One-act play competition to revive Parsi theatre

By Burjor Patel

db-coverMy friends who regularly wait for my column are wondering where has the bawa disappeared? The bawa is very much around and very busy with Draame Bawaas.

I was reminiscing about my theatre pursuits from 1950s to the late 80s. We wowed audiences with our traditional Parsi comedy plays. We broke new ground by enacting thrillers and courtroom dramas. Plays ran for 50-60 shows, a couple of them crossing even the century run. Later, I also launched English language plays with equal success. In the late 80s, I moved to Dubai and was away from Mumbai for 20-plus years. On my return I saw huge strides made in English language theatre with a spate of original plays penned by a rising generation of indigenous playwrights. Some of the English plays crossed 500-700 shows. Against that, we are lucky if a Parsi play crosses five to six nights today. The audience is still there but there are no new Parsi playwrights. The few and far between plays that are being performed by a few groups are by the same old writers of my era who have all passed away.

So the thought came: how to revive the golden days of Parsi theatre? I invited a few like-minded individuals who were enthusiastic about my mission. My daughter Shernaz who is at the forefront of English theatre today, freelance journalist Meher Marfatia who recently penned a book on the last 40 years of Parsi theatre called Laughter In The House, the veteran stage director Sam Kerawala and a new kid on the block, actor-producer Jim Vimadalal.

We decided to launch a one-act play competition to unearth new talent among the Parsis — writers, directors, actors etc. The next question was what do we call the competition to attract response. I sought the help of my dear friend Sam Bulsara, one of the top honchos of the advertising world. His team at Madison advertising came up with the name Draame Bawaas and worked out a campaign around it. We invited some Parsi actors for a shoot and the campaign — two faces challenging each other in different visuals called Engineers vs Accountants; Doctors vs Lawyers, and such like, shone through full page advertisements in the Parsi community’s favourite newspaper Jam-e-Jamshed. Mumbai’s leading cultural centre, The National Centre For Performing Arts (NCPA), joined the bandwagon to launch this one-of-its-kind competition.

It generated quite an excitement in the community and finally we had a few groups and a lot of aspiring individuals eager to have a go at the best play trophy named after the veteran playwright-director Adi Marzban. Loads of other prizes for best actor, writer, director etc were announced to draw more entries. The groups called themselves Blazing Fire, Big Bang Production, Nautanki Bawaas etc. In all, 100 actors took part, mostly the newcomers. Thirteen teams battled out at the elimination rounds, which were judged by two veteran Parsi actors Bomi Dotiwala and Kurush Deboo and a present-day actress Meher Acharya.

Five plays have been selected for the finals to be held at Tata Theatre this week. These will be judged by an expert panel consisting of Sooni Taraporevala (the Padma Shri awardee director-writer-photographer), Feroze Khan (the director of iconic plays like Tumhari Amrita and Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai, and Sohrab Ardeshir (US-trained actor last seen in The God of Carnage.

So my friends this bawa has been pretty busy with Draame Bawaas, but soon will be back with stories from Dubai and his 80-plus future journey!!

Published on DNA