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|Figure 1 |
Khalid Mohamed. Courtesy of Khalid Mohamed.
Journalist, screenwriter, and film director, Khalid Mohamed is one of the few people who has managed to make the transition from writing about cinema to directing his own films. A long-time film critic for the Times of India and editor of Filmfare, Mohamed began his film career by writing the script for Shyam Benegal's Mammo (IN, 1995), which was loosely based on his grand-aunt's life. In 1994, he wrote a moving piece about this aunt who had been deported to Pakistan from India since she was not an Indian national. Benegal asked him if he could make a film based on her story; this was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration between the two. Mohamed went on to write screenplays for Benegal's Sardari Begum (IN, 1996) and Zubeidaa (IN, 2001) also based on women from his family. His first directorial venture, Fiza, was released in 2000 (IN). The film addressed the Bombay riots of 1992–93 that were sparked off in the wake of the destruction of the Babri masjid in Ayodhya, and attempted to represent the plight of the minority Muslim community in a Hindu-Right dominated India. He followed it up with Tehzeeb (IN, 2003) and more recently with Silsiilay (IN, 2005). Mohamed's films occupy an interesting intermediate space between Hindi commercial cinema and art cinema. Although he often takes on thorny socio-political issues in his scripts and in his films, he also deploys a number of mainstream conventions to communicate his more serious concerns about gender, female sexuality, and Muslim minoritarian identities. In particular, his films invite us to consider how minority religious and cultural differences may be recognized without fixing them into sites of permanent and essential antagonisms, and what sorts of political claims may be articulated from such positions. [End Page 101]
This interview was conducted in Khalid Mohamed's home in Bombay in July 2004.
Priya Kumar: You have been a film critic for so long, and now you are a scriptwriter and a director. What is it that drew you to films?
Khalid Mohamed: I grew up on films. One could say I was almost weaned on them. Films were a big refuge for me. I used to live with my grandparents in a big bungalow with about 40 rooms. They were quite old—she was in her mid-fifties, he was in his seventies. My grandfather was a stern figure—extra loving at times, but very harsh at other times. Their main concern was that I should concentrate on my studies. If I didn't rank first in class, there would be thunder and lightning. It was a bit stressful.
Cinema became another life. It was always there. If I didn't see one film a week, I felt there was something missing. My grandmother was also a film buff. My grandfather had two theaters, National and Nishat, in one of the red light areas of Bombay. I'd go there with the servants and the neighborhood kids. I have all these crazy memories of my childhood. One of the first images I have of myself is going off to the movies in a Dodge car with my driver and servant. It was a unique experience for a kid. The theaters were all in Lamington road or Grant road. The area was called Peela House, a distortion of the word Playhouse. My driver and servant used to be very friendly with the naachnewaalis [dancing girls]. They had dates with women, the women would join them at the movies, at times there would be visits to the naachnewaali homes and I'd listen and watch, not quite sure about what was going on. I had all these provocative experiences while growing up. There were two parallel tracks going on . . . one in life and...