Lakshmi Ramakrishna meets Mohammad Ali Baig to know more about his journey in his illustrious father Qadir Ali Baig’s naksh -e-kadam.
Mention theatre, and the first name that comes to one’s mind in the city is Qadir Ali Baig. He was a doyen who ignited the love for theatre in the Hyderabadis in the early 70s under his production house, New Theatre of Hyderabad (NTH). A man far ahead of his times, he designed and used large props, replicated scenes of a burning city in his play Kohinoor Ka Lootera. Another first he can be credited with is bringing other playwrights like Vijay Tendulkar to the city.
In his life span, Qadir saheb had staged 46 memorable plays — Darwaaze Khol Do, Burf Ki Minar, Sakharam Binder, Aadhe Adhurey, Kohinoor Ka Lutera, Quli Qutub Shah, Mahboob and several others. Today his sons, Moin and Mohammad are carrying forward his legacy, the former making waves in avant garde theatre, and the latter blending the art with commerce, thus emerging as the first theatre family of the city.
Baig was in his teens when he lost his father, but like any child, he hero worshipped his father, but as a theatre professional, he emulates him. “I would have liked to have had the fortune of sharing the stage with my father only if we were able to stage Tughlaq, where Moin was essaying the lead role and I was playing Rattan Singh, a negative character. That’s my only regret.” His father passed away at the age of 46 during the play rehearsals. During his father’s lifetime, Baig did everything from selling tickets at the box office to helping backstage.
However, it took him two decades to realise that he should initiate a programme to keep his father’s legacy alive. Baig was in the city for his father’s death anniversary in 2004 and saw people speaking about his Abba with respect and affection. “That was the turning point when I decided to start the Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation (QABTF) and revive theatre in the city. Until then only two to three plays were being staged annually.”
The Foundation was born with Qadir Ali’s wife, Begum Razia Baig as chairperson, Padma Shri M S Sathyu as national director, Lakshmi Devi Raj as regional director and Baig as the president, with help from Ministry of I & PR, Government of Andhra Pradesh and the city’s arts and literary fraternity. Paying rich tributes to the doyen, Baig says, “My father staged plays without any institutional support. When Aadhe Adhurey was being staged by four different actors, Amrish Puri in Mumbai, Om Shivpuri in Delhi, Dr Shreeram Lagoo in Pune and my father in Hyderabad at the same time, my father was awarded the national award for best actor.”
Baig made his debut along with South Indian actress Suhasini Mani Ratnam, in 2005, with Reading Between The Lines. His next was with Vani Ganpathy in His Exalted Highness at the Chowmahalla Palace in 2006, the first play to be staged there after it opened. Since then, it has been no looking back.
Getting corporate support for staging theatre festivals initially was not easy for QABTF. “We had to struggle hard as many were interested in the benefits they would reap. The ice was broken when dad’s ward, the Kakatiya Hotel, general manager Kuldeep Bhartee came forward and allowed us to use the space as he believed that it was a brand worth associating with. Since then, support has grown with Karvy, Andhra Pradesh Tourism Corporation, ITC, Taj Group of hotels, State Bank of Hyderabad and many others.” This year the seventh QABT festival will be held in November.
Clearing the popular misconception that the aam aadmi is not allowed to watch plays, or it is only meant for P3s, Baig explains, “Some plays held in the hotels are only for an invited audience, while plays held at Taj Banjara are open to public. The drinks served are courtesy the hotel and we make sure no one carries them inside.” He also questions why people can’t pay to watch theatre, when they can buy tickets for a rock show.
Many Bollywood actors have performed in the twin cities, thanks to Baig. Some of them are Shabana Azmi, Farooque Shaikh, Naseeruddin Shah, Mohan Agashe and Kabir Bedi. Why not local talent? “My plays are in Urdu, Hindustani and English. I have not done plays in Telugu, but while performing a Hindustani play with a Tollywood actress, her diction was very pronunced.”
On his siblings, the theatre personality says, “My elder brother Moin was instrumental in bringing world playwrights to the city from 1984-94 and he is the only Asian to take part in theatre festivals in Orlando, Florida, Cleveland and the Festival of France. My younger brother Afzal is happy working in corporate communications in Pune.”
Baig has staged plays in Mumbai and Lahore and now plans to take Forty Winks, a play co-produced with France-based Footsbarn Theatre, to South Africa and United States by the end of the year. “My mission is accomplished if I am able to create a platform to promote theatre,” says Baig, as I leave him to prepare for his next show.
Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation,
‘Sahara’ 12-2-43 Murad Nagar,
Hyderabad 500 028 Tel: 23530791