In Hyderabad to stage yet another spectacle, Aamir Raza Hussain talks about acting, stage décor and the need to entertain
It was late afternoon when Aamir Raza Hussain sat down to have lunch. He was in Hyderabad to stage his play Murder, a small production when compared to his previous performance in the city. In his last visit to Hyderabad, the play Shahenshah Nama that he had presented in Chowmahalla Palace had seven sets. With larger-than-life sets and extravagant stage design, his plays are known to be visual spectacles.
Would he consider presenting a play with minimal sets? “Never. I like sets, they are a huge factor in all of my plays,” comes the startled response as the waiter served up a plate of kebabs. He shares this view with wife Virat Hussain who looked equally bemused when asked the question. “Why would anyone make a play like that?” she asked. “The aim is to show the audience something they have never seen before and we don’t make any compromises” says the artiste as he sends the kebabs back to be well-done. Nothing half-cooked for Aamir Raza Hussain.
His love for grandeur can be traced to his early years in Lucknow. Growing up in an aristocratic family in Lucknow, he was surrounded by opulence and beauty which he tries to recreate through many of his plays. This opulence has often attracted criticism but Aamir is unapologetic.
“I am not a teacher or a philosopher, but an entertainer. The value of theatre lies in entertaining audiences. If I compromise on the craft in order to fulfil another requirement, my ‘karma’ remains unfulfilled,” he says. This view underlies his approach to theatre for activism. “There is nothing wrong with using theatre as a platform, but keeping in mind that its roots lie in entertainment,” he explained.
For him, theatre is any performance that draws crowds and, more importantly, has the ability to hold that crowd. Be it a performer on the street or a movie star at a political rally – it can all be counted as theatre. Theatre is all around us, some of it good and some bad” he explained.
Aamir Raza Hussain has confessed before that theatre is a drug that keeps him addicted. Although he has been hearing it for more than a decade, the sound of the audience applauding his work is one that never grows old to the veteran and despite having been in over a thousand productions, he still crosses his fingers before every first show.
If theatre is the drug, the need for marketing and publicity are its unwelcome side effects. “It is my least favourite part of the process,” he says. Perhaps, it is for this reason that Aamir has stopped doing ticketed shows.
Having no tolerance for mediocrity, finding young people to act is an ordeal. “None of them speak good English!” says the director, “Schools and colleges no longer stress on good spoken English and this makes my job harder. Besides, most of their training is restricted to workshops, which in my view are a waste of time. You don’t learn a craft in a few sessions. The best workshop is to be involved in a production.”
Irrespective of a climate where theatre continues to command only a niche audience, the Hussains only aim for bigger and better. “Art needs nurturing,” he says. “Sometime back Nawabs and Rajas used to patronise artistes, but now we have to look to corporate houses for that. They must be encouraged to sponsor more people like me. They are, after all, the Nawabs of today.”