Theatre in Hyderabad is vibrant: Mohammed Ali Baig

Theatre in Hyderabad is vibrant: Mohammed Ali Baig

There is the smaller world that is the stage and the larger stage which is the world” -- Isaac Goldberg’s observation outlines the essence of theatre...

“There is the smaller world that is the stage and the larger stage which is the world” -- Isaac Goldberg’s observation outlines the essence of theatre and its relevance to life in a subtle yet poignant manner.

Every emotion, every facet of human existence, every nuance is unraveled here by actors, who live their parts in this ‘sacred space’.

Discovering this fascinating world began as a tribute, a challenge, a responsibility and a legacy for Mohammed Ali Baig whose initial reluctance to the starkness and intensity of theatre was overcome by the need to continue the legacy of his father and legendary theatre personality Qadir Ali Baig.

The foundation begun on his name is not only a son’s tribute to his father but an actor’s tribute to a legend. Recipient of innumerable awards and accolades, including the coveted “Padmasri” Mohammed Ali Baig, speaks to Aruna Ravikumar about the state of theatre in Hyderabad as his foundation completes 12 years and is into the latest edition of its annual festival.

What are the perceptible changes that you have seen in the theatre scene in Hyderabad over the years?

From two or three productions a year a decade ago to two or three productions per day, theatre in Hyderabad is vibrant and poised for great times. Venues have mushroomed all over the city, theatre that shut shop has come back and there is greater professionalism in production.

As a child I remember my father saying a day should come when people pick up the newspaper to look at the listings for theatre. I think we are getting there. Earlier, infrastructure was minimal, technical support was lacking and plays were being staged to an audience of eight to 10 people.

As we began our efforts to revive theatre, the crowd increased to about 70-100 people at the smaller venues. Today some of the plays staged by the Qadir Ali Baig foundation have audiences of 1,200 to 1,400 people.

The entries for our annual festival in October-November that used to begin in June are now sent in as early as February. This year we have already received an entry from Bangladesh for next year’s festival. Audience tastes have evolved and I see great times for theatre in the days ahead.

What were the hurdles and challenges you faced while organising theatre festivals before emerging as one of the top three theatre festivals in the country?

Theatre is much more than a couple of groups and actors emoting on stage. It involves proper venues, infrastructure and technical competence. In 2006 when we staged a play ‘Taramati…- The Legend of an Artiste’, we could not source out lights required for the stage locally.

They had to be brought all the way from Bengaluru. We also had to concentrate on honing local talent and getting support from the State government and corporate firms. Over the years we have held plays in forts, palaces, luxury hotels and auditoriums and today we even have a dress code for some of our plays.

The logistics involved in hosting about 150 actors from different cultures in Hyderabad year after year can be mind boggling. What we faced were stumbling blocks that helped us improve our organisational capacities and learning each time. The challenge was infusing professionalism and getting the recognition and dignity that theatre artistes deserve. They are as professional as say a banker, a bureaucrat or an architect and approach their craft with the seriousness that it demands. Elevating theatre from being a mere pastime to a meaningful reflection of ideas and getting theatre persons the recognition and respect that rightfully belongs to them have been challenges.

Tell us about unforgettable moments pertaining to the festival.

Many veterans, who left theatre like Alyque Padamsee and Pankaj Kapoor made a comeback to theatre through our festivals. Younger talent from families of theatre veterans have also been part of our festivals. These are cherished moments.

What remains truly memorable, however, is theatre veteran Habib Tanvir Saab’s last play at Hyderabad. Noted for the cop’s role in ‘Charandas Chor’, an ailing Tanvir Saab performed to a packed theatre in Ravindra Bharati. He was unwell but wanted to be part of the festival and he got a standing ovation, the likes of which I have never seen till date. Weeks after our festival, he passed away.

Do historical and period plays have the same relevance as social and contemporary themes?

Theatre is not just about drama. It is about our culture and heritage too. People think history is archaic because they tend to forget who they are. ‘Quli-Dilo ka Shahzaada’ may be a love story set in the 17th century but it is as true of two people in love anywhere, anytime in the world.

‘Turrebaaz Khan’ may be about the freedom struggle but people connect with its nuances even today. ‘Saawani Haath’ about Hayat Bakshi Begum, who was most modern in her outlook is relevant even today. Our historical plays have a timeless social relevance compared to many social plays that have stereotyped characters that are archaic in their views.

What are the distinctive features of this year’s festival?

We have a nice assortment of plays, which will be treat to the audience enjoying a varied fare over the years. ‘A Doll’s House’ directed by Pushan Kripalani, Nadira Babbar’s ‘Mere Maa Ke Haath’, Mushtaq Kak’s ‘Ishq Malangi’ ‘Bhakta Prahlada’ by Surabhi group, my own production ‘Under an Oak Tree’ are a part of an interesting line up of plays.

The “Master Classes” addressed by theatre experts like Mahesh Dattani, Neelam Mansingh Chowdury, Thota Tharani and Manav Kaul will be interesting as well as educative. Every play is worth watching and is selected by our expert committee with the view of bringing divergent thoughts to Hyderabad.

How would you define the success of these festivals?

The Qadir Ali Baig theatre festival unites the theatre fraternity of the country and has taken Hyderabad to the world global stage. It has also brought the world to Hyderabad. We have had members of families spanning five generations between the ages 14-80 watch our plays together and it is such audiences that define our success.

Getting people hooked to films and popular sport to make a beeline for theatre tickets is a humbling experience. What began as a son’s tribute to his father has grown into a movement and has become the identity of the city. This festival is not mine alone. It is something the whole city takes pride in.

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