Late Qadir Ali Baig Saheb
“In an age when story telling has been reduced to video-gaming, it was very brave of Qadir Ali Baig to put all myths away and keep the tradition of theatre alive even today. It is far more exciting to discover the human truth and encounter a social problem through flesh and blood characters on stage.” - Mahesh Bhatt (Writer, Film Maker, Thinker)
The period between 1970 and 1984 is considered the golden era of Urdu and Hindustani theatre in Hyderabad when Mirza Qadir Ali Baig’s spectacular historical pageants and meaningful social satires moved audiences to an extent that they are talked about even today.
It was the staging of Kishan Chander’s ‘Darwaze Khol Do’ in Mumbai by a young Qadir Ali Baig. In the audience was thespian Prithviraj Kapoor who was ailing and had stepped out after a long time to watch a play. He walked up backstage, completely awed by the performance, hugged Baig saheb with moist eyes and said, “The future of Hindustani theatre is safe in your hands”. For Qadir saheb, this was not just prophecy in compliment but a foremost and stupendous responsibility, as the thespian passed away a few days later.
To the Stage Born
Born at the historic 100-acre Ahmed Bagh Palace surrounded by a 100-horse stud farm, Qadir Ali Baig had a fairy-tale upbringing. He was brought up by his aristocratic father and legendary Polo player, Mirza Mahmood Ali Baig to carry on his father’s mantle of the game of polo, horse breeding, training and racing. Well-groomed with striking good looks, Qadir Ali Baig had a magnificent baritone voice, an all-encompassing stage presence and sense of stature that would no doubt contribute towards the success of his plays. He excelled at horse racing and polo but was irresistibly drawn to the stage, during his days at the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University. Qadir Ali Baig came back to Hyderabad, shedding his upper crest legacy and devoted himself to serious, meaningful theatre.
And so, a theatre legend was born.
46 years, 46 plays
Former Chairman of National School of Drama-New Delhi Prof. Mohan Maharishi observed, "Post Independence, theatre in India had seen stalwarts who were pioneers in their own region in different eras; Prithviraj Kapoor in Mumbai in the 1960s, Ebrahim Alkazi in Delhi, Utpal Datt and Shambhu Mitra in Calcutta and Qadir Ali Baig in Hyderabad in the 1970s".
Qadir Ali Baig’s work consisted of a systematic, synchronic analysis of the principles of theatricality: voice, body, space, text, body grammar and vocabulary, an understanding of stage dynamics, mime, silence etc. He focused specifically on performance aesthetics, techniques and nuances while bringing forth an unseen-before grandeur and pageantry of theatre spectacles. Spectacle theatre became his signature. He was one of the country’s foremost scholars and award-winning performers who considered theatre their first stern, uncompromising and unforgiving master.“Qadir Ali Baig sahab was a complete theatre person; an accomplished actor, director, producer and playwright, who was known for his sensitiveness towards the secular fabric of our country. This was one of the several remarkable features of his work, evident especially in his plays like ‘Resham Ki Dor’, which brought tears to my eyes…” said
Prof. Ram Gopal Bajaj, former Director of the National School of Drama-New Delhi.
In times when telephonic and electronic communications were still alien terms for India, Qadir Ali Baig produced and directed 46 plays in 46 years of his life. “It cannot be a mere coincidence that Qadir Ali Baig lived for 46 years and did 46 memorable plays. He was born to do so”, remarked late Habib Tanvir.
A Living Legacy
Qadir Ali Baig left behind not just a legacy of trendsetting plays, whether original or adapted, but also talent that he spotted and groomed which lit up the country's stage, radio, television, and cinema. He made the very first teleplays for Doordarshan in the days of black and white television: ‘Raksha Bandhan’, ‘Aasra’ and ‘Humayun’. He was a popular actor-director with his plays on the radio, and took the most successful stage ones to Delhi and Mumbai, besides regular shows in Hyderabad.
The five plays he wrote, published in a book entitled ‘Resham Ki Dor’ invariably depict the importance of national integration as they deal with the sacrifices of one religious community in favour of the other.
Larger-than-life historical pageants and socially meaningful plays that he produced, directed and acted in included ‘Darwaaze Khol Do’, ‘Burf Ki Minar’, ‘Sakharam Binder’, ‘Aadhe Adhurey’, ‘Lehron Ke Rajhans’, ‘Tana Shah’, Kohinoor Ka Lutera’, ‘Bahishkaar’, ‘Jai Baba Gopinath’, ‘Thank You Mr. Glad’, ‘Quli Qutub Shah’, ‘Mahboob’, among several others. Qadir Ali Baig’s plays were as critically acclaimed as they were highly popular with the masses.
Jayadev Hattangady, popularly observed,” (to be added)
Indeed his early demise was a striking loss for Indian theatre. Eminent theatre director and filmmaker M.S. Sathyu had this to say about the void caused by his absence, “During the 1970s and early 1980s, the Qadir Ali Baig wave made history in Hyderabad. But unfortunately, the cruel hands of death snatched him away from us in his young, fruitful years”.