asked me to make a film. He wanted me to dropout writing. But, it never got released,” says Mirza who further comments that he does not have that physical energy to make a film anymore. “Also in the filmmaking process there are lots of people involved. I don’t like too many people around me. That’s why I am now more interested in writing. The process in writing is simpler—it is just you and your laptop,” says Mirza who has just finished writing his third book and is in the midst of writing a play, something he has never attempted before.
He also spoke about today’s cinema which he believes is going in the right direction and that too in the popular genre. “I recently watched the movie ‘Dangal’. It was quite an experience. It is made with lot of passion. And now it has gained incredible success. I felt nice that now at popular level filmmakers are thinking in that direction and it is not left only with new wave or parallel filmmakers. On top of that it (Dangal) is entertaining, sensible and has a strong underlying message,” says Mirza.
Mirza the traveller
Mirza loves to travel and that too by road, even to far off distances. He travels with a mission of doing documentaries and collecting stories of real people and their lives. “I travelled almost for two and half or three months on road. That’s what has now given me the back problem. But, it’s a nice way of meeting people. When you are speaking or interviewing the dhabawala or the truck drivers you come to know about India so much. And I believe that every ordinary person has a story to tell. You learn so much from them in the process. Half of the stuff for my book comes from ordinary people and meeting with them,” says Mirza.
This is well reflected in his work. The best example of it is the television series in 1980s ‘Nukkad.’ These stories were of ordinary people and their lives. “I spent lot of time on streets of Mumbai. I went to a privileged school, but as a young person I interacted with everybody. It was a great learning experience for me. You can learn from anybody. One should respect everyone’s knowledge and point of view.”
Commenting on
socio-political issues
Mirza is quite vocal on socio-political issues, the country and the world faces. But the rise of television debates and social media, he believes is taking us away from the real issue. “In television and social media there isn’t a space for serious discussion. It’s a shouting match. For example, I was asked to discuss Kashmir issue along with Anupam Kher (who is involved with Kashmiri pandits issue). I thought it would be a conversation as we are both not politicians. But, instead of keeping both the points into account, it got reduced to patriotism,” says Mirza.
He further comments that there is no harm in being patriotic but by just being patriotic one cannot solve issues related to farmer’s suicide, healthcare, education, etc. “The biggest patriots are the rich people. Every citizen loves his/her country but what after that?” asks Mirza.
Mirza also opines that the media of today’s times is involved in making non-issues news and no one is giving attention to serious news. “Now we don’t have concentration span, our minds get diverted quickly, we are engaged in thousand things simultaneously rather than one thing seriously. And therefore our memory span is getting short. We are consuming subject after subject every single day. So, there’s no time to think. They are like item numbers. Who is reading P Sainath, Harsh Mandar? Who is reading about farmer’s suicide, water dispute between Tamilnadu and Karnataka? What about issues of north-east and Kashmir? What about Naxalite issues? We are now in the age of amnesia. My new book ‘Memory in age of amnesia’ is based on this. There are now instances of planting fake news. It is happening all over the world and not only in India. Make false look like truth and destroy countries. While we discuss IPL they destroy the world. Who is behind this? Is anybody asking this question? That’s why memory is important,” says Mirza.
Mirza repeatedly makes a point that this scenario of intolerance, is rising all over the world and it is an uncomfortable feeling for him as he comes from a liberal background. “We are in sectarian, violent vision of the world. I come from a liberal family. My brother married a Hindu, I married a Christian, one of my sons married to a Chinese and the other to a Lebanese girl. That’s my world and I believe in it. The world now not only getting polarised but the mind of the people is becoming narrow by the day. We are having a horse view; like a frog in a pond. This world is so big and beautiful. There’s so much poetry in the world and that’s where the Sufi part comes in. It reminds me of the famous Sufi poet, Bulleh Shah, who centuries ago said, “baazi le gaye kutte”, we are in those times,” says Mirza.
On a concluding note he expresses that hopefully these times will change and people will once again open their mind and heart and understand the realities of life. “I want the next generation to inherit an inclusive and compassionate country and the world and not a violent and brutal world. Hopefully the change will occur,” says Mirza.

(Climb Media presents a screening of ‘Saeed Mirza, The Leftist Sufi’, a film by Kireet Khurana N Padmakumar on January 21 at 6.30 p.m. at MOG, Pilerne. It is supported by NFDC. After the screening there will be an interation with Saeed Mirza. The event is open to all.)

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