The Cultural Custodian of Indian Cinema: Saeed Akhtar Mirza

Life finds edits in perfect lengths, characters live the reflections of identities, reality shapes the course of fiction and fiction complements reality in epic proportions, Saeed Mirza’s films may or may not provide solutions to the questions that exist in our society but he surely ensures that these questions recieve the required attention.

In a nation where cinema occupies the pulpit in every fragment of our society, one might ask about the place that these various fragments have in our cinematic representations. It’s been almost 125 years since the first film screening was held in 1895 and an array of filmmakers have thoroughly sought to portray the juncture that interplays between cinema and reality, but very few tap the realities like Saeed Akhtar Mirza.

Saeed whose career spans across 25 years has directed iconic films like ‘Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan’, ‘Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai’, ‘Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro’ and ‘Naseem’ has given us a body of work that celebrates the calibre of Indian Cinema.

The Thematic Concerns

Saeed’s films are driven by a single concern of common members of our societies, that might incorporate several extensions and derives its frutification from the very people who are going to consume his cinema. Be it the economic feudalism that anchors Arvind Desai Ki Ajeeb Dastaan (1978), where a privileged urban youth with perplexions of his own, tries to discover himself amidst the circumstances that are set by the upper class for themselves, this focus on the privileged urban youth later gets further exploited in films like Dil Chahta Hai (2001), Wake Up Sid (2009) & Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) or the question of identity in Indian minorities where caste and class conflicts have deeper foregrounds than one can imagine as appropriately dealt in Naseeruddin Shah & Smita Patil starrer Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai (1980) & further in the crime drama Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro (1989) starring Pavan Malhotra, the communal disruptions, the abyss of criminal world, prevalent misogyny in the society which can be found in Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday (2004) is testimonial to Saeed’s anticipation.

Mohan Joshi Haazir Ho! (1984) is a fine satire on the judicial system of India where cases are often dragged for years and justice is often unrequited, Subhash Kapoor’s Jolly LLB series (2013) & (2017) is yet another examplification of Saeed’s vision and success.

His final release- Naseem (1995), is an account of the communal relatons in a post Babri Masjid demolition era; the protagonist Naseem as a school girl who undergoes skepticism about her future and that of her country is surely something that many minds can relate to even today in such political circumstances, which is depicted later in movies like Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995) & Rahul Dholakia’s Parzania (2005).

The Technique

With powerful scripts and some great performances Saeed’s grandeur is also complimented by his technical finesse be it in the form of Guerilla Film Making where actual streets and roads are used or chasing sequences and deep conversations on social issues. This grand old icon of parallel cinema has created a cult status of its own, primarily for those in my the slums like that in Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro which one can revisit in Mira Nair’s Academy Nominated Salaam Bombay (1988) and Zoya Akhtar’s acclaimed film Gully Boy (2019). As Art Director Nachiket Patwardhan rightly observes,

“Normally films don’t speak about the filmmaker as much as Saeed’s films do”

Despite the fact that almost all of his film is focused on a single character, other characters get an ample space that steers the movie. His technical brilliance over narration has earned him various Filmfare and National Awards on several occasions and has inspired many directors like his assistant Sudhir Mishra and Ashutosh Gowariker.

Unfortunately, his vision that was although much ahead of its time could neither found the mass audience or the acknowledgement he deserved. It was only until two young directors Kireet Khurana & N. Padmakumar’s presented their reverences to this man in the 2016 acclaimed documentary Saeed Mirza: The Leftist Sufi (ranked 4th best documentary on Netflix).

Saeed who has now devoted his time to books, this 78 year old admirer of Franz Fannon, Edward W. Said and Quratulain Hyder has authored books like Ammi: Letter to a Democratic Mother (2008) and Memory in the Age of Amnesia (2018).

Featured Image Credits: Scroll.in

Faizan Salik



Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history.Freedom to Express.