Mohammad Ali Baig, from an ad-film maker to a theater revivalist brings grand epics on stage with an appeal that stays in audience’s minds. The theater world is a chess board for him of which he is the invincible monarch.
The world is a stage for playwright, actor and director Mohammad Ali Baig. The grandeur of his plays transports even the onlooker to a different era. And when this era throws opens wide windows at Van Gogh’s Castle to European spectators for Qutub Shahi, what more can theatre connoisseurs ask for? Baig trots over topographies with his regal productions leaving behind a trail of indelible imprints.
Reviving an Era Bygone
It was the glittering era of Urdu theater in Hyderabad when it saw a stalwart Qadir Ali Baig rise and cover the theater scene like dew. The B&W television era gushed with the late theater legend’s plays, leaving behind gigantic prints that his son Mohammad Ali Baig is filling with colours. The young Baig revived the Asaf Jahi and Mughal eras bringing the same back to Modern cities, but not without his own touch of an ad-film maker. With more than 450 ad-films shot in different countries, he wrapped up his one decade long advertising career to open a book that is scented with Hindustani History, but is penned with the sounds of his Time.
He smiles, “I formed my own ad company with a huge client list. But my Other Self always whispered asking me to do something more meaningful. In 2005 I set up Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation as a tribute to baba (his father). I stayed away from morbidity and wanted the audience to enjoy a complete aesthetic and vibrant experience”. The Foundation picks the best plays from India and abroad and showcases the same in various countries.
The early years
In his palatial Murad Nagar home, childhood for Baig was life unfolding itself. Their discussions would range from menial things such as Biryani to plays by Beckett and Brecht. He would escape from the stifling theater discussions moving amidst the big verandas, ponds and lush green trees of his more-than-100-year-old ancestral house. The environment at his house also taught him discipline, devotion, values and loyalty that would later culminate into the persona that defines him and his art.
He reminisces, “I have very fond memories of family gatherings. The warmth generated at our dinner table with conversation is still there in the corners and stairs of our house.” The voices of the characters that his father created would be remembered by young Baig long after he was gone. These voices that sounded far away were as close to him as own his heartbeat.
The Prince of Hearts
The love legend of Prince Quli Qutub Shah and his beloved Bhagmati was a celebration of Revived Theatre when Baig wrote and played the heritage production ‘Quli: Dilon ka Shahzaada’. It was staged at Footsbarn Festival in France and then London’s historical Globe Theatre. “We were the first ever Urdu Theatre Festival from Asia to perform in Europe,” he says. He himself played the Prince and Poet Quli and gave the European audience what they had never seen – a rich blend of Qutub Shahi epic and musical splendor at the European castle where it was performed. “We received three standing ovations for the performance,” says Baig.
The Sky is not the Limit
The recently concluded Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Festival in Hyderabad in which he presented ‘Basant Ritu ka Sapna’, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at Salar Jung Museum, ‘Biwi-O-Biwi’ and of course ‘Quli: Dilon ka Shahzaada’. There was book release of Habib Tanvir’s ‘Memoirs’ by Baig himself. He talks about the grandeur of the Foundation and the plays, “My theater is about Realism - fictionalizing reality. It has poetry, craft, music, and everything that completes the sense of aesthetics.” He did a play ‘Pankhdiyaan’ on Ali Sardar Jafri’s poetry that had Anupam Kher in the cast. In ‘Dada Saheb Phalke’ he himself played the character with Lillette Dubey in the cast. At World Performing Arts Festival, Lahore, ‘Raat Phoolon ki’ was showcased which was based on Makhdoom Mohiuddin’s poetry. Myriads of awards that he has received expand the space where his scripts are delicately pinned much like feathers collected from exotic lands.
Miles to Go
“An artist should remain an artist. Being associated with Art is a huge responsibility. Meaningful theater with popular appeal is what we aim at. People from 16 to 80 connect with theater. We have audience from four generations,” he says. He subscribes to minimalist and existentialist aspects of art. And he is there to pick up such jewels and deck up the otherwise distant light house of theater.