Post the Gujarat riots and massacre of 2002, under the watch of then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, I had met Saeed Akhtar Mirza, maker of such films as Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Daastan, Salim Lagde Par Mat Ro, Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho, and Naseem. His cult classic Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyun Aata hai has been remade and is releasing on April 12. The older film underlined the importance of a bigger cause over individual concerns. Although made in 1980, it mirrored in a way the Great Bombay Textile Strike led by Dutta Samant in 1982. From the 70’s only, mill workers had been on sporadic strikes in Bombay’s textile mills.
We had a long chat on his world view, how disgusted he was feeling about the post-Godhra riots. He told me something that still rings in my ears. He said, “I want to ask Advani and his likes, how do you sleep in the night after committing such heinous crimes? Are you able to sleep in the nights that follow? Do you see dreams at nights? What kind of dreams do you see those nights? What do they show?” I spoke to him a few days back. He said, “Yes, I have always wondered when do these people sleep, what dreams they have. I never got any answers. I always wanted to ask this question to people who orchestrate mass murders but I never got to do so.”
The pain and sigh in the voice of the 75 year old is telling. I ask him as to how he feels about the present socio-political scenario. The answers he gives, is the bitter truth which he, as a creative soul, has never tried to evade. He says he had seen the writing on the wall when he made his last film Naseem in 1995. Starring Kaifi Azmi, Saleem Shah, Surekha Sikri, Kay Kay Menon, Kulbhushan Kharbanda and Mayuri Kango. The film was on the Babri Masjid demolition and its impact. It won him two National Awards for Best Screenplay and Best Direction. Mirza stopped making films after Naseem.
“When I made Naseem, I wrote the epitaph of the Constitution. I have already said in the film that the Constitution is finished. Poetry of the nation is gone. All the talk of togetherness, inclusivity, compassion are gone. From Naseem onwards, I knew what we are going towards. Earlier, I used to get angry but I am not even angry now. Around 1992, I could see the writing on the wall. I knew it was coming. Ismain gunahgaar sab hain. No body is bereft of blame.”
So, what does he think of today, I ask him.
“Ab to naqaab bhi nikal chuka hai na. (Their faces have been unveiled now) It’s over now, so let’s face it openly. It is no longer hidden. We are no longer ashamed to be a bigot. Today, it is respectable and a matter of pride!” Have people comes to senses? Was this era necessary, I again ask. “I don’t know. Now elections are coming. Orchestrated and all kinds of plays are happening in front of us. Narendra Modi is doing all sorts of tamasha. This is the way things are. I don’t know if people are afraid, log sehme hue hain ya darey hue hain, mujhe nahi pata. After the elections are over, let’s see what people think actually? Which side they go for? We will know what we have bargained for? We will know where stand and where we will go from here now?”
The rage and restlessness in his voice are apparent. Does he not think that the band of filmmakers, artists and t coming together and appealing to people to not to vote for the BJP, will not help?
“I have reached a stage of my life when it doesn’t matter what I expect. Even though this coming together of many people is a positive sign but why have people stood up so late? Even if this regime (read BJP) loses, what kind of country will we have to live in now? It has spread a venom which will live for long, may be for ever. The effects are going to be far and wide. It might take generations to get rid of this venom.”
Mirza indicated that beautiful stories and poetry died in 1992 after Babri Masjid was demolished. That was the time for people to gather and stand up against divisive political leaders, he feels. No wonder Mirza calls himself the “Leftist Sufi”. “For me, it means an idea of compassion and inclusivity, sufism for me is love.”
So, is there a way out? He doesn’t seem much optimistic but has the spirit to fight, like his Albert Pinto and his father. “Not exactly. But in whatever way one can fight, one should. It’s not about only Muslims. All decent human beings should fight. The sufferer is an average decent human being. it includes tribals, Dalits, untouchables, all minorities and others.
Yes, the poetry must survive.