Parsis once dominated English theatre
Parsis have led the way in English and Gujarati theatre since the 1940s, the decades between 1944 and 2000 being the most illustrious. Using laughter as its driving force, Parsi theatre combined commerce with engaging storytelling.
Ruby and Burjor, now 82 and 85 respectively, starred in writer-director Adi Marzban’s rollicking Gujarati comedies till the mid-1960s. They then joined the Parsi wing of the Indian National Theatre (INT), wowing audiences with hilarious hits such as Tirangi Tehmul, Gher Ghungro Ne Ghotalo, Oogi Dahpun Ni Dadh and Hello Inspector. INT was conceived from prison a few years before 1947 by jailed freedom fighters and scholars Damu Jhaveri, Rohit Dave, Chandrakant Dalal and Mansukh Joshi. Confident that the country was on the verge of liberation, the patriots were keen to script its cultural policy.
After the vibrant INT years (1968-78), the Patels delivered a string of successful plays under the banner of Burjor Patel Productions, delighting Gujarati and English theatre buffs alike. The couple left for Dubai in 1988, where Burjor headedKhaleej Times’ marketing operation. They returned to Mumbai in 2009.
Shernaz, 51, their middle child, is to the theatre born. Cutting her teeth on backstage bustle while most children spent Sundays at the movies, she was happiest playing hide-and-seek with her siblings in the corridors and green rooms of Bombay’s premier stage halls. “We ran through men sticking on moustaches and women draping chiffon saris,” she recalls. “There was always laughter, chai, batata wadas and this wonderful close spirit of family only those in theatre understand.”
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