Mohammad Ali Baig on the Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Festival starting this Friday in Hyderabad

“I hold two people in very high esteem: My father (late Qadir Ali Baig) and Habib Tanvir,” says theatre director and filmmaker Mohammad Ali Baig. He explains, “My father blended art and commerce. That’s the blend I try to get in my work in advertising and in theatre. My advertising is very high on aesthetics. At the same time, my theatre has the finesse and glitz of advertising.” The director of the Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Festival, a popular annual event in Hyderabad that begins this Friday, adds, “That’s why we’re able to sell tickets for Rs.5000 in a place like Hyderabad.”

Recalling his closeness to Habib Tanvir, Baig says that “with all due respect,” he and Qadir Ali Baig were the only theatre veterans “who didn’t belong to any other institution.”

As for the commercial aspect, hearing of theatre tickets selling for thousands of rupees evokes mixed reactions. What about the committed theatre practitioners and students who can’t afford such high rates? Five thousand is only the upper end, he admits. The tickets start at about Rs.200.

Baig points out that his endeavour is not so much about making a profit but to commemorate the memory of his father. “My whole work in theatre is a tribute to Dad,” he notes. Besides this festival, he works year round on theatre-related projects such as workshops by celebrity practitioners and his own productions every alternate month.

This year at International Film Festival of India in Goa, he has been invited to present a production marking 100 years of Indian cinema and will perform a piece written by Dadasaheb Phalke’s niece Sawmya Phalke.

On his range, Baig says, “My brother Moin Ali Baig is an avant-garde actor. In a way for me it was classical theatre with my father and completely avant-garde theatre with my brother: (Albert) Camus, (Samuel) Beckett, (Antonin) Artaud, (Georg) Buchner…”

However, the purpose of the festival is to “showcase the best of Indian theatre and world theatre as far as we can afford it,” he remarks, and his list of participants so far reads like a who’s who of the Indian stage. “Everyone comes in not just because it’s a high-profile festival but because it’s a tribute to Dad,” he says, adding that “for the past three years we have a waiting list.”

Proud of the fact that the event offers full house venues with 1100 to 2300 capacity, he adds that he also likes to invite theatre families. Among the festival themes in the past was “women directors of the subcontinent”. “This year the theme is comedy,” he mentions. “The focus is also on Africa.” A production from South Africa and one from Kenya are also scheduled.