‘Art is my oxygen’

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‘Art is my oxygen’

ART IS like life to me. It makes me a functional being. It is my oxygen. When I cease to create I feel suffocated, stifled. Art provides me a relaxed soul.

By T Ramavarman

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Published: Wed 20 Aug 2008, 12:57 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 2:51 PM

It transforms me into a good human being who understands the pain, sensibilities, emotions and all other aspects of the life around me. My struggle is to translate those aspects of life into the form of scripts, stories and the pictorial language of cinema.” These are some tasters from the thoughts of the renowned Indian filmmaker Akbar Khan who was recently in Abu Dhabi with his magnum opus ‘Taj Mahal-The Eternal Love Story’. The screening was arranged by the Digi Film Club of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage.

Akbar Khan is eloquent and passionate when he speaks about what art means to him, his association with the film and his productions. He spoke at length on all these aspects and future projects during a free-wheeling conversation with City Times.

His first film as director-producer was ‘Haadsaa’ (The Incident) was released way back in 1983. But his cinematic career had begun still earlier in 1974 with his role in the film Anjaan Rahen. “I acted in ten to 12 films, and most of them were appreciated at the box office and festivals. But my soul was into direction and production and eventually I moved over to those areas.” Few in his family and peer group would have thought that this school dropout would build up a brilliant career in the highly competitive film world.

“Teachers told me I can be a topper if I concentrate a little more. But my mind was fixed on . I didn’t want to be caught up in the system. So I decided to drop out. I was a rebel in my emotions, of course not in a violent manner. The only subject I loved was history. I used to think about epic films like Alexander, Ben Hur. And later on I ended up doing these historicals on celluloid and for the television.’’ Akbar had directed nearly 20 episodes of monumental television serial ‘Tipu Sultan’ which was telecast by the Indian Government channel, Doordarshan, on behalf of his brother Sanjay Khan, another legendary figure in Indian cinema.

Sanjay Khan, who was to direct the serial was in the hospital then following a major accident.

Subsequently, Akbar Khan produced his own mega-hit serial ‘Akbar the Great’.

Produced at an estimated cost of $10 million, ‘Taj Mahal’ has been billed as one of the costliest Hindi films ever made. This film unravels the finer dimensions of the sublime and passionate love between the legendary Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and his empress Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal was built as a magnificent sculptural articulation of this intense love between Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal.

Akbar says, “Taj Mahal is not only a love story, but a tragedy as well. It took about 22 years to complete the construction of this monument which was essentially a mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal. Nearly 22,000 people were involved in the construction of and the best quality materials available in those periods had gone into its making.

But as its construction was over Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb who wanted to inherit the crown bypassing his elder brothers. Shah Jahan could thus have only a distant glance of this sculptural poetry in marble, from the windows of his prison for most part of his life.” The film seeks to subtly avert the boredom of linear narrative by giving some space to articulate the perspective of Aurangzeb.

In the process the film lifts him up from the conventional image of a mere Machiavellian powermonger to the stature of a prince with a deep commitment to his country.

But the core theme of the film is eternal love and, the film denounces all wars and thereby seeks to expose the fallacy of Aurangzeb’s perspectives in one of the opening scenes itself.

“The seeds of the epic were sown during my first visit to the Taj Mahal way back in the early 1990s. I was caught totally in a time capsule. I could feel some force there. Even though I was amidst a large number of tourists, I felt I was alone.

I literally felt my heartbeat reverberate on the marble walls. Then came the excellent narration of the story behind the mausoleum by the guide in a powerful bass voice. I decided then and there that I should make a film on this magnificent monument.” The film has some seasoned actors like Kiran Bedi, Pooja Batra and Monisha Koirala while new entrants like Zulfi Syed and Sonia Jehan play the lead roles in the film made in pure Urdu, but with excellent English subtitles.

The film enjoyed a rave reception in Abu Dhabi. “It was amazing. Every section of the audience seems to have been mesmerised by the film. It reinforced my confidence in the universal appeal of the film.” The film also had a historical relevance in that it was one of the first Indian films to be screened in Pakistan in the recent times. The Pakistan Government had a lifted 41-year old ban on Indian films to permit Taj Mahal to be screened there.

What are his future plans? “I’m going to make a film titled ‘Taxi Driver’ and its ‘Muharat’ (first clap) will be held in Abu Dhabi within a couple of months.

Then I will make a film based on the life of the legendary warrior Chengiz Khan in English with a global cast and technicians. I’m also planning to make a television serial on the different Mughal rulers.”


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