Muzaffar Ali


Muzaffar Ali, essentially a painter and filmmaker deeply inspired by Sufism has developed a discerning eye and vision for aesthetics and humanity. He has established an in depth admiration for his creativity all over the world and follows his creative pursuits without compromise ~ music, painting, fashion, craft, design - culminating in his passion for making films.

Driven by a sense of beauty and oneness of the human race, he dreams of a world in which love becomes a reigning concern... he dreams of the human condition in relationship to nature and believes that humility in art can become a vehicle for holistic emancipation of mankind. He is constantly looking for friends in this journey to share his vision and help society and in the process bring peace and health to themselves, and thereby perpetuate a larger movement.

He has followed his heart in the journey of his life as an artist; he has been drawn towards human helplessness which became the inspiration and theme for his art. His ongoing quest for beauty has slowly drawn him towards the Sufi path of love. He has woven his way through cities and cultures and his life and art have become mirror to one another.

Known the world over by his classic feature film Umrao Jaan, the name of Muzaffar Ali to all those who know him, spells a quest for beauty and excellence, humanity and aesthetics.

Today he is instrumental in spearheading a movement in upgrading the arts, craft and culture with a keen sense of detailing and style, making it known to the entire world in the name of Kotwara. His house in Qaiser Bagh is a throbbing nucleus of design and a living museum of art and craft. The talent of the city gravitates here for inspiration.

Born on 21st October 1946, Muzaffar Ali is the present Raja of Kotwara, one of the oldest living civilizations in the largest district of Awadh. His father Raja Syed Sajid Husain, M.A. from Edinburgh University was a very progressive individual. He was the member of the Legislative Assembly MLA from Kotwara from 1936 to 1952, was also the Chairman of the Uttar Pradesh State Assembly for one term. He died in 1991 as Chairman of the Indian Humanist Union.

Muzaffar Ali grew up amidst an environment of turmoil and change. Partition of India in 1947 and abolition of the Princely order, both had a deep impact on the milieu in which he grew.

He studied in La Martinere College, Lucknow. While he underwent the upheavals of the changing social situation, he began getting involved in painting as a child. In 1966 he graduated from Aligarh Muslim University in Geology, Botany and Chemistry. The impact of the thought provoking poetry of its time in the early sixties made an indelible impact on his mind. Poets like Rahi Masoom Raza, Javed Kamal, Khalilurahman Azmi and Shahryar of Aligarh and national and sub-continental poets like Mahkdoom Mohiuddin and Faiz Ahmad Faiz formed his romantic, revolutionary and philosophical psyche.

He began his early working career in Calcutta in 1966 with Clarion Mc Cann Advertising Services, in which Satyajit Ray used to work as an Art Director. Muzaffar Ali was introduced to Calcutta by a close friend, the famous poet Subhas Mukhopadhyaya and it was here that his mind opened to the idea of using film as a medium of social comment and artistic expression. The same medium of films, which had conveyed an ethos of cultural degradation, began to be seen as a tool of cultural emancipation. In 1968 he had his first one man show of paintings at the Academy of Fine Arts, Calcutta.

After a short spell in Delhi, at Advertising and Sales Promotion Co. where he handled tourism publicity, he moved to Mumbai, to work with Air India as no. 2 in the Publicity Department.

In Air India, Muzaffar Ali had a very successful term of 10 years working with the legendary Bobby Kooka. It broadened his vision, promoted India abroad through its arts, crafts and culture, set up a department promoting international conferences in India. This included conceptualizing and setting up of an international conference centre and hotel in Srinagar, Kashmir. This is the present Centaur Lake View Hotel and the government owned Sher-e-Kashmir Conference Centre, of which he is on the Board of Governors.

In 1972, Muzaffar Ali exhibited his collages at Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai.

His first feature film Gaman was made in 1978 which received the special award of the jury, a Silver Peacock at the 7th International Film Festival, New Delhi. It also received the Filmfare Award for Best Director.

In 1981 he resigned from Air India to complete his most acclaimed film Umrao Jaan and to fully devote his time to films and art. Umrao Jaan received several awards at the 29th National Film Festival including Best Music, Best Actress, and Best Female Playback Singer. Along with this it received the prestigious Filmfare Award for Best Director and Music. Umrao Jaan continues to evoke interest in international film circles as a land mark film and has been invited to open and be part of retrospectives at Locarno, Pompidou and Izola. From July to September 2005, it was screened at the ‘Indian Visions’, Museum Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome.

In 1982 Muzaffar Ali entered the field of documentary and short films, mainly centered on Awadh, craft, culture, exploitation of women and Sufism.

