Mansoor, Aamir launch book on Nasir Husain and his cinema

Music Masti Modernity: The Cinema of Nasir Husain was launched by the late filmmaker's children Mansoor and Nuzhat and nephew Aamir Khan at the MAMI film festival on 22 October.

Nasreen Munni Kabir, Akshay Manwani, Mansoor Khan, Nuzhat Khan, Aamir Khan at the book launch

Sonal Pandya

The 18th Mumbai Film Festival, which honours film writers with a Book Award for Excellence in Writing on Cinema in English and Hindi, was also the platform for launching a book on filmmaker Nasir Husain and his works.

Husain, father of former filmmaker Mansoor Khan and uncle to superstar Aamir Khan, was a screenwriter in the 1950s who moved to write and direct his own films with Tumsa Nahin Dekha (1957). His films, while commercially successfully, were never critically acclaimed.

Author Akshay Manwani, who became a fan of the late producer-director after watching his films in the 1970s, felt his cinema was deeply undervalued. Manwani decided to write a book to show the world that Husain was just as great a filmmaker as Mehboob Khan or Guru Dutt. "This man, his legacy, needs to be celebrated,” he said.

The festival organized a panel discussion featuring film historian Nasreen Munni Kabir, Manwani, Mansoor Khan, Husain’s daughter Nuzhat Khan and Aamir Khan. The panel was preceded by the launch of the book, Music Masti Modernity: The Cinema of Nasir Husain, which has been published by Harpercollins India with a foreword by Aamir Khan.

Prior to the discussion, there was a screening of the Husain-produced Teesri Manzil (1966) with actress Asha Parekh and actor Prem Chopra in attendance. Manwani thanked the festival organisers for allowing the book to be launched on such a grand scale and pointed out that there are remnants of Husain’s influence until today. “There are still filmmakers who celebrate song and dance the way Nasir saheb used to,” he said.

Nasreen Munni Kabir, who moderated the panel discussion, said Husain knew exactly “how to bring alive words through characters and dialogue”. She asked Mansoor, Nuzhat and Aamir if they were aware as children that Husain was famous. Nuzhat replied, “I don’t think I knew what my father was doing, I knew it was his work. I didn’t understand fame.”

Aamir, too, said, “I don’t think it occurred to me that chachajaan [paternal uncle] was famous. He was such a normal person.” Son Mansoor said he only saw Teesri Manzil 15 years after it was released, he was that disconnected with films. He summed it up saying, “He was not a filmi personality.” They never discussed films at mealtimes.

The panel discussed Husain’s love for music, his ability to pick up a good tune in his films, and how initially he was discouraged by his family from joining the profession until Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, his uncle and a leading figure in India's struggle for independence, told him he should do what he wanted.

Manwani said, "If you look at the decade of the 1970s, which is essentially remembered as Mr Bachchan's decade and [for] Salim-Javed giving shape to the ‘angry young man’ persona, all the great directors who [made their] debut around 1957, whether it’s Raj Khosla or Vijay Anand or Yash Chopra or Manmohan Desai, all of them when they come into the 1970s turn to Mr Bachchan either to give him his best films or rescue their own sagging careers. The one man who does not turn to Mr Bachchan is Nasir saheb.” Husain made three huge hits in that decade with Caravan (1971) starring Jeetendra, Yaadon Ki Baaraat (1973) starring Dharmendra, Tariq and Vijay Arora, and Hum Kisise Kum Naheen (1977) starring Rishi Kapoor.

The trio of Mansoor, Aamir and Nuzhat shared many funny and interesting anecdotes about the man and his films – from how Dev Anand was originally cast in Teesri Manzil to how Nasir Husain worked with them all on the script of Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988) together with a lot of internal disagreements.

Grandson Imran Khan was part of the audience and talked about his enduring memories of how Husain used to tell him a new story every night at bedtime. He said, “I never really saw my grandfather as a filmmaker. To me, he was nana.” Imran is the third-generation member to go into films.

Kabir asked how Husain would feel about a book featured on him. Mansoor Khan said, “My dad was very used to not getting awards. I think he would be a bit apprehensive about somebody looking very closely at his work. Film dekho na, yeh kya hai [Watch my film, what is all this?]” Nuzhat and Aamir both agreed that he would be quite shy about it and would probably never read what was written about him.

The panel discussion was followed by a question-answer session with the audience. Music Masti Modernity: The Cinema of Nasir Husain will be available at bookstores and online from 2 November.