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PEPPING UP PARSI THEATRE

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sillypointThe men behind Silly Point Productions, which turns 10 this year, on bringing freshness to Parsi-Gujarati plays, and their latest production which premieres tonight.

Silly Point Productions staged its first Parsi-Gujarati play in 2012. Screwala No Dhilo Screw was an adaptation of their English play, Rusty Screws, and when it was staged on Navroze, people said nobody would turn up. The founders of the theatre group struggled to fill up the 1,000-seater Tata Theatre at the NCPA. In the end, while there were more people in the audience than they expected, the play still bombed.

Six years down the line, though, the group’s founders — St Mary alumni Meherzad Patel, Danesh Irani, Sajeel Parakh and Danesh Khambata and Cathedral alumnus Darayus Subedar — are among those being credited with reviving Parsi-Gujarati theatre.

A decade ago, say theatre veterans, while Parsi theatre was present in the city, audiences were more interested in English plays. And, this is where a young group like Silly Point Productions stepped in and got the young audiences from the community interested in Parsi-Gujarati theatre again.

“In olden days, people were not very happy encouraging younger people to take part, and would try to put them down. But these boys have brought back the freshness which was essential in Parsi-Gujarati theatre,” says veteran thespian Sam Kerawalla, who has worked extensively with Khambata and Irani, and also co-directed Matida Noh Malido with Patel last August.

“When we started doing these plays, there was no Parsi-Gujarati theatre happening as such. It was not only dying, it was going for dialysis every week. Not that the plays were bad, there was nothing fresh,” says Irani. Since 2012, the group has staged more than 12 plays, including I’m Bawa and I know it, which raised questions about certain attitudes of the community and the taboo of homosexuality in the 21st century, Bunglaa Mah Bungli, a horror-comedy set in the Tower of Silence, and Pakar Maari Poochri, a comedy play that revolves around a recently-divorced man. “The audience went crazy and applauded when the marriage scene (between Irani and Khambata) was played out. They all realised while the play was going on that it’s not really unheard of,” says Irani of I’m Bawa…

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Sajeel, Irani and Patel did their first play together in college, in 2008. Like Dat Only was about six teenagers and their struggles. By the time, their other compatriots joined them, Silly Point was already up and running. Subedar says he chose to helm the business side of the group, because “there needs to be someone to bring the creative types back to earth and tell them that the umbers don’t add up”.

Patel says that people often tell him that he initiated the formation of the group, but refuses to take credit for it. “I initiated it, but it means nothing. I would have nothing without all of them.”

The camaraderie, which is quite evident within the group, will help them complete a decade in theatre this August. “In 2016, during Gandhi — The Musical’s technical rehearsals, Khambata and I were screaming at each other on the cordless mic. At 3 am, we are abusing each other in Gujarati. Khambata was the director and he was losing it because the light arrangements weren’t done, which meant that he would get less stage time for rehearsal. And I understood that and we worked through it. I’m sure if it was someone else, they wouldn’t know what to do, or a third person would think that we would never work with each other again,” says Irani.

Silly Point’s latest production is Laughter Therapy, which premieres tonight and stars Parakh, Irani, Khambata with Mona Singh and Siddharth Merchant. The comedy, part of their 10th anniversary celebrations, is about the interactions between a doctor and four patients at a therapy session.

Patel is clear that even though they embrace their Parsi identity, they don’t want to get branded as a Parsi theatre group. “We’re proud and happy about our stranglehold over the Parsi-Gujarati theatre community, but we are more than that. We are about English theatre as well,” says Patel, who has written and directed their popular English plays, The Class Act and The Buckingham Secret. The group is known for mostly exploring the comedy genre; however, Patel has an explanation for that. “Making people laugh is hard but making them come to watch a serious play is even harder. Comedy is a star in itself. When the time is right, we will do it, there’s no rush.”

Published on Mumbai Mirror