More than a month after Nida Fazli, well-known Urdu poet, dialogue writer and lyricist, breathed his last, director Pankaj Butalia paid tribute to the veteran through the screening of the documentary Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum, at India Habitat Centre in Delhi last week. Chronicling the life and times of Fazli, the 2014 film is laced with anecdotes and traces his journey from Gwalior to Mumbai. Here, the 66-year-old filmmaker talks about his first meeting with the poet and making of the documentary.
When did you first come across the works of Nida Fazli and what prompted you to make the documentary Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum?
I came across his works somewhere around 2009-2010. I had heard him speak at a couple of book launches and liked his ability to shift from talking about an ordinary thing to poetry and bring relevance to that moment. To me that is a sign of somebody who actually thinks in poetic images all the time. I tried to find someone who could fund a documentary on him. Also, I had to convince him. I was lucky that the Films Division had started a new scheme. They wanted outside producers, so they supported the film.
If you could talk a bit about the making of the documentary?
I landed in Mumbai in July 2013 and started shooting with him. He was very tense and stiff. Then I travelled with him to Burhanpur for a talk, this was when he opened up a little. When we entered his house in Gwalior his whole attitude changed, he started talking about his childhood, his mother, his family. I felt I had a core to the film. I also shot with him when he came to Delhi with Salman Akhtar to visit Ghalib’s tomb.
What work of his did you enjoy the most? Also, what aspect of his personality have you tried to capture in the documentary?
The poems I have used in the documentary are my favourite. They talk about alienation in the city, the impersonal space. For instance, the poem Abhi Abhi jo tumko dakhel kar gaya hai usko bura na socho — he meant, you can’t think bad of someone who has knocked you down because he is part of a structure, a city, in which everybody is rushing. His exterior was tough, but he wanted to project it that way. Then there is this inner softness, which is completely at variance. He had the ability to convert anything from daily life into poetry.
The documentary does not talk about his career in Bollywood.
Bollywood poses a problem. Every time you want to use a footage, they want huge royalty. For the Jagjit Singh song, I asked HMV, which is now SaRe GaMa, to give me an excerpt from the original. They asked for Rs 12 lakh, which is more than the budget of the film.
What are the other projects you are working on?
I am working on a film on Delhi-based artist Vivan Sundaram. I am also working on a small film on two boys in Nizamuddin basti, who are from very poor families but who desire to become rock stars; they are composing their own music.