NEW DELHI — Much before India was swept off its feet by big-screen spectacles such as ‘Baahubali’, ‘RRR’ and now the upcoming ‘Aadipurush’, Aamir Raza Husain was the creative powerhouse who gave us our earliest experience of a mega theatrical production in ‘The Fifty Day War’, which till the year 2000 had not been replicated on any stage in either scale or vision.
On Saturday, June 3, Husain, 66, passed on, leaving behind a legacy of memorable stage productions.
He is survived by his wife and creative partner, Viraat Talwar, whom he met when she was a student of Lady Shri Ram College and had come to audition for a play (‘Dangerous Liaison’), and their two sons.
If ‘The Fifty Day War’ narrated the Kargil story on a scale that had not been attempted by anyone with an original Indian script on an Indian stage (Alyque Padamsee did something similar with Andrew Lloyd Weber’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, but then, it was not an original production), ‘The Legend of Ram’, which was staged on a smaller scale in 1994, became the gold standard for theatrical spectacles when it was relaunched in 2004.
The production of ‘The Legend of Ram’ involved 19 outdoor sets spread over three acres and a cast of 35 actors playing different characters drawn from the epic, and a 100-member technical crew. The last show was staged in front of the then President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, on May 1, 2004.
Husain was born into an aristocratic Awadhi family on January 6, 1957. His parents were divorced — his father, whom be barely saw was an engineer with Bechtel and set up the water works of Mecca-Medina — so he was brought up by his mother and her family — in the days of the British Raj they presided over a little principality named Pirpur.
He went to Mayo College, Ajmer, and after he completed his schooling, he read History at St Stephen’s College, where he acted in several college plays under the direction of such legends as Joy Michael, Barry John and Marcus Murch. It was an early start to a career devoted to English theatre and his company, Stagedoor Productions, which became known to lift ordinary theatre to the realm of the spectacular since 1974.
Husain did appear in two films — in ‘Kim’ (1984), based on Rudyard Kipling’s novel, with Peter O’Toole playing the lead, and Shashanka Ghosh’s romantic comedy drama, ‘Khubsoorat’ (2014), starring Sonam Kapoor and Fawad Khan — but he was wedded to theatre.
Over the years he produced several plays staged at outdoor locations — ‘Sare Jahan Se Achcha’, ‘1947 Live’ and ‘Satyamev Jayate’, which was staged along the backdrop of the 14th-century Hauz Khas monument, in Delhi in 1999.
Previously in 1998, Husain and his troupe, in collaboration with Delhi Tourism, organised the Chaudvin ka Chand festival on a 2-km stretch between the Red Fort and Fatehpuri Mosque in Chandni Chowk in the neighbourhood now celebrated as Dilli-6.
With 91 productions and more than 1,100 performances behind him, and a Padma Shri awarded to him in 2001, Hussain spent his last years developing the Qila next to the Select CityWalk mall in South Delhi’s historic Saket neighbourhood.
Like all things bearing the Husain stamp, the Qila has emerged as a co-working space where corporates and creative souls work under one roof to incubate business ideas or the next big theatre production.
Unfortunately for Husain, as he lamented in a recent interview, theatre remains a hobby, or at best a second profession in India, but fortunately, thanks to the efforts of pioneers like him, it is by no means wallowing in poverty. Far from that being the case, it has become the nursery of the best and brightest in cinema.