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Saeed Mirza is the same on and off camera, says Kireet Khurana of The Story Of Nukkad

The discussion web-series by Khurana sees veteran filmmaker Saeed Akhtar Mirza speak on various aspects of his classic television serial Nukkad.

Keyur Seta

Nukkad (1986), one of Doordarshan’s classic television serials, continues to bring a smile on people’s faces even after 35 years. This prompted filmmaker Kireet Khurana to start a discussion series about the show with its creator Saeed Akhtar Mirza. The sixteen-episode show, titled The Story Of Nukkad, went live last month.

It all became possible because Saeed Mirza has been Khurana’s next-door neighbour in Mumbai for the past eight years. But, of course, Khurana has known the veteran for decades.

“My father [the late Bhimsain] was also a filmmaker, so he [Mirza] used to come home once in a while," Kireet Khurana told Cinestaan.com. "So I knew him as a kid, but for 20 or 30 years I was not in touch with him. But when I moved into this building in Bandra eight years ago, he was my immediate neighbour! He had seen me as a kid, so we started chatting.”

Saeed Akhtar Mirza

Quite a few of Khurana’s projects got stalled earlier this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This gave him time to catch up with Mirza. “Saeed and I would meet, obviously because there is this melancholy and boredom that seeps in. We meet often even now every day or every second day in the evening. We started sharing ideas. He had some ideas which he wanted to make. I felt now I have the time to make those ideas,” said Khurana.  

It was during such discussions that the idea for The Story Of Nukkad came to Khurana. But Saeed Mirza needed some persuasion. “He wasn’t keen on it," Khurana said. "He is not the person who likes to live in the past. He feels that once it’s over, it’s done. But I told him Nukkad had a great value and message. I felt that somehow if we can bring forth the point of view of the creator, it will be there for posterity and people will love it. This would be a big eye-opener for them about what went into [the making of] some episodes.”

Asked about the experience of filming Saeed Mirza as he speaks on the show, Khurana said, “Saeed is the same person off camera and on camera. He is always full of enthusiasm and raring to go and full of ideas. It’s always enriching to hear him.”

Watching a single episode of The Story Of Nukkad is enough to realize how vividly Mirza remembers each character, even if it was just a barber. “He has an elephantine memory,” agreed Khurana. “He reads a lot of books. He will quote from a book he had read during his college days. And when you work on a project for so long, it stays with you for a long time.”

Nukkad didn’t have one or two protagonists. The ensemble show had almost 20 characters from lower middle-class and poor sections of society, everyday folk who can often be spotted at a street corner (nukkad in Hindi) in Mumbai. Each episode was about how these characters dealt with the ups and downs of daily life.

In one of the episodes of the discussion series, Mirza said many people advised him against making Nukkad as they felt that such a concept would not work in India. But Khurana does not think Nukkad could be labelled an experimental show.

“If your stories are good and the characters are well-etched, then it’s not an experiment," Khurana said. "It’s just different. The setting is the only thing that is different here. Usually what we call experimental is when you are having a non-narrative or doing something which is not commercial and may not necessarily find an audience, or if there is a personal statement.”

Khurana believes Nukkad is remembered fondly only because of its endearing stories and well-etched characters. “It’s all about empathy, compassion and dignity of the lowest sections of society," the filmmaker explained. "That really was the core message of Nukkad. No matter who you are, how rich or poor, you cannot take someone’s dignity for granted.”

Much before The Story Of Nukkad, Khurana had made a documentary on Mirza titled Saeed Akhtar Mirza: The Leftist Sufi. “His personality is charismatic,” said Khurana. “I really like what he stood for. That documentary was a big success. It was among India’s top three documentaries on Netflix. He is very clear. He is altruistic and Sufi-like. And he is strongly leftist as well, obviously.”

The Story Of Nukkad is available for viewing on the YouTube channel of Humara Movies.

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