Feroz Abbas Khan is an Indian theatre and film director, playwright and screenwriter who is most known for directing plays like Mughal-e-Azam, Saalgirah, Tumhari Amrita (1992), Salesman Ramlal and Gandhi Viruddh Gandhi.He was also the first artistic director of the iconic Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai.
Tumhari Amirita went on to become a life-changing experience for Khan. It ran for 21 years and was staged across the world.
Ahead of the much anticipated Mughal-e-Azam musical that opens on 6 April 2019 in Delhi with its third season, the acclaimed director speaks about his journey in both theatre and films, what he enjoys more and how important it is to reinvent and challenge yourself as an artist.
For someone who admires films of directors like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Akira Kurosawa and Guru Dutt whose work is generally associated with humanism, what attracted you to re- create K. Asif’s period drama Mughal-e-Azam?
K. Asif’s timeless cinema Mughal-e-Azam is a very humane piece. It is the voice of the oppressed against the imperial power demanding justice and equity. The love story is a metaphor, where Anarkali symbolises the power of a woman to rebel, question and defy the most powerful man of his time.
In terms of style, your work has been conceived and generally understood as minimalist, why then the grandeur of an epic drama?
My journey from the minimum to maximum has been very unsettling. I realised I was getting ensconced in my comfort zone and the fear of stagnation and repetition was distressing. It was about time that I challenged myself. This was an uncharted and treacherous terrain pregnant with the possibility of a monumental failure. Success can paralyse growth and change but I knew I had to reinvent myself to remain relevant.
Did you consider your appearance on stage before Tumhari Amrita (to help the audience settle down by telling them not to expect anything more than two people reading letters to each other), an attempt to redefine the “fourth wall narrative as we know it”?
We had a grand rehearsal of Tumhari Amrita with an audience of 10 friends at Prithvi Theatre. At the end, only two stayed awake and the rest had dozed off. We were depressed and believed that we were going to be booed out at the performance. So, Shabana Azmi, Farooq Sheikh, Javed Siddiqui and I collectively decided that I should explain the form and context of the play to the audience, so that there are no expectations of it, being a regular play. It was almost an apology but beautifully integrated as an essential idea of the play. Some of the most important creative choices are forced by a crisis.
Having directed both films and theatre, which medium do you enjoy more and why?
I enjoy doing theatre because the electricity of a live performance is exhilarating. The process of preparation, rehearsals and finally the performance is very organic, along with being a continuous learning experience. Every play has changed me.
In an interview, you had said your plays have “hard truths that come from a very personal place and they have a strong contemporary connection so they don’t date”. How does Mughal-e-Azam musical fit into that?
There cannot be a more stunning example of our syncretic culture and grace than Mughal-e-Azam. The film is not just about the stars, scale and opulence but is also quintessentially about the co-existence and celebration of our diversity. Anarkali, the rebel who challenges the might of an empire by declaring ‘Pyar kiya toh darna kya’, resonates strongly with the young and restless.