Laws of acting

Senior council by day, theatre artist by evening and a tango dancer by night, at 68, Darius Shroff harbours many loves

With a handshake, Senior Counsel, Bombay High Court, Darius Shroff welcomes us into a 90-year-old cottage in Juhu. We are already in love with the well-manicured garden and docile pet that hides behind a tree. “Brownie adopted us 11 years ago after being abused at the beach, but he’s still petrified around strangers,” he says.

Shroff was last seen in the Akshay Kumar-starrer, Gold, where he played Mr Wadia, president of the Indian Hockey Federation. “In hindsight, maybe I played him too grim,” says Shroff, 68. The two films he did before this were insignificant. “Less said the better,” he smiles as we enter the study scattered with period furniture. But he has thankfully had a prosperous theatre innings fuelled by opportunities from veterans Sam Kerawala, Adi Marzban and Alyque Padamsee.

Shroff inherited the love for acting from his mother who used to act in Ebrahim Alkazi’s plays. His aunt Jer Jussawalla used to train children in speech, drama and theatre. It’s here that Shroff received training at age seven. “She trained me through school in elocution and it has stood me well. I think my voice, and the way it carries a message, is thanks to her. Of course, eventually it is the content [that matters]. If you have a good voice and are talking rubbish, no one will accept it after five minutes.”

Sam Kerawala first picked him up for I Want Coconuts where Shroff played an 80-year-old hobo. Kerawala was also the manager of Patkar Hall, a popular drama venue in Marine Lines, so, he often gave them the space for rehearsals. Then, Padamsee cast him in Man of La Mancha, a musical where he played Sancho. “I really loved that one. Great role, great director, great play. In 1983, I got the opportunity to do Accidental Death of an Anarchist where I played the lead,” tells Shroff.

After that, for 25 years, he didn’t act. Life had got in the way.

Interestingly, the highly successful law professional wasn’t a great student. “My grandfather was a lawyer practising in Amravati. Somehow, his practise never took off and he came to Bombay to be a share broker. I didn’t know what to do so I joined law. Then I met one of the most brilliant lawyers, Atul Setalvad, at a party organised by his sister. When I told him I was studing law, he laughed, ‘I thought you were only interested in theatre and running after girls; why don’t you come see me?’ That is how I got into his chamber.”

In 2008, director Nadir Khan called Shroff for Noise Is Off. An opportunity he is forever grateful for. “I was dying for someone to call me and when Nadir did, I was apprehensive. The cast members knew each other, but eventually, we warmed up and the show did reasonably well,” says Shroff.

Next, Raell Padamsee cast him in Sound of Music where he played Uncle Max. “I thought I’ll do one play a year but then it became two and sometimes, more.” Sound of Music had 30 shows. Silly Point Productions was doing Buckingham Secret and their Prince Charles had walked out. Shroff came in on an eight-day notice. After that was Gandhi the Musical and then The Relationship Agreement where, interestingly, he played a solicitor. “Merzad Patel [director] had written it keeping me in mind.”

Between law and English theatre, Shroff happily makes time for Gujarati nataks. “To call them plays wouldn’t be quite right. These are simple, silly comedies which the Parsis enjoy. They laugh their guts out, go out for dinner and reminisce how silly it all was and laugh even more.”

Acting does interfere with work and sometimes it means, “that I have to work that much longer or let go of cases. Theatre doesn’t pay but it is my passion. I don’t think it’s difficult: dates get adjusted and performances are usually on weekends.”

Weekend nights are also reserved for tango. Both Shroff and his wife, Sonja, are tango aficionados. But that his children—a graphic artist daughter in London and a lawyer son in Mumbai—have not imbibed their father’s passions, bothers him. “It hurts right here,” he says pointing to his heart. “My son says, ‘Please pops, don’t be so melodramatic!'”

So, when it’s just him and Sonja, time is spent in the garden, lit up in the evenings to look wonderfully whimsical. Or they listen to jazz or classical western. “Anything but Bollywood!” he says. Sometimes, they head out for Milonga, a social event dedicated to tango. “And, we attend Tasty Tuesdays in town. It’s a dance evening. By the time we are back home in Juhu, it’s 1 am and I usually have an early morning the next day. But I enjoy it.”

Coming up next is a show of Devil Wears Bataa, a fictitious take on how the “Indian and American governments share something comedic in common without realising it. That is, until they meet of course.”

He says, “See you there.”

Published on Mid-Day