My aim was to show the history of the Partition and post-Independent India through the journey of a man who has been the nation’s conscience keeper,” says Meera Dewan as her new film, In His Inner Voice: Kuldip Nayar, edges towards completion. An advance preview to celebrate Nayar’s birthday will be held at the India International Centre in Delhi this evening, with permission from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
At 94, Nayar, a former editor of The Indian Express, remains a widely read columnist, commentator and thinker whose life in the film unfolds in layers. The camera follows him and Salman Haidar, who was deputy High Commissioner when Nayar was High Commissioner of India to the UK, as they travel by rickshaw through Old Delhi. In Ballimaran, Nayar had started his career with an Urdu newspaper called Anjam (“Anjam means ‘The End’ and he frequently jokes that he began at the end,” says Dewan) and, at Karim’s, he had indulged his foodie side.
Dewan made the film for Films Division soon after a casual conversation with Nayar revealed that there was no biopic on him. With more than 20 national and international awards to her credit, Dewan set about tracing the life of Nayar with an eye constantly on the sociopolitical macrocosm. The film includes interviews with Nayar as well as excerpts from his autobiography — curated by Dewan and Indira Mansingh, who was Nayar’s colleague at PIB and is a consultant with the film — read by theatre actor Suneet Tandon. In one passage, Nayar writes, “Whenever I see injustice, I react. I make other people’s pain my own.” In another, he recalls leaving his home in Sialkot, Pakistan, where there was a grave of an unknown pir to whom his family would light a lamp.
There are shots of him in his study as well as at Tihar Jail, where he was confined during the Emergency and became cell-mates with Arun Jaitley, among others. Nayar’s wife, Bharti, tells the camera, “My mother had coped when my father went to jail by taking the children and going to her father’s house. If my mother could do it, why couldn’t I?”
Like a blanket, music covers various parts of Nayar’s experiences. He was a regular at poetry recitals and has been friends with Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Gulzar, among others. “We have used a lot of music because that is an integral part of his personality,” says the filmmaker.