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Noted filmmaker Muzaffar Ali’s art exhibition reflects his muse, love for nature

Director Muzaffar Ali's fascination with horses is evident at the ongoing art exhibition where among other works is 'Asp e Himmat'

Muzaffar Ali’s aesthetic touch and taste as evident in his iconic films like “Umrao Jaan” and “Gaman” can also be sensed in his art. This comes to the fore at the ongoing art exhibition “Mystic Journeys in Art Muzaffar Ali” at Bikaner House where his collages, paintings, sketches, installations and design objects like chairs, a door, tables, a chess board, are on display.

The show is divided into 11 sections which Ali calls as Makaams.

The most striking part of the show are the horses some of which have been drawn on very large canvases.  These paintings vary from vertical to horizontal and while being dark in hue, they exude energy and exuberance. As per Uma Nair, the curator of the show: “These horses are driven by three factors: childhood memories of the Muharram procession and tales of valour, sentimentality for beloved pets and valuable domesticated animals, and nostalgia for an imagined existence far away from the reality of a lived life.”

Keeper of Secrets
‘Keeper of Secrets’

“Parwaaz” which means flight shows a single steed running with gay abandon while “Keeper of Secrets” depicts two horses close to each other who seem to be confiding to each other their secrets, feelings, fears or joys. The biggest canvas on this subject is “Asp e Himmat” with the animal looking at the endless sky with awe and wanting to explore and know about it.

That Ali is close to nature and that too from his childhood is evident from several of his works using dried leaves, both big and small, whole and fragmented and parts of trees. Expressing his affinity for leaves, Ali said: “I love leaves because they define the cycle of time, cycle of seasons, of beauty and surrender. It’s all about the enormous engineering of nature’s beauty.”

Muzaffar Ali The Cheetahs
‘The Cheetahs’

A contemporary work of Ali which is sure to create a buzz is “The Cheetahs” (2022) portraying three of these majestic animals sitting with grace and comfort. The background landscape looks sparse yet charming.


Another eye-catching work is the mixed media installation “Nicollage”. A four-seater wooden bench, its backrest is full of varied pictures of people and other beings and done in earthy hues. Seeing it one feels that it is like a horizontal canvas on which the artist has poured his imagination. Watch the containers fastened on the armrests that give it an appearance of ashtrays.


“Milestones” is another collage installation which is deeply connected with leaves and Ali’s home at Kotwara. It is a screen divided into the top four circular oval windows with dried plant-like twigs. It looks like a door leading to a lush green garden.

The Muse
‘The Muse’

Portraits by the filmmaker are works which are close to his heart. One of the important portraits is that of his wife Meera. Titled “The Muse”, it is a three-quarter vertical study capturing her frontal visage and highlights vividly her fine subtle facial features.

Muzaffar Ali Untitled Rekha
‘Untitled’ work of Ali which is inspired by Rekha who played the central character in his film ‘Umrao Jaan’

“Aap Ki Yaad” is inspired by Smita Patil, the seasoned actress who was one of the leading protagonists in Ali’s film “Gaman”. The “Untitled” work reflects the beauty of Rekha who was the lead actor in his 1981 period musical drama film “Umrao Jaan”, which won several National Awards including the one for Best Director and Best Actress.

This engrossing exhibition needs to be viewed leisurely, savouring every work for its detail and beauty.

(On view at Bikaner House, New Delhi till January 21, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.)