Mohammad Ali Baig introduces the West to struggles, dreams of Indians through theater

Story by  Ratna Chotrani | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 19-10-2023
Muhammad Ali Baig with Lillete Dubey in Dada saheb Phalke: a Journey, a Quest
Muhammad Ali Baig with Lillete Dubey in Dada saheb Phalke: a Journey, a Quest


Ratna G. Chotrani/Hyderabad

The Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation has changed the definition of Indian theatre with the sole motive of telling stories that speak the language of India. No wonder its founder Muhammad Ali Baig, a member of the Indian Diaspora, is breaking stereotypes and representing the multicultural Indian world to the West. 

Muhammad Ali Baig is often referred to as the Global face of Hyderabadi Theatre. Son of the renowned theatre personality, Qadir Ali Baig and Begum Razia Baig, the chairperson of the Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation, says he wanted to create productions that echo the essence of who we are, rather than imitating the West. This has been the biggest strength of his theatre repertoire

Born into one of the most prominent theatre families in India, the playwright–director–actor remains passionately devoted to the family’s legacy. The Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation is dedicated to promoting meaningful theatre in Hyderabad and abroad. Founder curator of Qadir Ali Baig Theatre, festival, one of the most prestigious theatre festivals in the country, held annually in Hyderabad during October-November, Muhammad Ali Baig’s plays have a universal appeal, yet deep-rooted Indian culture and in particular Hyderabadi Heritage.

His productions have been staged in India and in several countries abroad including Canada, France, Pakistan, Turkey, the USA, the UK, and many others. People from every culture enjoy his work as he likes working on themes that are of larger significance to his audience, than limiting himself to a genre or space.

Mohammad Ali Baig with France's Paddy Hayter in 'Forty Winks'

His heritage-based theatre productions have been the toast of several international festivals in India and abroad. His theatre modeled on his father’s Spectacle Theatre, performed at iconic venues, forts, palaces, and stadiums drawing large turnouts.

Mohammad Ali Baig is credited for reviving theatre in Hyderabad for more than a decade. As an advertising and documentary filmmaker, he has over 450 productions to his credit, bringing him over 40 awards for creative excellence globally.

Several of his plays have women as central characters and that is a conscious decision he says adding that he grew up in an era where both men and women were a lot more opinionated and free-spirited than today and that is what perhaps attracts him to stories with feisty female characters. 

Honoured with Padma Shri in 2014 he has also received global honors (French Honour in Paris, Awards for Global Excellence in Theatre in Toronto and Chicago, Retrospectives in Turkey, UK, and the USA. The honours have been for the kind of theatre that makes history contemporary, fantasy realistic, and multiculturalism chic.

In the last decade, he was also on the silver screen with Tamil Blockbusters like Aruvi, Cobra, Sardar, Telugu Web series like In the Name of God, Aaah Naa Pellanta, or even the Netflix globally top ten trending SHE season 2.

S.A. Majeed, Rashmi Seth and Mohammad Ali Baig in a scene from 'Savaan-e-hayat'

Asked whether his personality as a popular film actor overshadows his role as a producer-director on stage. He retorts ‘Absolutely not. Yes lot of people do recognize me for my film work but plays are what I have been staging for more than a decade. I am happy playing both parts. Do you enjoy acting or directing more? That's a tough one. It's exciting and challenging to be on screen, especially because I started my film career rather late. Theatre has been with me ever since I discovered my love for acting and it's now become a way of life. No matter how many films I do, I will always come back to the stage. It's my school. It's where I've learned everything

His stage productions include South India’s biggest original musical production in Hindustani, Taramati The Legend of an Artist, His exalted Highness, Reading Between the Lines, Raat Phoolon kI” Resham Ki Dor, Pankhdiyaan, AainaDada Saheb Phalke; a Journey, a Qurst ‘1857 Turrebaz Khan.

Recently he held the 18th festival which was a bouquet of literary-centered plays celebrating the power of storytelling. In addition to Mita Vasisht’s outstanding debut performance, Love Real/Reel, it also commends the legendary Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai, bringing her poignant tales to life. The others include German playwright Sibylle Berg and others and themes such as human relationships, the history of dissent, a chapter from the Ramayana, greed, and the love for acting.

The artists who were seen in action included Anjan Srivastav, Masood Akhtar, Mita Vashisht, Sunil Shanbag, Ayesha Raza, Anubha Fatehpuria, Dr. Dalavai Kullayappa and more from Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Anantapur.

According to the organizers, genres are diverse, spanning traditional puppet theatre, adaptations, biography, poetry, dance, and satire. The festival will also feature free master classes by Mohammad Ali Baig, Anjan Srivastav, and Sunil Shanbag on topics such as theatre management, the Indian method of acting, and how life informs art.

The festival was curated by Padma Shri recipient Mohammad Ali Baig as a tribute to his legendary father, theatre doyen Qadir Ali Baig.

Muhammad Ali Baig with Shabana Azmi in Kaifiyat

According to Mohammed Ali Baig, over the past 18 years, Hyderabad’s Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Festival which has hosted the virtual who’s who of Indian and global theatre has come to be regarded as one of the foremost theatre assemblies in the subcontinent, at the same time giving an impetus to new work from upcoming young artistes of different cities.

From classical to contemporary theatre, physical and dance theatre, puppet and circus theatre, bio-plays to solo performances, mythological and avant-garde, intimate and spectacle, musicals and storytelling, historical pageants to social dramas, the festival repertoire has presented a wide bouquet of theatre aficionados of the south.
His plays indeed are classic and yet very vibrant and aliveWhile thespians like Habib Tanvir, Usha Ganguli, Tom Alter, Surekha Sikri, and Jalabala Vaidya had their last stage appearances at this national assembly, Alyque Padamsee, Pankaj Kapur and Kulbhushan Kharbanda made their comebacks to theatre on this stage.

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Leading actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, and Anupam Kher have paid annual tributes to Qadir Ali Baig.