June 10, 2010

M F Husain paints B-Town black

By: Khalid Mohamed
From his Doha abode, 94-year-old maestro takes shots at Bollywood's biggest stars

Kyani's khaari biscuits, the daily Bombay newspapers, half a pyaali of chai, are habits that still connect him to his home city. As addictively, he must get his weekly fix of Bollywood movies.

Whether the 94-year-old Maqbool Fida Husain is in Dubai, London or Doha, he must catch a film, hot-from-the-Mumbai-studio-oven, first-day-first-show. Not that he sits through 99 per cent of them, skedaddling from the cinemaplex as soon as the intermission card flashes on the screen. "Still there is a strange attraction, aadat se majboor maybe," he laughs, wanting to know rightaway how the movies have been performing at the cash counters.

Bollywood is not on my interview-agenda. There are weightier issues to discuss: the near five-year exile from India where he can't return because of an inestimable number of cases registered against him for alleged obscenity in a clutch of his paintings.

Left with no option, he has accepted Qatar citizenship. He paints prolifically, walks ramrod straight, and flashes sparkful eyes. The only difference is that he has become leaner, far more que sera sera. I meet him in a roomy villa in Doha's prime Lagoon neighbourhood. Willy-nilly, Bollywood springs up in mid-conversation. Excerpts.

You were in constant touch with film personalities in Mumbai. Has any one of them maintained contact?
Only Madhuri Dixit. I speak to her on the phone. But see, she wasn't a typical Bollywood girl even at the height of her popularity. Often, I remember a small scene from Hum Aapke Hain Koun... it is shot by moonlight created in a studio. The way she performs, her total surrender to the camera is what beautiful heroines are about.
(Pause) A few days ago, I saw someone called Barbara Mori from Brazil or Mexico. I was horrified! Why cast her when so many of our girls are far more beautiful and talented? There was another girl in that movie... Kites... she looked ghostly. Who was she?

Kangna Ranaut?
Hanh, Kangna had so much white make-up, she looked as if she had applied chalk all over her face. Kites ke baare mein yahan bhi bahut charcha tha. But the next day, it nose-dived. It's a third-rate movie. It should be banned. Kuch tuk hi nahin tha. What was your friend Hrithik Roshan doing?

He's not my friend, saab. No one is anyone's friend in show business.
Phir bhi. But after seeing Kites, I thought I must start my third film soon. Why am I just painting when I could do so much with the medium? According to my terms and my vision. I'll revive my project -- a comedy -- in July next year. I've had the title registered -- I wanted to cast Urmila Matondkar, but where is she? She seems to have vanished into thin air. What happened? Is she out of the scene?

For a while, you were quite gung-ho about Amrita Rao.
Sorry, not anymore. I liked her very much in Vivaah. Just one more movie... phir woh bhi khatam ho gayee kya? Maybe she just didn't find a manager who could guide her career properly. Actually, the heroes are performing better than the girls nowadays. Like Ranbir Kapoor... he's so natural. I would say that he's the first real actor in the Kapoor khandaan. Raj, Shammi, Shashi had tremendous screen presence and charm... but Rishi Kapoor's boy acts... really acts. He doesn't make funny faces like the other young actors.
Of the girls, I'm absolutely bowled over by Vidya Balan. She conveys pure Indianness, feminine, sensual, without making an effort. I was captivated by her in Ishqiya which I saw a dozen times just for her. The film was okay, it had a silly, meaningless title. In Paa, also she was wonderful but I didn't care for the film much. Amitabh Bachchan behaving like a schoolboy was supposed to be sweet but I couldn't take it.
(Chuckles) I was concentrating on Vidya anyway. She seems to be intelligent enough not to get spoilt by all the acclaim she's getting. Praise is transitory. If she agrees, I would like to cast her in my film. I have spoken to her, I will tell her all about it when I meet her in Dubai or London, so let's see what happens.

You aren't impressed by the other heroines?
Like who?

Katrina Kaif...
She's zero in acting but she is beautiful, not bad. Phir woh hai... Priyanka Chopra. She's all about imaging. If she gets a good role, she's good. People liked her in Fashion and Kaminey but she's not my type of heroine. And I wonder why people like Kareena Kapoor. Bilkul matchstick hai. She has come to destroy Saif Ali Khan and go away.

What would you say about Bollywood's increasing cultural impact?
Bollywood cinema has become empty of ideas and sincerity. 3 Idiots was not great but it was well made and touched on the issue of education. I admired Aamir Khan for Taare Zameen Par but wondered if it was a fluke when I saw Ghajini. Horrible! Aamir should have been pulled up for all the violence, the film should have been banned.

Are you surprised that no one from Bollywood has expressed concern about your situation?
But I never had genuine friends in Bollywood. So where's the question of any of them expressing concern for me? Not one. They have blanked me out. Amitabh is from such a decent family but he is full of contradictions. Can he ever live down the fact that he did that vulgar number Tere angne mein?
...Yash Chopra, the less said about him the better. I was supposed to do a series of paintings on Indian cinema that would be put up in his studio. Then I realised it was no point. He didn't treat me like an artist who was doing something for him out of friendship, he treated me as if was one of his employees.
(Mellowing) Phir bhi, I'll always be grateful to Yash for making Gaja Gamini possible. Despite all sorts of problems created by Madhuri's secretary Rikoo, he ensured that she would do the film. It had become such a problem that at one point, Yash had said, "Forget about Madhuri, I'll get Kajol to do your film." But you know me, it had to be Madhuri or no one else. (Laughs) I nearly died while making the film. There were so many pressures. So when I'm alone now, I count my blessings. I'm alive at least.


Some of the comments were priceless!!!!