Duo aims at self sustaining stage
Akbar Quadri and Azam Quadri, jointly known in theatre and film circles as AkbarAzam, are the Gennext version of Bollywood’s popular brothers Abbas- Mustan, except that the latter duo are mostly seen in white and it’s somewhat easier to tell Abbas from Mustan. In the case of Akbar- Azam, who staged Tendulkar’s farcical Jaati Hi Poocho Sadhu Ki at the IIT on April 8, it is difficult to tell one from the other, especially when you meet them for the first time. Last seen in Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar, the Quadri brothers continue to reconnect, renew their ties with theatre through Antraal, their troupe that has given a platform to theatre enthusiasts from all walks of life — engineers, doctors, students, media professionals, management and ad gurus — since 2007.
When we meet, a beaming Akbar tells me how the show for Jaati Hi Poocho Sadhu Ki was sold- out, thanks to the door- to- door distribution of tickets booked on phone that their group has introduced recently. “Theatre never tried to make itself commercial,” Akbar reflects, adding that their troupe strives to make theatre a commercial achievement, a medium that marries entertainment with enterprise.
They realised early on in their journey, when they started the Jamia Millia Islamia chapter of Indian People’s Theatre Association ( Ipta), that for a lot of people who were passionate about the medium, it was difficult to pursue theatre full- time because of their professional constraints. The idea behind Antraal, which means interlude in English, was to give an opportunity ( or an interlude) to people from other vocations to romance the arclight with the guidance of some professional hands. “We realised we had to be technically sound, so we received training in stage’s various elements,” says Akbar, adding that while Azam looks after light, he handles set, makeup and costumes himself.
The duo feel that theatre, by and large, is still treading an old path. Old scripts continue to be propped at new stages. “For how long can we continue to stage Ashadh Ka Ek Din ( Mohan Rakesh), Ek Gadhe Ki Atmakatha ( Krishan Chandar) and Taj Mahal Ka Tender ( Ajay Shukla)?” wonders Akbar. “We must realise that the times have changed. Those issues are no longer relevant. Today, people have new issues, concerns, priorities. Theatre needs new energy in the form of new scripts,” he adds.
When Antraal’s journey began in 2007, their debut play, Mausam Ko Na Jaane Kya Ho Gaya, explored the conflict between two generations through the story of a Vidarbha farmer and his son. The play won accolades for its light treatment of a sensitive, contemporary social issue. In the last five years, the troupe, while occasionally staging time- honoured plays like Asghar Wajahat’s Jis Lahore Nahin Dekhya, has constantly tried to bring in new stories. Its 2010 play, Udne Ko Aakash Chahiye , dealt with the problems of the new generation that wants to do something else, but is doomed to do something else.
The duo, who have earlier made documentaries for radio ( AIR) and TV ( DD, Prasar Bharti) and are on the cusp of beginning a new chapter in Hindi cinema with a film about the ruralurban divide, feel that theatre remains their first love. Mumbai might help them earn money, but to give a vent to their “technical and aesthetic frustrations”, they keep turning to theatre. “We are constantly trying to learn a new life,” say the Qaudri brothers who are currently working on a new play on Partition in which they will explore the nature of power through the ages and the conflict between religion and politics.
Akbar Quadri and Azam Quadri of Antraal.