BENGALURU: India’s youngest Padmashri recipient in theatre, Mohammad Ali Baig’s bio-play is ready to be staged in the city. The play, Under An Oak Tree, is the director’s bio-play that touches on loneliness, and is about his childhood, adolescence, parentage, loses and glory. It was received with much appreciation when it was premiered to a full house in London, the performance managed to touch an emotional chord with the London audience. In conversation with City Express, the theatre icon talks about his experience with this specific play and what he expects from the Bengaluru audience. Here’s an excerpt of the conversation:
How do you associate yourself with Under an Oak Tree?
The looming large oak tree is symbolic of the protagonist’s towering father and his lingering impact, even after his loss. It refers to the metaphorical question, “does an acorn grow under it?” As the dialogue in the play goes, “the legend that succeeded him, looming like an oak tree. Even when the oak tree was gone, its presence remains, sometimes casting the warmth and shelter of shade and sometimes, the darkness and despair of a shadow”. Symbolism forms a major component of my storytelling.
How has the reaction to the play been in London as compared to India? Was it any different?
Audience in London related with the story. This play is the fourth consecutive play of mine to premiere in London. The warmth of the audience there is always motivating, and they love discussing the play after its performance. The premiere last week was sold out at a week prior and we were getting requests on Facebook and e-mails from London to accommodate them at the show. Interestingly, people from the town of Oxford and the city of Edinburgh came all the way to watch the play too. The London cultureatti who attended were eager for more shows of the same play and were thrilled about the authentic Indian references to havelis, bawarchis, mango season, custard apples and a life-changing encounter with a mystical Fakir. The audience there was overwhelmed by the script, the performances, the storytelling format and the set. In Hyderabad, audiences connected it to my story and felt participatory at the climax towards the end, as they recognised the protagonist as me – getting particularly exultant at the point when the protagonist’s Padmashri award is announced. In Mumbai, at Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, we had a packed venue with no seat to spare and audiences were highly nostalgic and sentimental.
Every time that you’ve staged the play in a different location, how has your experience been in terms of production?
The original set has a provision for a real rain scene but indoors, this is a deterrent. The Oak Tree forming the central metaphor, is divided by a swish pad on one side and a chamber of period décor, antique furniture, silverware and sepia-toned frames on the other. Since aesthetics from an integral part of my approach to theatre, everything from the Persian rugs to zardozi cushion covers are all designed by me carefully. I enjoy the challenges of adapting to different venues and utilising the inherent ambience of a space to lend itself to the feel of the play.
How do you feel about putting up the performance in Bengaluru? How do you think the audience will take it?
Bengaluru has been my second home for almost a decade. I have cherished memories, valued friends and mentors here. Bengaluru gave me the impetus to discover my professional self and worth, away from the cocoon and celebrity of Hyderabad. Bengaluru gets a special mention in the play, as the city which ‘became the perfect place to cast away his woes. No one gave him the time to remember them. Who needed thoughts, and burdens of legacies? A brand new India was on the anvil, the Internet revolution. Those days, everything that was happening was happening out of Bengaluru, the emerging Silicon Valley of India. Infosys, Wipro, Hotmail, Kingfisher, fashion, Miss Indias. And so was the boy, a young man now’. Bengaluru has a very evolved audience who appreciates artistic quality and finally nuanced presentation. They have widely appreciated my previous plays Quli: Dilon ka Shahzaada, Spaces and 1857: Turrebaz Khan.
Where else do you plan to take the play to?
Mumbai is next on the tour, Delhi and Chennai after that. There’s demand for more shows in the UK after its premiere there.