A drama uninterrupted

Aamir Raza Husain and Virat. Photo: M. Vedhan  

Art has always been a beacon to history, a representation of reality, a treatise on a civilisation. Yet an unequivocal definition of what it is and should be is nearly impossible — it means so many things to different people and often ends up becoming a veritable swirl of amorphous, fractured, unclassifiable imagery.

 Not so for actor and director, Aamir Raza Husain and his wife Virat Husain of the Stagedoor  theatre group . They are vociferous about what theatre is supposed to be. “Grandiose sets, exceptional acting, authenticity, a cast that matches each other, a constant effort to excel.  We have been blessed with great audiences, because of the quality we put together. Nothing can beat a classic, nothing,” says Aamir, adding, “I know there is a lot of experimentation happening in Indian theatre right now but I frankly don’t particularly approve of it.”

Adds Virat, “While I suppose it is interesting, I think that most experimentation in Indian theatre is an excuse for mediocrity. Our current production ( The Mousetrap which is the longest running play in the world) has been running for 63 years worldwide but the audience still loves it,” she says. “People’s tastes don’t change all that much — the classics will always be able to hold their own.”

Their interpretation of  The Mousetrap, which was performed at the Sheraton Park Hotel & Towers this weekend is exemplary, a perfect recreation of the Agatha Christie classic. The sets are nothing short of brilliant — the large fireplace and mantelpiece, an old-fashioned radio, ornate furniture, gilt-frame pictures and large snow-crusted windows are clearly a throw-back to the Fifties, when the play was first performed. The well-enunciated dialogue, a carefully selected cast, appropriate costumes and clever lighting transport you back easily to that bitterly cold evening where it all begins — you can almost feel the snow settle on your shoulders and sense the desperation and fear of the characters as the play progresses.

The play according to Aamir Raza Hussain is a tribute to actor Sir Richard Attenborough (director of Gandhi), who acted in the original in 1952.

Aamir, whose tryst with theatre began exactly 30 years ago, talks about the genesis of it, “It started when I was studying at St. Stephen’s, Delhi. We were a group of seven people and it took us nine months to stage our first play — a play called Becket under director Marcus Munch. Then in 1984 Marcus died. Everyone by then had got into some kind of profession except me.  I was still doing theatre so I was asked to take over. And I did.”

His standards are high. “You need to have a strong director — every character and story is developed solely due to the director’s vision. And having a strong base in theatre is essential for that. I see a lot of people who work with me for two-three years and then get into direction and they mess it up. They mess up theatre for themselves, the people they work with and most of all for the audiences. When my son, who is in the XI grade now, talks about wanting to direct he gets a kick from me,” he guffaws. 

Virat, who has worked not just with theatre but also television and documentaries, says, “Not just theatre but any medium needs an intelligent director.”

And obviously the formula works. Stagedoor is today one of India’s most successful theatre groups — with over 150 productions and 5,000 shows to its credit, despite working in an environment not particularly favourable to theatre.

“Funding is a problem with theatre all over the world. Take the theatre scene in England for instance. They are desperate for funds. There was a time when I found it cheaper to find actors from abroad and get them to stay and rehearse here — they were so desperate for work. It is hard to get sponsorships for theatre. We are lucky because we have sponsors that go back a long way with us and they continue to support us,” he says.

“Financially it’s a bad time,” adds Virat. “The moment there is a crunch, the arts are the first to get affected.”

Yet hope continues to be that feathered thing that perches on the soul. Aamir firmly believes in the relevance of theatre and the availability of an audience that recognises this. “We see huge audiences for our plays everywhere we go — not just in Bombay, Delhi and Bangalore but also in places like Guwahati, Lucknow, Shillong — even Srinagar. I don’t think theatre is on its death bed — in fact I believe that it is on the verge of becoming an industry that creates employment and generates enough money for people to live off it. You can’t separate theatre from life — it just flows everywhere.”

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Printable version | Dec 3, 2021 11:01:51 AM |

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