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OpinionsFeroz Abbas was a great Director of lavish productions on India History

Feroz Abbas was a great Director of lavish productions on India History


His Musical Mughal-E-Azam is still remembered by the viewers for its spectacle

By Harihar Swarup

This time last year, theatre director Feroz Abbas was touring the US with Mughal-e-Azam: The Musical, which is often described as 's most expensive stage production. It has “a cost and crew of over 150, more than 500 costumes, and set so extravagantly, they were ferried around in eight 55-ft-long containers.

Earlier, in 2023, Khan wrote and directed The Great Indian Musical: civilization to Nation, a spectacle created for the opening of the 2000-seat-of- Grand Theatre at Mumbai's Nita Mukesh Ambani cultural Centre. It traced the history of the performing arts in India, through a cast of 381 actors and dancers and a crew of more than 700.

“These were both just huge challenges. By the end of the US tour, I was quite drained,” Khan says laughing. It was at this point that he read American playwright Rajiv Joseph's latest work, Letters of Suresh (2021). For days after, he couldn't stop thinking about it, he says, with its unusual grammar and its monologues by four characters hungering for human connection.

“This is a play focused on the writings and the actors and nothing else, he says. “Not only is it beautifully written and unique in form, it is unlike anything I have done in years”.

The 65-year-old Khan, after all, is best known for his “blockbuster” , a term rarely used for theatrical productions in India. His two-hour-thirty- minute, Mughal-e- Azam (2016) , tells the tale of the ill-fated love between a future emperor and a slave girl in vivid, almost—cinematic vibrancy.

His Tumhari Amrita (your Amrita:1992) was visually stark but the letters the star crossed lovers (Shabana Azmi and Farooq Shaikh) read out on stage were so compelling, the play toured the for over 20 years, its run only ending when Shaikh died in 2013. (Adapted by Javed Siddiqui, from AR Gurney's love letters (1988), the letters span 35 years, starting with one written by Amrita to Zulfi when she was eight).

Letters of Suresh in a 90-minute play with an unusual mix of characters: Suresh, an original prodigy: Father Hashimoto, a catholic who survived the Nagasaki bombing: Melody, his great-grandniece, who teaches creative writing: and Amelia, a homemaker whose quite life has been suspended by an affair with Suresh.

“I knew, almost as soon as I read it, that I wanted to direct this one”, says khan. “But it is a play that reads beautifully, so the challenge is to perform it better than it reads; to enrich the experience for the audience.”

Khan's staging makes its India debut at NMACC's intimate 250-seat Studio theatre on May 9. Its cast consists of Palomi Ghosh (who won a award for a Konkoni musical in 2015), Vir Hirani (a recent graduate of RADA, the UK's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and son of a film maker “Raj Kumar Hirani), actor Harssh Singh (Thappad, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Raman Raghav 2.0) and Radhika Sawhney.

It is bit of a full-circle moment for khan. Before his mega productions his oeuvre was predominantly minimalist and intimate.

Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai (Anything can Happen: 2005), for instance, was a two-and-a-half-hour solo production in which Anupam Kher talked about his life, career and lessons he learnt along the way. Salesman Ramlal (2013) was an adaptation of Arthur Miller's (Death of a salesman). The production starred the late Satish Kaushak as a man attempting to come to terms with his failings, and regret.

(IPA Service)






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