An ode to the man of love

Alyque Padamsee tells Ananya Ghosh that his adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar is as relevant as ever

Forty years ago, theatre veteran Alyque Padamsee brought Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s path-breaking rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar (JCS) to the Indian stage. In 1974, the lavish production had a cast of almost 70 performers and 50 members backstage. In an attempt to “destroy the idea of the proscenium” Padamsee designed a set that boasted of a 100-foot wide cross running over the first few rows and the performance spilled over to this makeshift cross. The grandeur, however, didn’t overshadow the play’s message — that of peace, love and harmony.

Jesus Christ Supersta and director  Alyque PadamseeA scene from Jesus Christ Supersta and director  Alyque Padamsee

The musical ran uninterrupted for over a year. In December 2014, the Padma Shri awardee revived the play and strived to push the envelope further. Choreographed by Shiamak Davar, the production’s new version has two different interpretations that are performed by two casts. “In the first interpretation, Jesus is played by a 33-year-old and in the other he is in his early 20s. The age difference brings in two different perspectives—in the former, Jesus is a matured man while in the latter, he is still vulnerable and at the threshold of acquiring greatness,” says Padamsee.

A reflection of society
The thespian elaborates that the present social scenario prompted him to revive the 40-year-old play. “In 1974, when I staged the production, it was one of the most chaotic periods in the history of modern India. It was just before the Emergency. JCS is a celebration of love and humanity and today the message the play conveys is relevant. The world has become a hotbed of hatred and violence. First it was the massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar and the terror attack at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris. The Bible says: Love thy neighbour as thyself. Intolerance is spreading like an epidemic,” he says.

Christ and Gandhi
The rock musical based loosely on the Passion of Christ is often critical about The Messiah. At a time when the basic right to freedom of speech and expression is under threat and artistes across the globe are facing the wrath of extremists, isn’t he scared to stage a play that has seen protests all over the world? “On the contrary, even in its first stint, my production had found support from the community. I remember priests and nuns watching the play sitting in front rows,” says Padamsee. He adds that he has drawn parallels between Christ and Mahatma Gandhi in JCS. “My play is about Jesus and not Christianity. It portrays Jesus as a man of love who is put to death by people of violence.”

Jesus Christ Superstar will be staged today at Bandra’s St Andrews Auditorium at 3.30 pm and 7.30pm

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