Straight from the heart

Straight from the heart

Directors cut

Theatre director M Sayeed Alam is happy to let his theatre be called ‘commercial’. In fact, he is blatantly honest about it and declares with great pride, “I believe you should know how to sell your art before you have to sell it off for good.” “The problem with most of us theatre people is, we want to live in some illusionary world where we consider it is a sacrilege to earn from theatre. If it is our mode of living, we need to accept it and play it right,” he continues. “Yes, as long as I am not doing any immoral, illegal or unconstitutional theatre or activity, I have a right to let my creativity earn for me,” Alam gets serious.

Serious is actually not Alam’s favourite virtue. Just as he doesn’t take his appearance seriously (characteristic dishevelled hair and rugged jeans), he doesn’t let his theatre get serious, monotonous and somber. “I am very clear. Entertainment is the prime motive of my theatre. My job is to entertain my audience, and in the process, if I am also able to convey any message, be it moral or social, it’s a bonus,” he says.

So, Pierrot’s Troupe theatre director M Sayeed Alam makes sure that the audience gets entertainment worth the money they spend on tickets. No passes, no invites, no sponsors. Buy your ticket and enjoy. The 303rd show of Ghalib in New Delhi — the most popular play from their stable, speaks of the confidence Alam has in his audience. “It is the longest running comedy by a particular theatre group,” Alam points out.

Ghalib... — 41 shows, Big B — 102 performances, Cut, Cut, Cut — 115, A Private Affair — 80: Alam likes to keep a tab on the numbers and reflects, “These numbers mean everything to me; they are a reflection of my passion for life, my philosophy of life and my belief in my profession. So, the day I neglect the numbers and sit on the past full-house shows, that’s the end of the tunnel. I see a ray of light as long as my mails are full of queries asking when is the next show of Ghalib... scheduled.” Alam further adds, “Hence, I am not at all embarrassed in saying that for me, it is a question of survival. I do theatre full-time and I respect it as my mode of living as well.”

With such huge numbers, the journey must have been quite challenging. Alam reflects, “Yes, I’ve been steering Pierrot’s Troupe since the early 1990s, and have had the opportunity to a long line of productions, from the intensely slapstick to the historical to biographies. I suppose the biggest challenge is to reach out to the audience to disseminate information. With the earning of Rs 50,000 from one show, you cannot expect us to advertise for Rs 2,00,000. So, we have to find ways and means of doing it in a humble way. Thanks to the internet, we can reach out to a wide segment of theatre lovers.”

Pierrot’s repertoire includes comedies, serious plays like Tumko Chahoon, Aastha and The Last Supper, as well as biographies like Maulana Azad, K L Saigal, and the latest production, Sons of Babur. So, what goes in the selection of the theme? How does the group zero down on a particular character or subject? These are questions Alam is often asked. The reasoning is as simple as the ease with which he replies. “Whatever subject or character I like, I start researching on that. Since I do not restrict my theatre to any one particular school of thought or ideology, it is the ‘subject’ which defines my theatre and not the other way round.”

Alam’s creativity is not restricted to direction. He says, “I like to write the scripts myself with many rounds of discussions with my team. We do not take anybody else’s written plays.” No wonder, Alam can do a comic Big B and serious Maulana in the same breath. He takes pride in his team and shares, “I have had veterans like Tom Alter who have stood by me and done my most important characters of Ghalib, Maulana and Bahadur Shah Zafar.”

What worries Alam is that the young generation is not much inclined towards theatre. “Youngsters consider theatre a spring board or a training ground from where they can move to greener pastures (TV serials or cinema). I don’t blame them because theatre in India is ‘director-driven’ and not ‘actor-driven’ and they do not get any recognition or credit. However, through the other media, they earn more and become celebrities overnight. So, we need to change our approach first and then expect them to chase theatre whole-heartedly,” he says.

The kind of theatre which Alam appreciates most are liberal — slapstick, comic, tragic, satirical, non-committed, unwed (to any ideology), historical and hysterical (all under one umbrella).

Alam has been always inspired by Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi, R K Laxman and his grandfather. Some of his favourite plays are Sudama Ke Chawal (performed by a non-descript group in Delhi about 10 years ago) and Tumhari Amrita (performed by Shabana Azmi and Farooque Shaikh, and directed by Firoz Khan). His favourite actor on stage is Digambar Prasad and so far none of the directors have been able to leave a lasting impression on him.

So, what does the master of the stage has up his sleeve now? Time for introspection. Time to pen down some classic plays, maybe on women characters in history — wives of Manto and Ghalib. “You see, I am a very cynical man,” says Alam. “I am a very negative, doubtful and low-esteemed man, yet unrelenting. My low esteem is my inspiration as it gives me strength to do better and better. So, let us wait till you hear plays on Razia Sultan, Noor Jehan — Mullah ki daur Masjid tak from Pierrot’s Troupe.”

Ten years from now, Alam finds himself, “in a green room preparing for the 600th show of Ghalib in New Delhi, sorry for not being ambitious.”