Having left Air - India, Muzaffar Ali realized that painting expressed a more intimate form of aesthetics and in 1983 he exhibited a series of collages at the Taj Art Gallery, Mumbai.

In 1983, the then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi appointed Muzaffar Ali on a National Committee for software development for the newly opened satellite TV in India.

In 1986 he made Anjuman, a feature film on the chikan craftswomen of Lucknow. The film was shown in the Indian panorama, at the National Film Festival, New Delhi. It was invited to International Film Festivals in Vancouver, Teheran, Cairo and Mauritius. It was screened at the Lincoln Centre Festival, New York in 2002.

In 1988, waiting to complete Zooni (one of his major films), shot both in English and Hindi, he set up a studio in Delhi and began painting a series of collages that were reminiscent of the valley. These were exhibited in 1990 in Gallery Carma, New Delhi along with craft he had designed in his studio in Kashmir. His works of art, collages, craft design and fashion were exhibited in May 1991 at the Gallery La Fayatte in Paris as part of the Festival of India.

After creating an international impact with his work, in 1991 Muzaffar Ali turned back to his roots in Kotwara and Lucknow, where most of his films were shot. He came back with a different motivation. This time it was not only film but to realize in life what most of his films were all about, to return the inspiration of the people in the form of development and livelihood.

Based on the inspiration and message of his first film Gaman, migration from rural to urban centres, Muzaffar Ali began a movement Dwar Pe Rozi to provide employment at doorstep through craft with a special emphasis on weaving , embroidery and styling. DPR as a registered society also runs a charitable school in Kotwara for the children of that area with an emphasis on rural employment.

Furthermore, his interest in craft and clothes, through his mother and the way he used them in Umrao Jaan, Anjuman and Zooni, motivated him to design clothes with the help of his architect wife Meera. The collection is known all over the country and the world as Kotwara which evokes a bygone era known for its finesse in style and craftsmanship. Acceptance of his work in a contemporary setting gives him strength to perpetuate this movement.

Jashn e Awadh was Muzaffar Ali‘s tribute to Awadh’s unique traditional attire, cuisine, tehzeeb- the Ganga Jammuni culture of Awadh for Taj Mahal Group of Hotels. This slide and live show with the music and poetry of Awadh was held at Taj Mahal Hotels at Lucknow, Mumbai and Delhi between October to November 1996.

Muzaffar Ali is actively involved in the promotion and conservation of the culture and craft of Awadh, individually as an artist and as active member of INTACH , Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, of which he was also member of the Governing Council.

On 12th February 2000 he concluded his ninth one-man show of sketches and collages at Art Today, New Delhi. This was followed by Jaam e Ishq, a dance ballet as an inaugural event for the World Presidents Organization and also conducted an exhibition of Quranic calligraphy collages and sketches for the Middle East in 2001.

On 7th November 2000 he presented Tajjalli, an Indo Iranian Music Concert in collaboration with Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran. This concert was a blend of Indian dancers, singers and musicians with singers and musicians from Iran, one complimenting the other highlighting their similarities and differences. This concert was a creative effort to synthesize and present three diverse yet similar genres of musical expression namely the Kashmiri, the Awadhi, and the Iranian renditions of Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi and Hazrat Amir Khusrau. The concert was presented as a light spectacle, moving through various Maqaams (stations) of the soul and ending in a dance of surrender.

To commemorate 50 years of Independence and the partition he created a music album entitled Paigham e Mohabbat, The Message of Love with Abida Parveen singing Indian poets and Indian singers singing the verses of poets from across the border. Spiritual poetry of submission and surrender began to attract him. He created an album of Sufi Ghazal with Abida Parveen, entitled Raqs e Bismil, the Dance of the Wounded.

From 2001 he initiated an annual international Music Festival, Jahan e Khusaru, in Delhi, dedicated to the 13th century mystic poet Hazrat Amir Khusrau. In this festival singers and musicians from different parts of the world and India participate creating a new genre of world Sufi music.

In 2004 he instituted the Rumi Foundation with a vision to promote Global Oneness, bridging the east west divide. The Foundation holds several Sufi festivals including the world Sufi Music festival, Jahan e Khusrau, and the Wajid Ali Shah Festival and publishes a journal – HU, the Sufi Way, of which the 5th issue 'A Leaf turns Yellow' is on the Sufis of Awadh. A retrospective of Muzaffar Ali's films was held at IFFI, Goa in 2010 featuring GAMAN, AAGAMAN and ANJUMAN. In an effort to promote tourism and culture in Lucknow, in 2013, Muzaffar Ali instituted the Wajid Ali Shah Festival. It is held annually at an old monument in Lucknow and celebrates poetry and the performing arts.