Young Indian theatre maestro Padma Shri Mohammad Ali Baig recently presented his play ‘Under an Oak Tree’ at London’s Nehru Centre. Baig is the founder-director of internationally renowned theatre repertory, Hyderabad-based Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation. The Foundation’s plays ‘Quli: Dilon ka Shahzaada’, ‘Savaane-
Hayat’, ‘Spaces’ and ‘1857: Turrebaz Khan’ have been staged at venues and festivals in France, US, Canada, Turkey and Pakistan. Their previous plays at The Nehru Centre include ‘Quli: Dilon ka Shahzaada’, ‘Spaces’ and ‘1857: Turrebaz Khan’.
The story of a boy born in the 19th Century Ahmed Bowla Bagh Palace built by erstwhile ruler of Hyderabad, HH Nizam V, Nawab Afzal-ud-Daulah Bahadur on the outskirts of
the city, took centerstage in London in Qadir Ali Baig Theatre Foundation’s play ‘Under an Oak Tree’. The hour-long bio-play retraced the unnamed protagonist’s journey from the privileged seclusion of a 19th Century palace spread over 100 acres with a 100-horse stud farm, to the glitzy world of advertising and ultimately, returning full-circle to the intense spotlight of theatre, bringing him one of the highest civilian honours of the country.
The play achingly weaved into its backdrop the changing political and social scenario in a post-Independence, post-Privy Purse era of the princely state of Berar and Deccan and consequently, the changing times. A poignant and memories-filled journey of childhood, adolescence and adulthood, ‘Under an Oak Tree’ proved to be an inspiring
story of travelling off the beaten track and eventually, finding one’s way. Beginning with Baig as the protagonist onstage stating that everyone loves a good story and that all stories that begin with ‘once upon a time’ ought to end with ‘happily ever after’, the audience was hooked from the word go with reminiscences of childlike simplicities and a picture vividly painted of a childhood replete with fairytale indulgences and courtly protocol.
Actor-director Baig deftly traversed the palatial corridors of his hero’s childhood to the awe-inspiring stage curtains of his iconic theatre actor father’s plays, touching upon loss and loneliness, moving on to self-actualisation and redemption with equal ease.
Playwright-actress Noor Baig as an unnamed mother provided a layered perspective of a close-knit relationship weighed upon by difficult choices. The push and pull between successful son and concerned mother was sketched by seamless monologues, leading up to a crescendo of real-life triumph. It was clear to the audience that the story hit close to home. Hallmark of all Baig productions are the performances, sets, music, lighting and décor, which were all evident in equal measure on stage. Sound effects and theme music added to the tightly-spun presentation.
Playwright Noor Baig said: “It is heartening to note that theatre revivalist Mohammad Ali Baig’s life story touches a chord deeply with audiences all over. The London audience in particular, connected well with the themes of nostalgia, childhood innocence and coming of age while straddling two different worlds – one of old world charm and the other, fast-paced jetset life”.
Padma Shri Mohammad Ali Baig is well-known for the fine aesthetics in his plays. Commenting on the specially-composed play’s soundtrack, he said: “I have used Middle-Eastern music elements in this production to signify the protagonist’s deep-rooted cultural legacy while at the same time, his international exposure – much like the themes in my productions, which are Indian at heart and global in appeal”.
On his fourth consecutive play being presented in London, he said fondly, “I love coming back to London; the city has a different charm for performing artistes and the audience here is very sensitive”. The play was both captivating and heart-warming. A remarkable fact was that seats were sold out weeks prior to the show and audience from as far as Oxford and Edinburgh came all the way to watch this performance.
Attending the show were prominent cultureatti, both natives and expats, including the first Indian-origin woman elected Councillor of the City of Westminster Rehana Ameer, ex-banker Prabhakar Kaza, Usha Madan, academician Gul Chugani, eminent Professor of Energy Engineering and Millennium Fellow Tariq Muneer from Edinburgh Napier University and from Oxford University Maryam Kamil etc.
Professor Muneer commented: “I’m glad I could come just in time from Edinburgh for the play and was overwhelmed by the performance which tackled rather sensitive and emotional themes. I had earlier watched their plays ‘Quli: Dilon ka Shahzaada’ and the world premiere of ‘1857: Turrebaz Khan’ at the prestigious Edinburgh Fest”.
Cllr Rehana Ameer said: “[The show] tugged at my heartstrings… reminded us of our childhood, parents and growing up, in any part of the world”.
Post the show, Londoners queued up to congratulate the Baig duo, enthusiastic to catch repeat shows of the play, to watch the touching tale with its strong script and powerful storytelling format. This show of ‘Under an Oak Tree’ was brought in by The
Nehru Centre, London and Bijay Mandhani of G.L. Mandhani Trust.