Sayeed Alam, a veteran on the Delhi stage, talks about his craft
He made actor Tom Alter speak chaste Urdu in the play “Maulana Azad”. His play “Ghalib in New Delhi” is running successfully to a full house in many cities. More than 200 shows have already been staged and it might cross 300 shortly. Director and playwright M. Sayeed Alam with his group Pierrot Troupe is surely a pioneer of unconventional and fresh theatre in India. Not only has he staged topical productions such as “Blue Line Haazir Ho”, and “Pollution Haazir Ho”, he is also evolving a new genre of theatre named ‘bio-dramas’, wherein he enacts biographies of famous personalities.
Sayeed is not new to the Delhi stage scenario. Associated with theatre since his university days, he joined the Pierrot Troupe formally in the late ’80s, prior to that he was into sports and working as a journalist. He was responsible for introducing Hindi and Urdu plays to the Troupe, which was concentrating only on English plays. “The theatre movement in the ’80s was quite strong. Being a journalist, I couldn’t resist associating with this medium.”
“Delhi’s theatre scenario was intellectually bankrupt and Delhiites were starved for good plays. Big banners were producing average plays. There were hardly any playwrights in Hindi or Urdu. The audience was bored. Directors used to blame the onslaught of TV. I thought that wasn’t true. I caught an actor enacting Ghalib and reading wrong couplets. That was it.”
Another reason for Pierrot’s success is that Sayeed is a playwright too. “It’s very important for a group to have a full-time playwright. We don’t want any part-time writers to come and work with us.”
Skilfully avoiding done-to-death Shakespearean or Simon Neil’s plays, according to Sayeed, as far as North India is concerned, Pierrot’s Troupe is the only theatre group that has concentrated and produced original plays. “We have avoided plays based on novels, translations or adaptations. From the very beginning we have tried to be original,” he says.
Comedy through tragedy!
It’s quite ironical that Sayeed’s first play, a monologue, was an adaptation. “Everybody in Delhi was insisting on adaptations. Before experimenting, I wanted to prove my capabilities.” After this, Sayeed never looked back. He produced some original plays such as “Zindagi Naam Hain Jiye Jaane Ka”, a play based on AIDS, “Magar Phir Bhi, Private Affair”, which were appreciated by the audience. All the plays were a roaring success.
Sayeed is also one of the few directors to introduce caricaturing and comic acting, and reviving comedy in the ’90s — “Big B” and “Ghalib in New Delhi”. He has tried to introduce comedy through tragedy. “We have consciously tried to stay away from performing slapstick comedy. I have tried to avoid traditional, weird, fictional plays but concentrated on realistic comedy.”
These days, Sayeed is concentrating on bio-dramas. He feels that this genre of theatre has been largely ignored and can be very anecdotal. With Tom Alter, he has successfully staged plays such as “Maulana Azad” and “K.L Saigal”’. He has also produced a bio-drama on Begum Akthar.
Currently off to Pakistan via Amritsar, Sayeed says he will be staging “K.L Saigal” and “Big B” in a theatre festival there. He is also working on “Rahe Naam Pakistan Ka”, a monologue and a satire on Partition. The play will be staged sometime this month in Bhopal.
Sayeed feels staging a play in Delhi is commercially viable. “People in Delhi are passionate about theatre and ready to pay for it. He has a tip for theatrewallahs, “The only way to be successful is to produce repeat shows of a play.”AMRITA TALWAR