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The commitment of a helmsman and a brilliant cast

Saturday, 31 May 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

We have heard pandits say: "You 'can be' anything you want to be." I don't fully subscribe to that. You 'cannot be' anything you want to be but you 'can be' a lot more of who you already are.

It was the 1980s and I wanted to do more meaningful plays. At the time my daughter Shernaz was rehearsing a play called Nuts with a first-time director called Rahul da Cunha. I liked the subject and offered to produce the play under my banner. It was about an incarcerated woman's valiant attempt to fight those who wanted to have her committed as mentally incompetent to stand trial on a manslaughter charge. The play was extremely moving. You are in court watching a woman fight for what she believes is her total future. Shernaz played the lead, my wife Ruby her mother and I roped in two brilliant actors, Homi Daruwala and Vijay Crishna, to play the court-appointed psychiatrist and an aggressive prosecutor. For an experimental work like this we completed a golden jubilee run. The next was a drama called The Subject Was Roses by the renowned playwright Frank D Gilroy. A son who goes away to fight a war as a pampered boy comes back as a man. The family wants to relive the good old times but finds it impossible to communicate with each other. I am sure families in India whose sons join our armed forces must have faced similar experiences. The play had won the Pulitzer. My wife Ruby along with a talented actor Bomi Kapadia played the parents and a young, new talent called Ravi Nair was the boy. The third play directed by da Cunha for me was the last play in Neil Simon's autobiographical trilogy. Called Broadway Bound, it was about two brothers trying to break into the world of professional comedy writing whilst coping with the breakup of their family. It was a lovely play, warm, perceptive and gently humorous. My wife Ruby played the mother; Vijay Crishna her husband who walks out on her; Bomi Kapadia was a delightful grandfather and two young aspiring actors Rajit Kapoor and Rumi Palsetia were the sons. The play was a huge success.

I had a chance meeting with Sukumar Nayar, a theatre director of Indian origin from Canada, who was in India on a short visit. He talked about a play called The Shadow Box, which I had read and was keen to stage. I thought this was an opportunity and invited him to stage it for me in India. Initially, he was unsure, telling me he normally does not like to do the same play twice. Since he had never directed a play in India he decided to take a shot. It deals with the subject of cancer. Three terminally ill patients dwell in separate cottages on a hospital's grounds. The play dramatises their anxieties and their coming to grips with the finality of their conditions. We had a brilliant cast — Homi Daruwala, Farid Currim, Sohrab Ardeshir, Ruby Patel and Meher Jehangir among others. It was an overwhelming emotional experience. I recall some members in the audience could not take it.

All profits from this production were donated to the Indian Cancer Society. The play had won both the Pulitzer and the Tony Award. When I ask myself why I picked this play, why did I, the director, and the cast spend precious time mounting this particular production, my answer is: "This play had to be done." And so was the play Whose Life Is It Anyway?, the one on euthanasia, a play which I had talked about in my earlier article. I am proud to have produced both.

The author is a well-known stage personality

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