Ace Indian director Feroze Abbas Khan meets Asian Lite’s Richa Grover to share his views on theatre in India and his latest work Mughal-e-Azam, a musical….A special report from Asian Lite News
RG: When and how long ago did you think of making Mughal-e-Azam as a musical and why and how did the idea come about- tell us about the conceptualizing journey and how you mapped it all out? How Herculean a task was the casting process for this musical?
I was encapsulated by the brilliance of this cinematic masterpiece and expressed my desire to recreate that era by paying a humble tribute to the timeless epic love story of all time and making a play that has the scale of a cinema and yet has the soul of a theatre. Recreating the stage version of K. Asif’s magnum opus ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ was a daunting experience bringing it from screen to stage as it wasn’t just an epic that we were dealing with but it has memories associated with it passed on from generation to generation. This was my idea and I convinced the right partners, Shapoorji Pallonji and the National Centre for Performing Arts to come onboard. I had been nursing the ambition to stage a massive theatrical version of the film. In the case of Mughal-e-Azam, ambition, utopia and insanity could mean the same thing. The possibility of being a monumental failure can be challenging and very scary. Yes to put it simply, I felt challenged and very scared.
RG: What were the challenges in directing such a larger than life scale of performances and were there times/situations that threw you off guard and left you feeling overwhelmed as a director? What did u rely on to keep focussed on your vision and make this happen in a magnificent way?
The greatest aspect of the whole journey was the challenges it offered up along the way. Then, overcoming all the challenges made the whole journey more satisfying. But if I had to list some of the challenges it would be finding the right partners, assembling a talented cast, finding passionate collaborators and having an ideal venue for such a grand spectacular. Honestly, before the premiere, I was too exhausted and drained of all emotions. I thought I had made the most decisive mistake of my life and was merely waiting for confirmation from the audience. (Laughs) A bleak future awaited me. But thankfully audiences liked what we created, so the future didn’t look so bleak after all.
RG: What’s your vision with this musical – where all do you envisage it going in terms of it travelling to and staging it in more cities in India and then around the world? And did you always know it would get so much support from the audiences and become so big a project?
We will be travelling around India and eventually internationally, including the UK. This play marks a turning point in Indian theatre I feel. I am shocked and still reeling on seeing the success. It has exceeded all expectations. The play now belongs to the nation. Audiences feel very proud that we have created a world-class production. One of its many great triumphs is that the play has brought families together. Perhaps it is an accident of history that at a time when India is blazing across the global stage, we can now showcase our best theatre also. We have been sold out for four runs and we expect bigger audiences as we move forward.
RG: What advice would you give budding theatre directors and what’s your own mantra for success?
Nothing fails like success. These words are etched deep in my heart and mind. I am and have always been in pursuit of excellence. Every time I do a play it’s always like the first time. My work connects with the audience emotionally and it is intellectually stimulating. I have the greatest respect for my audience, without pandering to their basic instincts and not camouflaging my self-indulgence as profound thought. A trust has developed between us.
RG: What are your other directorial works in the past that are very close to your heart and sort of steered you into a grand show of the scale as this one? What other projects are you working on and now does one expect such large scale directorial work only from you?
I directed the plays ‘Tumhari Amrita’ and ‘Saalgirah’ in the past and also the film ‘Gandhi My Father’ which are really close to my heart. ‘Gandhi My Father’ won three National Awards and several international awards including the Asia Pacific Screen Award (APSA) for screenplay and Tokyo International Film Award (TIFF) for best actress to Shefali Shah. I am to blame for making only two movies. I get too attached to theatre and have not found anything that drives me as of now. Hopefully I will soon.