Tryst with theatre is full of hits and a handful of misses

Saturday, 14 June 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

Let me tell you about some' hits' and 'misses' in my theatre journey. Dr Sitanshu Yashaschandra is a household name in the Gujarati literary circle. Poet, writer, historian and academician, he has won several awards. He also scripted Ketan Mehta's movie called Maya Memsaab based on Gustave Flaubert's novel Madame Bovary. I was fortunate in having two of my Gujarati plays penned by him. One called Ek Sapnu Badu Shaitani based on Neil Simon's I Ought To Be In Pictures, a story about a successful Bollywood scriptwriter being suddenly confronted with his almost forgotten past by his estranged daughter who comes all the way from her distant home to tell him she wants to join the movies, when in reality she has come to find out why he left them and wants to build bridges again. Critics hailed it as 'a mature, memorable play that brought joy to the season'. Bollywood actor Shafi Inamdar directed the play and later adapted the same in Hindi under the title Shabana the Second with himself playing the father's role. I cast a comparative fresh face, Daisy Irani, as the daughter in both the Gujarati and Hindi versions and she stole the applause from under Shafi's nose. Both were big 'hits', celebrating golden jubilee run in Gujarati and a century run in Hindi.

The second play, also a hit, was called Chhabili Ramti Chhanumanu based on Alan Ayckbourn's play Relatively Speaking. It was a hilarious tale of young but not faithful lovers, concerned parents and an incriminating pair of slippers. Daisy Irani and Paresh Rawal played the lovers and my wife Ruby and Arvind Joshi, the parents. Paresh acted in a couple of more plays with me before becoming a much loved Bollywood star.

The renowned theatre director Alyque Padamsee had successfully staged two mega musicals — Evita with Sharon Prabhakar in the title role and Jesus Christ Superstar. How can Burjor Patel be left far behind? Once again I banked on my favourite writer Neil Simon. His musical called They're Playing Our Song was a funny, romantic play about an established composer and his relationship with an aspiring young female lyricist. The search for the director led us to the well known soprano singer Celia Lobo who I had met earlier when I was invited to act in a play called The Geisha. My theatre colleagues at the time had laughed and said, "Burjor this play is a light opera and you are no Pavroti. When Adi had invited you to hum a song called The Blue Moon what you hummed sounded like an old KL Saigal song." When I informed the opera producers about my concern, they said my character had no songs. I remember having been dressed in a huge Japanese kimono with a moustache and slanted eyebrows. Celia had played the lead. She received a standing ovation. Shiamak Davar made his debut as the choreographer and the two protagonists were talented actor Farid Currim as the composer and Sunita Rao, a fresh face then, as the lyricist. Celia became a celebrity in the musical world, Davar is a household name today and Sunita, a much-admired singer.

The major challenge for us were the sets. The play demanded various locales — the composer's living room, a studio, a night club, the lyricist's apartment, a street scene and a hospital room. In our enthusiasm we tried to pack in all the locales resulting in huge gaps in-between scenes which broke the momentum of the play. We did not realise our small stages were not suitable for so many changes. This affected the run of a really beautiful play. We had a reasonably good run but the play deserved far more. I'd call this one of our 'misses'. Today with LED screen facility, the play is worth reviving. My friend Sitanshubhai has adapted it in Gujarati with original lyrics penned by him. We are looking forward to staging the same in the near future. Later we staged another musical, with Celia Lobo directing, called the Best of Broadway. This was a big 'hit' going well beyond 50 shows.

The author is a well-known stage personality


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