Medium for entertainment, not messages
Nonika Singh

HE not only says it the way it is, but also debunks most widely prevalent notions associated with theatre. Meet well-known theatre person Padmashri Aamir Raza Husain. The man, who himself became a legend of sorts with the spectacular theatrical production The Legend of Ram, has no hesitation in stating that theatreís first and foremost purpose is to entertain. He scoffs, "What and where is the message? Be it Greek theatre or the origins of our own, there was no direct sermonising per se. And in contemporary theatre, the message, if any, has to be the subtext, not the guiding force." 

So, when he created the Fifty Day War, a representation of the Kargil conflict, the underlying idea of saluting war heroes did not become his obsession or even primary preoccupation but was only incidental to the presentation.

 Aamir Raza Husain with wife
Aamir Raza Husain with wife

That theatre has a higher purpose, beyond making it appealing to audiences, are theories he feels that have been propagated by those who donít know any better. And among those who donít really understand the dynamic craft of theatre he also includes the hallowed NSD, which, he asserts, is simply rudderless. He quips, "The institution is simply a waste of money. Give me five names, who have done exemplary work in the last five years. If the institute was so great, it would be producing men and women of great calibre each year." The NSDís major claim to fame, he feels, is the actors who have made it to Bollywood and who would have been successful, irrespective of their alma mater.

"Good theatre", he feels, "emanates from passion. If you enjoy your work and do not treat it as another chore only then would it stand out." No doubt in his repertory, The Legend of Ram outshines others. Even the maker rates it as a milestone. Not only did it run for six months at a stretch but was also hailed as an original concept. He laughs, "Till today, no one has accused it of being a copy work." Comparisons have been made with his own production on Kargil war, which too was a mammoth creation. Of course, putting such plays together is an arduous task to say the least. The Legend of Ram was labourís love of nine months and even today it would take at least four months to mount it. From Ram to Kargil to comedy Move Over, loosely based on Shakespeareís "Midsummer Night's Dream", he doesnít think there have been conscious detours in his odyssey. All he and his wife Virat Husain, an equal partner in his theatre, believe in is maintaining the purity of language replete with its original pronunciations and accents and not spoil its original flavour. He doesnít care to Indianise a play which is not Indian. On Indian English playwrights, he is equally candid and doesnít think there are of any great consequence. But theatre of significant import, he is adamant, is certainly happening in India. "World has changed in the last 20 years and so has theatre, in India too."

In fact, unlike other theatrepersons he doesnít have any lament about lack of sponsors or dearth of money in theatre. He says, "There is enough money in theatre. In Gujarat, an actor earns close to Rs 4 to 5 lakh rupees a month. In Mumbai, theatre shows run from nine in the morning till late at night and on Saturday, there is a midnight show too."

Does it bode well when an art form becomes an industry, which has its own set of rules and commercial constraints? He shoots off, "Art form can survive only if it becomes an industry." Of course, the government can play a vital role too, not by running institutions or by sponsoring nukkad nataks with jingoistic sermons on family planning and female foeticide but by offering endowments to private players. He asserts, "Theatre of competence, if not excellence, needs to be promoted." Only, in his scheme of things theatre that qualifies as proficient is the one whose inherent strength lies in drawing audiences.

Move over theatrepersons with lofty ideas of transforming people through theatre. Raza simply intends to hold the attention of viewers. And manages to do so, with or without the spectacle, but with a perfect alchemy of sets, lights, actors and of course a strong storyline.