Exclusive: Every old thing is not antique and every antique is not gold: Faisal Ali Khan

Y.Sunita Chowdhary

Faisal Ali Khan is one of the most honest people in the film industry, is a curator, art director and makes more than pretty pictures. He collects art and antiques and spends all his money buying and storing them. He dresses up the sets in the film and has begun independently handling a movie as a production designer. Otherwise for some films, he is merely helping out, he works closely with the director to create and ensure an elegant visual continuity; he designs the production. In an interview to Klapboardpost.com, Ali reveals how his passion for collecting antiques led him into a career as a production designer in films.Faisal Ali Khan

“I am from Hyderabad and my parents didn’t worry much about what I was doing with my career and that turned out to be a huge luck. I wasn’t good at studies and the only subject I was comfortable with was Math and couldn’t rise above a certain digit. I was consistent with those marks. I was good at drawings and after flunking in the tenth standard, I had nothing to do. I was just following whatever came to me and was blindly doing it. After high school, I learnt 15 software applications and became a programmer. I wore many hats and enrolled in a diploma course in art and design in the United Kingdom. I was working with a UK based company here in Hyderabad and was simultaneously collecting antiques. I collected things which came at the beginning of the industrial era. It had changed the complete vision of human existence. Remove the lens from your life and see if you can live today, you can’t. I collect Typewriters, sewing machines, antique cameras. I still shoot on film. I have a dark room in my house and develop my own black and white film,” says AliFaisal Ali Khan

He was also a team leader in a company where architects were working under him but he admits he isn’t a leader but knows how to work with the team. He shares, “I don’t have leadership qualities. I am a team player. If I am on the set and if someone comes there, none can differentiate between me and a set helper. I paint, set up things, I don’t believe in being the HoD or any kind of hierarchy. My strength is my team. As a team, we never get delayed a single second. In the company that I worked for, they once said that if I came late, half of my pay would be cut. I would tell them to give me the deadline and will meet their expectations but can’t come early. This type of system doesn’t work with me and I told them not to apply that on me. I would also deal with toughest customers. I would get the toughest client and that was my playground. They keep changing designs and are never satisfied with what we say. If a client needs a gutter then give them a better gutter. If I am not getting creative freedom, I will do what they say but I will do it in a better way. That is the way you survive in a market where 30 percent is creativity and 70 percent is delivered on time.”

Ali in his leisure, likes visiting abandoned places, ruins, dilapidated structures and what he likes seeing there is how nature reclaims itself.  He says, “In a century or two, nature will occupy it. I love the transformation, and nature knows how to heal itself. I admire the architecture and lifestyle of the people. By collecting antiques, I study what sort of people use it and why they use it…i.e I like to know the segments, if the middle class or upper class who used it were professionals or amateurs.  I am not a calculative guy, investments and savings don’t work with me and I am doing this purely out of passion. It started as a show off and it became a passion and then I became obsessed and now I am possessed. I like to know how humans evolved and how the industrial era changed the perception of human beings.” Getting into cinema was accidental. His dearest friend Olga from Russia posted one of his gramophones on social media and Priyanka Dutt from Vyjayanthi was following her. She texted Olga and the latter replied that I had a vast collection of antiques and the next day Priyanka was at my place. I was living at Road number 14, Banjara Hills.”

He further says, “I was asked to go to their office and I went with Olga and they showed me the mood board, a pre-production thing for a production designer as to how he sees a movie that will be directed. It has colours, accessories, properties and look and feel of the film. Priyanka showed me the mood board and asked if I have this and this and I nodded. Olga was nudging  and thinking that I was talking crap but the amazing part was I had all that in quantity and also the camera that Gemini used to take Savitri’s picture. Priyanka didn’t believe me.  I told her to come to my place, my godown. I am wondering if I like collecting or buying stuff, but I am a shopaholic. Whatever I earn I put it in that. Sometimes I end up eating Maggi for two days because I spend all the money I have on buying all this. A prime collection I got from the UK. Once, a renovation was on in Chennai and they didn’t know it was a camera and there was a stand. The age of the camera was 1940 and I picked all that happily. Whenever we talk of Indian cinema, we have little information online. We don’t have images and how people lived in 1960 in the movies. Whatever manufactured in 1960 was not made available to us immediately, it took us almost a decade. If some piece was manufactured in 1950, Indians used that in 1960. The tape recorder and electronic goods were smuggled in 1980. The Nokia phones, after two years of launch in Finland, came here. These days new versions of mobile phones come up frequently. For the contribution I made to Mahanati they gave me a postcard credit. “

 Faisal Ali Khan takes pride in accumulating almost 2000 cameras, 78 typewriters, 54 gramophones, 400 LPs etc. He keeps cleaning and spends a great amount on maintenance but these days it is getting difficult. He now wants to put up a museum with a coffee shop where there will be no Wifi. He says, “My next goal is to have a museum and have a coffee shop there. Whenever I am free I work as a waiter at Bottega in Film Nagar. I learn to make cappuccino, mocha, cafe latte and how to serve, maintain and basically I am a waiter there. I want people to enjoy the moment, see the workmanship in the museum. I am married to my work and I live in this beautiful world of vintage art and antiques.” Ali doesn’t like contributing to films or working in it as he believes they don’t take care of his properties. His friend forced him and convinced him of safeguarding it and that is how shared his properties with Vyjayanthi. He recalls, “Except for the car, most of them belong to me. The second day, my camera was destroyed.” Ali spent his life doing interiors and has great knowledge of how to get things done. He knows the period of availability and has done enough research and has photos of anything and everything from 1890 to 1990. He picked up albums from the flea market and loves to study on how Indians lived, travelled and wore in a certain period. When NTR biopic came up, he strictly gave them properties and did nothing much there.

He recollects, “My mom told me she saw Savitri when she was in Hyderabad and that she was on an elephant. When we repeated the same scene, I told her and she wanted to see it. Unfortunately she wasn’t alive, she succumbed to lung cancer. I got the elephant for the scene. After an incident in Bahubali elephants were not allowed for movie shoots, but I got it. The only thing I learnt in my life is to admire people. I did that for 15 years. I might not have completed academics but I try to speak the language that people love to listen to. I am blessed I am not being programmed.  My next film A1 Express is ready. I tried breaking away from the retro and vintage image that Mahanati gave. I will be working on Vishwak Sen’s project next and will be helping Hanu Raghavpudi’s film on art and production design.” He signs off, “ Appreciate people’s effort and follow your passion. If you can’t appreciate it, don’t touch it.”

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