The painter and his unfulfilled dreams

Throughout his last years in Dubai, London and Doha, Husain was writing the script for his third feature film, jotting down notes on paper for several scenes and lyrics

The story continues. Objections are still being raised against any effort to remember the iconic artist M.F. Husain who passed away at the age of 95 on June 9 this year. Not only his artworks but now his role as a filmmaker has raised the hackles of a protest group at the recently concluded MAMI Film Festival.

Hosted by the Mumbai Academy of Moving Image, backed by a high-profile corporation, the festival had programmed tributes to the memory of Shammi Kapoor, Mani Kaul and Husain. As soon as this was announced, the festival’s organisers received an email from a self-appointed group of culture police, protesting in no uncertain terms against the Husain tribute.
Another obstacle in the way of programming the tribute, insiders state, is that it was impossible to schedule either of Husain’s two feature films Gaja Gamini (2000) and Meenaxi: Tale of 3 Cities (2004). Phone calls were made to obtain at least one of the prints from distributors as well as the artist’s family, in vain.
Subsequently, a very low-key screening was held of Husain’s documentary Through the Eyes of a Painter, which had bagged the prestigious Golden Bear Award at the Berlin film festival 43 years ago. The screening of the film, which was produced by the films division, was so hush-hush that it went by unnoticed and uncovered by the media.
Indeed signs are that the two films — uncompromisingly avant garde — are more than likely to be forgotten with the passage of time. Unbeknownst to many, throughout his last years in Dubai, London and Doha, the artist was writing the script for his third feature film, jotting down notes on foolscap sheets of paper for several scenes and lyrics. The script he was striving to complete was designed as a comedy. Initially called “Do Qadam Aur”, he was toying with the idea of re-titling the project “DoosriShaadi.com” to keep pace with the Internet age.
Another storyline, which Husain had conceived, was that of three young women who defy the rigid rules set at a women’s hostel by a tyrannical warden. For the trio, he wished to cast Vidya Balan, Urmila Matondkar and Sonali Kulkarni. For the tyrant lady, his first choice was the theatre director-actress Nadira Zaheer Babbar.
Yet another project that the artist intended to greenlight was a biopic on his life and times to be directed by his youngest son Owais. To portray his role, he had met Shreyas Talpade and K.K. Menon after appreciating their performances in Iqbal and Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, respectively.
Unwaveringly, the artist remained gung-ho about cinema which he described as “a complete medium,” adding that it has more potential and power than painting or theatre. Perhaps, the fascination began right from the days of his struggle as a 20-something painter of billboards showing yesteryear stars like Jamuna, Chandramohan, Naseem and Sohrab Modi. As soon as he had shifted from Indore to Mumbai in the 1940s, he had aspired to an apprenticeship as a film set designer, but was turned away from the studio gates.
Among the other unfinished film-related projects Husain has left behind is a series of paintings that he called, “From the Silver Glow of Dadasaheb Phalke to the Golden Dazzle of Madhuri Dixit”. Initially, the mega-series was conceived for the newly inaugurated studio of Yash Chopra, but since the artist left Mumbai in 2006 following protests against some of “objectionable” paintings, he aimed to unveil his salute to Bollywood at a gallery in Dubai this year-end.
In fact, Husain had made Dubai a rendezvous point for his meetings with film personalities. Shah Rukh Khan would drop by to inquire after the artist in Dubai regularly. The artist may have raved about the performances of several heroines — like Mumtaz, Sridevi and Tabu — down the years but he would insist, “No one compares to Madhuri Dixit.” He was about to commission a scholarly study on the actress, convinced that she represented the epitome of Indian womanhood.
Another unrealised dream: Husain wanted to build a Cinema Ghar where film students could keep abreast of world cinema. It would be a museum with an archive of Indian and international film classics, a library of books and technical equipment to experiment with filmmaking. To an extent, the process had begun at his museum in Hyderabad but could not be developed because the artist could never return to his country of birth.
Besides the mainstream Bollywood products, Husain was an avid follower of the cinema of Satyajit Ray and Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Impressed by the artist’s personality, Ray had sketched a portrait of Husain when they met in Kolkata. To return the compliment, Husain painted a series of portraits of Ray.
But there was one portrait that Husain could never even attempt. After scores of requests for an appointment, in 1982 he had met the celebrated Swedish-born actress Ingrid Bergman in Paris. She welcomed the artist, her maid served them tea but Ingrid Bergman could not get up from her chair. She was suffering from a terminal illness and looked a former shadow of herself.
“I didn’t have the heart to ask her if I could sketch her portrait,” the artist would recall. “I could never even start that one long-cherished dream.” That story has ended but the protests continue.

The writer is a journalist, film critic and film director

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