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Understanding 20th century Parsi theatre

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During 1857- 1930 big theatre companies which were largely owned by Parsi business community flourished which used to showcase plays in Gujarati, Hindi and Urdu languages.

In the early 1900s, some Parsi theatre producer switched off to new media called by bioscope and ultimately became film producers.

understanding-20th-century-parsi-theatre-920x518Parsi communities life has theatre as its integral part as Parsis Navroze, their New Year is not completed without a visit to you agiary(fire temple) in the morning, grand festive lunch with the family during noon and watching a Parsi Gujarati Natak in the evening.

Many well-known personalities like Mumbai-based journalist Mehar Marfatia have expertly documented the history of Parsi theatre dating from 19 30 – 2000 in her coffee- table book, titled ‘Laughter in the house!’. It is around 285 pages hardbound book in which Meher has clubbed colourful photographs of senior Parsi actors.

Besides the book, there is an audio cassette in which Parsi qawwalis have been featured along with several other songs that give the book a treasured status for those who love to explore Parsi theatre.

The book has been designed in such a chronological order that it’s like walking through the history of Parsi cinema. It begins with an introduction to the Elphinstone College in Mumbai where the dramatic Club of the college performed Shakespeare.

The first Parsi theatre company was called as Parsi Natak Mandali which performed its first play name Roostom Zabooli and Sohrab in 1853. Urdu was the most widely used language in Parsi theatre.

In early days Parsi theatre presented Indianised version of Shakespeare’s play and travelled across North India showcasing them in Hindustani language.

According to the book, the period of 1853- 1969 itself witnessed as many as 20 Parsi theatre groups which performed in the city of Mumbai alone.

These theatre groups performed prominent plays like Raja Harishchandra. Around 4000 shows of this play were showcased in various theatres from the period 1892- 1922.

The popularity of Parsi theatre can be judged from the fact that Bomanji kabraji, ‘Baap Na Shraap’ play ran for 500 nights with the front row seat tickets being sold for Rs 4 in those days and was black marketed for around Rs22 which was certainly a very big amount during that era.

Adi Marzban was one of the most dynamic and ideal Parsi theatre personalities during the 20th century. His play Piroja Bhavan in 1954 is responsible for the birth of modern Parsi theatre. This play was based on contemporary topics added with the flavour of humour.

Other famous theatre personalities who were famous during that era like Marzban were Sam Kerawalla, Ruby and Burjor Patel, Scheherazade and Rohinton Mody, Dolly and Bhumi Dotiwala, Dadi Sarkari, etc.

Parsi theatre was the blend of realism, humour, stagecraft, music, dance, songs, fantasy, narrations and spectacles. It was also popular in parts of Southeast Asia where it was called Wyang Parsi.

In 1981, Mumbai based theatre director, Nadira Babbar started her theatre venture ‘Ekjute’ with the production of the play ‘ Yahudi ki Ladki’ which is responsible for reviving the Parsi theatre style and is still considered as one of the best.

Published on IWMBuzz