His answers reach you in whispers amidst artwork by some of the best-known masters. He says it makes sense to choose National Gallery of Modern Art for a meeting, as he wants to see if MF Husains work is still being displayed. “Blame it on the fact that I was a journalist for such a long time. Its just impossible for me to let go of a potential story,” laughs author, scriptwriter and filmmaker Khalid Mohamed, who is in the Capital for the launch of his first novel The Aladia Sisters.
While we both talk in whispers, still inviting stares by other visitors, Mohamed, who has to his credit scripts for movies like Mammo, Sardari Begum and Zubeida (all directed by Shyam Benegal) besides directing films like Fiza, Tehzeeb, and Silsiilay, stresses that his first outing as a novelist was a completely different experience, and the toughest. “A novel requires so much sustainment. You travel with the characters as they map their journeys, experience their fears, fantasies and nightmares too. And yes, quite emotionally draining too one is always wondering, is everything going the right way?”
And now, when the book is out? There must be a sense of relief, no? “Well, if you are hinting at a cathartic experience, then no. The story keeps growing inside you even after you have finished the last page, leaving you wondering if there should be a sequel. You constantly ask yourself if you’ve done justice to all the characters. It’s just like weaving tapestry. By comparison, cinema has been an easy play because you have an entire team there and there are people you can feed off. Here, you are lonely, so absolutely alone.”
Mohamed, whose written material is drawn heavily from his family, insists that in every person’s writings, there is always a strong element of the personal. “But remember, I pick on real people and take them to alien spaces. There are people I may have met briefly, but the key here is to imagine their lives — is he/she married? Does that person have three affairs? It’s like taking clay and moulding it. But of course, Mammo and Zubeida were very true; I didn’t depart too much from the original. You know, sometimes it can be really difficult to talk about the people closest to you.
Anyone who has seen films made on his scripts and those directed by him is bound to observe that it is always powerful women characters that drive the narrative. The writer attributes this to the fact that he was brought up by women. “My father went off to Pakistan and never looked back. There is a sense of loss and resentment.” Being brought up by his grandmother, he remembers how once a woman of the house drove away a burglar with a hockey stick. “Of course, it can be tough too, as women insist on pursuing excellence. If I didn’t come first in my class, my grandmother would be really upset. She would use the weapon of silence, which is the most hurtful. I feel they are emotionally strong, and a more caring gender, speaking totally subjectively.”
Stressing that theatre, like Bollywood can also be very hierarchical and extremely impenetrable, Mohamed, who wrote the play Kennedy Bridge’ states, “How do you get a producer, how to make the money back? And God forbid, if you get a lousy producer, it’s the end of the road.”
For someone who has written three films for the modern master, Shyam Benegal, besides making a documentary on him, the relationship between the two didn’t really have a rosy start. “As a reviewer, I was a very purist guy who just couldn’t handle compromises and middle of the road cinema. I criticised Benegal’s Junoon in my review, giving the headline — Hollow Obsession’. That sort of created an invisible wall between us. But, when I wrote a piece about my grandmother’s sister, Benegal approached me with an offer to make it into a film. I agreed on the condition that I should be the one to write the screenplay. That became my process of learning, and I was humbled that as a man, he was so eobjective’. Despite being criticised, he went along with the guy who did that. In fact, all that is in the documentary, it starts with my note of apology. No critic is always correct. What he writes is not an inscription in stone.”
Insisting that he doesn’t miss reviewing movies for nowadays it is all about “the fastest finger first”, it’s tough not to ask him about Ram Gopal Varma. After all, he gave the elusive five stars to Satya, and was planning to write a book based on conversations with the director. “I think he is a genius. He put the kettle to boil and got burnt out. But let us never forget, he is the ground breaking director.” The writer and filmmaker, who has been wanting to make a sequel to Zubeida for five years now, but yet to find a producer may convert the screenplay into a book titled eThe Imperfect Prince’ if he doesn’t manage to get a financer.
Mohamed has finally discovered that Husain still occupies space in the gallery. He may have lost a story, but there is a peculiar relief on his face. Actress Sonam Kapoor launched The Aladia Sisters at Toy Room Club, Aerocity on October 23. (IANS)