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Mumtaz Hussain
Mumtaz Hussain

His words betray his looks – jeans, rimmed glasses, full boots and a scarf around his neck – and the illustrated 28 years career abroad. For, he speaks of Pakistan, especially of Lahore, which he had left in 1987.

He uses original Lahore jargon and slang to express his feelings about Pakistan and the city and says violence can be simply eliminated by undiluted local art.

“Jigar (my dear)! A Malang (devotee of a shrine) softens hearts with his sufi song he sings while playing his Ektara (one-stringed indigenous musical instrument) and connects you to Allah. He has gone into the background. Take him out and he will eliminate the violence,” says Mumtaz Hussain.

He is an artist, filmmaker and writer who was educated in Lahore but is living in New York for the last 28 years. What he has not forgotten is the courage of the majority of the Lahorites which he had left in 1987 due to the oppressive Zia regime which looked to continue forever.

“There was courage in writing and art against the oppression. I don’t know where it has gone now. Perhaps our attitude has become mechanical,” says Mumtaz who is in Lahore for a while to collect local movies – commercial, art and documentary – to show them in New York to prove how “actual normal human beings we were, and are.”

Mumtaz studied at the National College of Arts (NCA) which he joined in 1981. This was the time when the freedom-loving people, including the youth, were fighting the Zia regime’s retrogression and militarisation.

“There were hangings and floggings, and snatching of civil liberties. But we would hope to defeat the gun with our brush and pen. People would find themselves weak enough to revolt against the regime but they would at least talk of it. Now this is missing,” he says.

Mumtaz Hussain tells that while at the NCA, he decorated the palace of Sheikh Zaid bin Sultan, an architectural landmark in Karachi. And in 1987, he left for London to study European art forms. In 1988 he went to New York to pursue graphic design at the School of Visual Art, also studying film making and working for three multi-national fashion firms.

Hussain directed 13 episodes of an informative talk show for Channel 9 “Ask a Lawyer.” His book of Urdu short stories, Goal Aainak Key Peechey , Lafzoan Main Tasveerain, has been published.

His art film, Soul of Civilization, has been shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Queens Museum and Stony Brook University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Connecticut.

His other films include “This is my Pakistan” (for a Pakistani television channel), Inside You, (based on Rumi’s poetry), Push Button For, Butterfly Screams, (based on 9/11).

His first feature film, Art=(Love) 2 received a Merit Award at The Lucerne International Film Festival, Switzerland, Best Cinematography at The Jaipur International Film Festival, India, Platinum Reel Award at The Nevada Film Festival, U.S.A, Gold Award at the Prestige Film Festival, U.S.A.

The film was also officially selected at The Delhi International Film Festival, India and The Vegas Cine Fest, U.S.A. It will be ready for theatrical release soon. His script The Kind Executioner received finalist award at Hollywood Screenplay Contest Hollywood and first award at Jaipur International Film Festival 2015. His play, Legal Alien, was performed at the New York University’s Kimmel Center.

His paintings and films have been shown at numerous museums, universities, art galleries and international film Festivals.

“I have spent my life abroad. I visit Lahore to pay my regards to it for preparing me how to survive there, and to refresh my heart and soul. I have walked on The Mall in the last three days to reminisce my college days but have found life different now,” he says.

To elaborate his point, Hussain says everyone seems calculated and reserved. People are careful in talking of religion and how it has been used to justify violence.

“I found undiluted original life in Miani Sahib Graveyard where I went to pay homage to Dulla Bhatti, Saghar Siddiqui and Manto. The malang there appeared to be unmindful of the changes that have taken place outside the graveyard,” he says.

“I am an artist and in my view Pakistan can easily combat violent tendencies with original art,” he says, also praising the current film productions in Pakistan. “Young people are writing and producing films with limited money. They are not rich and are free of the previous studio control. This is heartening as these young people can make a name and help soften the harshness in society,” he says.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2016