What keeps the theatre going? “Humour is the soul of Parsi theatre. I personally see it this way — there would be someone in the audience whom I would be able to touch with my performance and make him/her laugh. What makes Parsi theatre unique is, there are few professionals. All the performers have a day job and thus it is more about love. All my performances are for charity,” said Karanjia.
“Mumbai, then Bombay, was naturally the epicentre of activities as the theatre benefited from versatile artists and directors such as Kekashru Kabraji who even performed Hindu stories such as Harishchandra and Taramati and brought the families to the theatre. There used to be cradles outside theatres to pacify children. The performances used to last for entire night as more often than not actors had to give in to ‘once more’ requests for specific scenes and songs,” said Karanjia.
Dadi Patel brought in a sweeping change by introducing women for the first time as women characters in his play Indrasabha. “It became such a scandal that the shows were performed with policemen outside. By the end of 19th century, Parsis also started Urdu play for the first time. With Adi Marzban, modern Parsi theatre was born in 1950s. The drama got concise with modern techniques and sharper social commentary,” said Karanjia.
He says that in past half century, the theatre has got sustained by a number of talented actors while being affected by the wave of change in Gujarati theatre at large. “But today the youth aspire for Broadway, which is not wrong. The theatre presents a slice of life of Parsi and thus has remained integral part of Parsi culture across the globe. There were apprehensions even when TV came about future of cinema but like other mediums, the plays have also sustained themselves and evolved with time,” he said.