His period drama "Umrao Jaan" still fascinates movie aficionados, and Muzaffar Ali is busy scripting two more historicals. He feels it's time for Bollywood to "become global" and for that Indian filmmakers should come out of their "middle-class flavour" and scan the "issues from the grassroots level".
"I believe that Bollywood needs to become global. We are still maintaining the kind of middle-class flavour that is becoming very hybrid," Ali told IANS in an interview.
"If we are promoting our culture, then we need to go totally local and see the issues from the grassroots level. By doing this, we can call ourselves a global medium. We are not able to get the communication wavelength right to create a world product," he added.
The artist, who is also a fashion designer, poet, music lover and a lot more, ventured into Bollywood with "Gaman", "Anjuman" and "Umrao Jan", among others. Most of his movies catered to niche audiences. He is also known for making documentaries like "Sheeshon Ka Maseeha".
He has however not gone behind the camera for over a decade.
"I am working on a few projects, but the only thing is that films today have become very different. One gets to see a lot of violence and vulgarity. These two factors work strongly in Bollywood. I look at films as a very sacred and powerful medium," he said.
"I believe if you divert from your ideologies, there is no point doing it. You have to be totally focussed...I cannot make a film for the sake of making it. It's not worth putting in two years or three years for a project in which you are going away from your ideologies and objectives," he added.
His next films will be on Sufi poet Jalauddin Rumi and empress Noor Jahan.
"I have completed scripting for the film on Rumi and the script for Noor Jahan is under way. I have done a lot of work on Rumi and now I need a big financier who can come and say, 'OK Muzaffar Ali, go for it'. I am waiting for people with resources to understand my thinking and support my ideas," he said.
He also felt that money comes to those films that have big stars.
"Today, people want a big male star for a big film. A female star cannot lift a big budget film; she is ideal for small budget films," he said, adding he is unable to understand "the market dynamics".
Is he open to working with commercial actors in future?
"Who am I to cast them? I think you should ask them whether they are willing to work with me. I am not close to anything, but I can't say anything. Bollywood is a tough medium, not an ordinary one," he said.
Asked why Bollywood makes few historical movies, the 67-year-old said: "Making historical movies is a separate art altogether and people in India don't know how to create historical illusions."
"So they go wrong in terms of design and research about a film. You need to do proper research before taking on such a project, but some people do exactly the opposite."
He also mentioned three other important factors required to make a classical movie.
"First, you need to realise why you are making a historical movie. And secondly, are you passionate about the subject and does it serve the larger human cause?" he said.
"Also, will you do the kind of detailing that is needed to create the illusion of time? Indian filmmakers usually do their homework to make a hit film, but not a classic. For me, making a hit film and making a classic are entirely different," he said.