Last time we talked about my “bawaji” Coffee House gang. Today I focus on some theatre memories.
In 1970 I moved to The Statesman. My office was in Kasturi Building — the grand stone edifice at Churchgate. It was the best destination if you were a ‘big lunch’ fiend. There was the Cricket Club of India to the left, Ritz a stone’s throw away and Rasna for a quick dosa straight ahead. But not for me. I had to stay trim for my theatre fans, especially the Parsi dowager ladies who would say “aapro Burjor ketlo mitho laagech” (our Burjor looks so sweet). I’d leave my offices around 1pm, walk across the lane to Oval Maidan and order a packet of “channa-sing” and that was my daily munch-lunch, much to the annoyance of my wife. A brisk walk across the green field took me to my second home away from home, the offices of INT (Indian National Theatre) at Hamam Street, next to the Bombay Stock Exchange.
There, over a cup of sweet milky Gujju chai, I’d sit with my theatre friends and dream a few dreams, especially with the iconic director Pravin Joshi who directed the first three plays I produced for INT. All huge box office successes.
To know if your creation was drawing in the crowds (and the moolah) one needed to slyly look at INT’s loyal office manager Pranjivankaka before the curtain went up. His facial tone was enough to tell us how many bums were on the seats. A broad smile would mean “houseful”, a glum face meant there would be an assessment shortly. He was our box-office barometer.
Late Seventies, I moved from INT to launch my own banner ‘Burjor Patel Productions’. During one of our Calcutta visits we got the tragic news of the passing away of Pravin Joshi in an accident. He was in his late 40s. Not only INT, but the entire Gujarati theatre world had lost the most charismatic director, Indian theatre had seen. Gujarati theatre was Pravin Joshi and Pravin Joshi was Gujarati theatre.
Pravin was INT’s pillar and one wondered if INT would survive this loss. But time never stops. It might, for a few moments, but the adage “the show must go on” triumphed and Pravin would not have wished it any other way. INT invited Pravin’s brother Arvind Joshi who was doing some good work both as a director and an actor to take on the mantle.
As time passed Burjor Patel Productions came into its own and was doing some extraordinary work. At that time I was reading an Italian play translated in English: Filumena. It was the story of an Italian mistress of an aristocrat who was facing the predicament of her paramour wanting to ditch her after a 25- year relationship, for a younger woman. How she fights back and how both finally reconcile is a delightful, bitter-sweet story I thought was perfect for Indian audiences. I invited a frontline Gujarati writer Madhu Rye (now settled in USA) to adapt the story for my company.
INT, however, after Pravin’s demise was not in good health. Things had slowed and there was a crying need for a big lift. They needed a super script to climb the charts again. They heard of the one I was to produce for my group and requested me to offer my script to them for old times’ sake. I knew I had a sure-fire hit but it did not take me more than five minutes to agree. I did it as a mark of respect to my dear friend Pravin Joshi, because of whom I had achieved so much more in theatre. INT changed the writer and invited the renowned poet, scholar and writer Dr Sitanshu Yashashchandra (also a dear friend) to adapt the play for them. The play called Lady Lalkoover was a huge, huge success running to a record number of houseful performances. This was the turning point INT was waiting for and its fortunes changed to bring more success for them. Sitanshu in the printed version of the play praised me and dedicated the play to me and my wife Ruby.
The author is a well-known stage personality