Plays these days might be receiving heavy pre-booking and great media attention, but theatre has not always enjoyed such a privileged position, says Aamir Raza Husain, 56, who entered the theatre scene in the early 1970s. In the city to perform a mystery thriller titled Murder, which he has directed along with his wife Virat, Husain traces the way theatre has altered in the past three decades in India.
According to you, what is the most prominent change in the Indian theatre scene?
Theatre was a largely ignored entity during my college days. As part of a local theatre group, Stagedoor, which I still operate, we painted posters on walls to announce plays and personally went from door to door to sell tickets. Despite the tickets being priced for as low as Rs 3, people would still prefer movies. Now, thanks to the interest generated by the media, good shows play to a packed audience.
So is today a glorious time for theatre?
English theatre in India is still not a profit-making industry. It survives on doles and handouts. The sets, lighting and special effects are very expensive and the amount spent cannot be recovered by ticket prices alone.
Theatre is seen as Bollywood’s poorer cousin. Why did you not take up acting in films?
Theatre has been like a drug to me that I have never been able to give up. I got so much love as a director and actor in theatre that I didn’t feel the need to act in a film. Also, a lot of directors these days forget that entertainment doesn’t mean only masala (spice). Any performance, be it a play or a film, has to be a story well told.
How does it feel to have prominent personalities as your audience?
Two of my plays, 50 Days of War based on the Kargil war and The Legend of Ram based on the Ramayana, have been seen by almost all the presidents of India and they go away saying that they have been touched. Bal Thackeray and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in separate incidents, have personally insisted on seeing my show. The applause has had me performing at least once in every three months.
Any compliment you’ve received that you cherish the most?
I have been lucky to be appreciated by the greatest minds in the country and every single word of appreciation is dear to me. One particular comment that has never left me was from Shashi Kapoor’s son, who, after watching The Legend of Ram, said, “You have told the story better than Valmiki himself.”