x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

MF Husain's son creates portrait of father for his own son

The artist son of the legendary Indian painter MF Husain recalls their relationship in his first interview since his father died this month.

The artist and film-maker Owais Husain, youngest son of famous Indian painter Maqbool Fida Husain, at his home in Dubai yesterday.
The artist and film-maker Owais Husain, youngest son of famous Indian painter Maqbool Fida Husain, at his home in Dubai yesterday.

DUBAI // Seated comfortably in his plush home in Meadows Village, Owais Husain describes the complex and fruitful relationship he had with his father, the man known as the "Picasso of India".

Both blessed with an artist's vision, father and son did not often see eye to eye, he says.

"We were two extremely passionate individuals … we seldom agreed," the youngest son of the late MF Husain says. "We had totally opposite views of art and cinema.

"We were 50 years apart. The world was a very different place when he started painting and when I started. That influenced our attitudes."

Despite their differences, Owais, 43, says their relationship was far from strained, and their mutual respect was immense.

In his first interview since his father's death on June 9, he describes how he plans to remember Maqbool Fida Husain. A documentary and a collection of the legendary painter's work are being planned, among other efforts.

"I hope to make a feature film on my father," says the film-maker and painter, who is based in Dubai. "It would be a celebration of his life, life in general and about the fantastic land [India] that we come from."

Owais says his father's death will give a certain closure to the documentary, titled Letters to My Son about My Father.

It documents the older Husain's life over the past three years in Dubai, London and Qatar. Owais says he hopes it will act as a memoir for posterity and give his 6-year-old son a glimpse into his own father-son relationship.

"It is my dialogue with my son. It is my personal journey," he says.

Owais collaborated with his father on a number of projects, which included directing two Bollywood films. He says father and son complemented one another in a unique way.

"He was brutally innocent and so was I," Owais says. "That kept me in check and it was his way of upbringing. We had this amazing equation and it created a very healthy relationship."

He says he was swept by chaos immediately after his father's death.

"But on the other side, it is also about embarking on a new journey and I am hungry to devour that," Owais says, likening his emotions to those of his father, who lost his own dad at the same age.

Owais moved to Dubai four years ago to be closer to his father. His older brother, Mustafa, a restaurateur, also lives in the emirate.

Owais and his oldest sister, Raisa, are working on pulling together their father's works of art.

Some of that artwork adorns his villa, including a self-portrait of MF Husain as James Bond, holding two paint brushes instead of guns and wearing a "007" belt buckle.

"We are working on a consolidation of all his paintings," Owais says.

"He did entrust a lot of responsibility to all his children, especially me. What we have is a great responsibility to preserve his legacy. It is the moral role of any child to do that."

Known for his bold strokes, vibrant colours and figurative compositions that often featured horses or women, MF Husain was also known as MF or Baba to many.

He began his career in the 1940s as a billboard artist, but eventually his work fetched as much as US$1.6 million (Dh5.8m).

MF Husain left his home country in 2006 for the UAE after fighting several court cases and receiving death threats from Hindu extremists, who accused him of insulting their faith.

He was offered Qatari citizenship last year, after living for five years in self-imposed exile.

"I don't bear any ill will for the nation," Owais says of his father's inability to return to India. "I wish he could have returned."

He recalls the final moments between father and son in the Royal Brompton Hospital in London were quiet and very reflective.

"We weren't really expecting it. We were still planning for the fall of 2012. We have had a couple of collaborations. He was immersed in his project. We all thought he would bounce back."

MF Husain died at the age of 97, rather than 95 as previously reported. The Husains realised his true birth date only late last year when they were presented with a birth certificate, previously believed to have been burnt.

His four sons and two daughters turned down the Indian government's offer to help bury the artist in his homeland. "Obviously he would have liked it," Owais says. "My mother is [buried] in Bombay. Bombay's also home for us."

He declines to comment further on the decision to bury his father in London.

"He was a global citizen. He belonged everywhere. I don't know if it [the decision] was right or wrong."

pkannan@thenational.ae