Intense rehearsals are afoot in an empty house in Delhi’s Greater Kailash for Yamuna Dariya Prem Ka, a ballet which will headline the forthcoming edition of ‘Jahan-e-Khusrau’, filmmaker and Muzaffar Ali’s festival. A special highlight at this year’s festival is a ballet which brings to life the story of Yamuna, the main tributary of the Ganges. The ballet will be presented in two 35-minute parts and will trace the journey of the river and what it goes through at different junctures. “We have always had the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb, where cultures have assimilated. So we look at the Yamuna which has suffered neglect. There is a sense of helplessness in the people. They don’t know what they can do. I don’t know what we can do to save the river, but I know what we can do to feel it. If you can’t feel anything, why will you save it?” says Ali, who has taken the works of poets such as Amir Khusrau, Raskhan, Hazrat Raz Niyaz and others and woven them into the ballet.
This is the 13th edition of the festival in the Capital. The other editions have taken place in cities like Patna, Boston, London, Kashmir, Jaipur etc. But Delhi and specifically the venue of Humayun’s Tomb, Arab Ki Sarai is where the filmmaker keeps coming back to. “There is some magic in this city. I can’t really explain it. The city has some traces of continuance of a culture. We as a city are not bereft of these magical things. I don’t think people understand the magical effect that the space has on the whole evening,” says the filmmaker, who is best known for his period drama, Umrao Jaan.
Ali says that Sufism as a concept comes naturally to the city of Delhi, though not everyone can be a Sufi. According to him, Delhi has had “Sufi-friendly” people in plenty, including the great urdu poet Mirza Ghalib. “This is the city of Ghalib after all. But there are many things. One is Sufi-friendly, and then of course there is being Sufi. There are many friends of the Sufis, including myself. But to be a Sufi, one really has to burn bright to be able to blend with the divine. Ghalib has said,‘Yeh Masail-e-Tasawwuf..Yeh tera bayaan Ghalib, Tujhe hum wali samajhte, jo na baadakhwaar hota’,” says Ali. The couplet is about Ghalib’s own eloquent philosophy and how it could be equated with the word of a saint, if only he did not drink so much.
Sufi poetry remains the core of the festival, with many old favourites of Ali being part of the line-up — Kailash Kher, Shubha Mudgal and Hansraj Hans. There are some new names as well, which include Barnali Chattopadhyay and Archana Shah. “These are people you want to work with because they are seasoned artists who improvise each time, which is a rarity. When they sing, for them it’s a tribute to the divine, a haazri,” says Ali.
Ali started ‘Jahan-e-Khusrau’ in 2001, after he came back from Kashmir, where he was shooting his ambitious period project, Jooni. “My film had stopped and I had spent an entire decade trying to revive it. I ended up spending a lot of time in the Valley. Kashmir has this rich tradition of maqams, which are like Iranian ragas. They have an important place in the region’s music. Har waqt ka ek alag maqam hota hai, and the effect it has is like meditation. It was in Kashmir that I came across Amir Khusrau and Rumi and that’s when I realised that poetry like this needs to be celebrated and sung,” says Ali. The result was ‘Jahan-e-Khusrau’.
Apart from curating the festival, the filmmaker has had a busy year otherwise too. His fashion label, House of Kotwara, which he runs with wife Mira, had a successful show at the recent Lakme fashion week, with Sushmita Sen walking the ramp as their showstopper. Ali has also directed a series of films for the Ministry of Textiles, which bring to life the stories of the many geographical indicators of the country. “So there is one on muga silk from Assam, there is another on the Kutchi embroidery from Kutch, Pochampally, Bhagalpuri silk and papier-mache,” says Ali.
Is there another Muzaffar Ali film in the offing? The last cinematic outing by Ali was Jaanisar in 2015. “For me the rationale behind making a film has become very important. One cannot make just anything rubbish. I was making a film on Rumi, which got stalled. I really wanted to make that film and had strong reasons to make it. Those reasons get stronger everyday,” he says.
Jahan-e-Khusrau is on from March 9 till the March 11. For more details/tickets log onto http://www.jahan-e-khusrau.com