An absolute entertainerAug 7th, 2009 | By editor | Category: City Culture, Delhiwaalah, Newsmakers, Theatre
Amir Raza Husain is a man of candour and strong views and makes no bones about it. Husain firmly believes the purpose of theatre is entertainment and has strived to win over his audience in the years spent on stage. He took Indian theatre to realms hitherto unseen with humongous productions like “Legend of Ram” and “The 50 Days War”. History, legends, comedy — all dot a career that began with a realisation that theatre was his life.
He started out by playing a part in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in boarding school. His years at Stephen’s with plays alongside Shashi Tharoor and director Mira Nair convinced him the stage was his calling. “I was in college when I realised I could not do anything but theatre,” says Husain.
In the mid 1970s, when he veered into theatre, Husain, an accomplished actor and director, says, “I was thought of as a complete lunatic. Theatre was not recognised as a profession.” Husain has however stuck along, doing the kind of theatre he believes in. His theatre knows no genres — historical, musical, comedy, tragedy, political satire and the like. “There are no different genres in theatre. It is either good or bad theatre. The aim is to keep my audience engrossed for that one, two or three hours,” he adds.
As one for whom his audience is the top priority and believes it is his duty to keep them ‘engrossed’, Husain has clear views about the multiple purposes for which theatre is used. “Theatre is used universally for a variety of reasons. It was used for the propagation of religion, like the nativity plays in England and the Ram Lila here,” he says. A recipient of the Padma Shri, Husain lingers on street theatre that is made a vehicle for spreading messages — from prevention of AIDS to the protection of the girl child. He talks of political theatre used to propagate a thought.
“I don’t have a problem with that. But when the director forgets the form of theatre for the message, when the message overwhelms the entertainment, the power of theatre is diminished. Even in street theatre, there has to be a value of excellence in it,” he says.
Husain is disgruntled about the way theatre is handled in India. “I made a conscious decision many years ago to stop doing ticketed shows. I do shows for an invited audience. For ticketed shows, the hassles with the government are immense,” he says. Husain points out that the vision of Nehru, who exempted literature and culture from the purview of taxes, was forgotten and discarded along the way. With a tinge of irony, Husain says, “In the last 20 years, it’s been a tragedy…the thought process of a government where the license is issued by the Excise Department for liquor and theatre.”
By performing only for a ticketed audience, Husain knows he is losing on committed theatre-goers.
“I’d rather lose the audience than lose my sanity,” he says.
Husain is busy with productions, nevertheless. At Stagedoor productions, Husain and wife Virat are working on “Shahshah nama.” “It is based on the history of the Moghuls. The show has already happened in two cities,” says Husain. Meanwhile, there is “The Itch” performed in Delhi recently.
“It will run for about six months,” he adds.
Without a hitch – The Itch
Welcomtheatre staged Virat and Amir Raza Husain’s “The Itch” in the Capital over the weekend. The new play, brought by Sheraton New Delhi, was staged at the Airport auditorium. A classic over-the-top British comedy with jokes and situations bordering on the weird, set in an apartment atop the National Bank in London, the play dwells on the lives of the newly-married Frances and Peter Hunter, their family and friends. Their seemingly ‘normal’ lives go for a toss when they receive pornographic material in the post.
The attempts to hide and dispose of the material lead to a series of bizarre instances.
As for sets, “The Itch” gets a perfect living space that gives the ambience of a middle-class home. Husain, as the quirky friend forced to bear the burden of the crisis, gives a natural performance and garners a lot of laughter. However, the other principal characters, including Peter, Frances and Peter’s mother, appear a tad contrived.