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Father-daughter Alyque and Shazahn Padamsee exchange notes on love

'Legend of Lovers' is Alyque Padamsee's 76th play, and Shazahn's first major stage role. Check out the father-daughter discuss working together and exchanging notes on love

At Sharon Prabhakar’s Pali Hill apartment, Alyque Padamsee holds court with the cast, producers and logisticians of his upcoming play. He is fastidious, means business and dismisses chitchat. As the meeting winds down, Alyque’s youngest daughter, Shazahn Padamsee, born to him and Sharon, saunters in breezily, wearing frayed shorts and a black tee. Her casual chic air plays off against Alyque’s stern demeanor. Father and daughter have come together in Legend of Lovers, which will be Alyque’s 76th directorial venture and Shazahn’s first major theatre role.

Directed by Alyque Padamsee, Legend of Lovers, which premieres in June, will have Shazhan Padamsee essay the role of Eurydice. PIC/Shadab Khan
Directed by Alyque Padamsee, Legend of Lovers, which premieres in June, will have Shazhan Padamsee essay the role of Eurydice. PIC/Shadab Khan

“I have never done theatre, except for a tiny little piece called Unspoken Dialogues in 2010, also directed by AP [that’s how the theatre fraternity calls Alyque]. I was a shy girl, a bad student, poor in studies and always considered the lazy one in the family,” says Shazahn, fiddling with her golden ochre tinted hair. Sharon’s living room, where the meeting teeters, is lined with blown up photographs of Shazahn, her hair windswept, her lips parted, seductive and innocuous, all at once. One photo even has a shiny drangonfly-like-thing embellishing the frame. "I was a little pampered princess and lived with that tag for a while. I was searching for something that didn’t require a lot of brain, and acting seemed like fun. Suddenly, films and ad offers happened. But now I am living consciously," she says.

Transformations
For the last three years, Shazahn has been practising Nichiren Daishonin Buddhism, what she calls a life changer. “I had been feeling this lack of creativity, and as I have grown into a woman [we break into giggles], I have become older and wiser,” she says. We have moved to her bedroom, where a desk is stacked with books, a newfound love, she admits. Beyond the door, Alyque’s deep voice echoes, and Sharon pops in, wondering if we need something.

Directed by Alyque Padamsee, Legend of Lovers, which premieres in June, will have Shazhan Padamsee essay the role of Eurydice. Pic/Shadab Khan

One can only imagine the pressure of growing up with Sharon, a former pop sensation and theatre artiste, and Alyque as parents. “AP used to hate the fact that I didn’t read. He used to say, ‘My daughter will never be intelligent, never be informed about life or what’s happening in her country if she doesn’t read!’ The best thing about Buddhism, he feels, is that I read a lot now,” she continues.

Alyque Padamsee and Sharon Prabhakar with an infant Shazhan
(From left) Actors Nishith Dhanak, Shazhan Padamsee, Mikhail Sen and Francois Castellino prepare under Alyque Padamsee’s directions for Legend of Lovers. PICs/SHADAB KHAN

Shazahn requests “Shains”, as she fondly refers to her mother, to get more of those chicken croissants we have been devouring. One of her many cravings. There are more. “I wanted to work in something super-intelligent, something really creative and not just entertainment,” says the actress of Sajid Khan’s Housefull 2, a big commercial success.

Her self-criticism is unwarranted and her doubts are assuaged when Alyque joins us, now a different man in his daughter’s company than the director in the living room. For all of Shazahn’s fierce appraisals of her past, Alyque replies, “She has a natural gift, and I have noticed that she is in touch with her emotional centre. This makes the difference between a good actor and a great actor. Shazahn is not a great actor yet, because she needs a lot of things like diction and breathing. But, she has what Marlon Brando had once said about being ‘in the moment’.”

(From left) Actors Nishith Dhanak, Shazhan Padamsee, Mikhail Sen and Francois Castellino prepare under Alyque Padamsee’s directions for Legend of Lovers. PICs/SHADAB KHAN
(From left) Actors Nishith Dhanak, Shazhan Padamsee, Mikhail Sen and Francois Castellino prepare under Alyque Padamsee’s directions for Legend of Lovers. PICs/SHADAB KHAN

Playtime
Alyque then offers a quote, from a Buddhist writer that he has recently heard, and Shazahn is impressed. But not as impressed as her father was, when Shazahn suggested that he direct Eurydice, a 1941 play by French writer Jean Anouillh. For the last one year, father and daughter have been rigorously in conversation, sometimes stretching up to four hours, about the characters, the themes, the hidden meanings behind lines. They are in sync, almost, mirroring each other’s sensibilities towards the play: Shazahn talks about ‘making the real unreal, and the unreal real’; Alyque goes on to say that the most unreal-real thing is falling in love.

The play, to be staged mid-June in Mumbai, under the title Legend of Lovers has Shazahn playing the lead as Eurydice. The play is produced by Sharon and Rhonesia D’Souza’s entertainment company, SPIPS.

It should bring together the best of Alyque’s and Shazahn’s worlds. Eurydice will float and do aerial stunts, and it has more to do with Alyque than Bollywood. Remember Jesus Christ Superstar? Or, when Alyque put Tantric witches in Macbeth?

Like with every venture which involves family, the Padamsee’s have had their share of roleplay. Shazahn shifts between ‘Dad’ during dinner outings and ‘AP’ at rehearsals. Alyque is the clearer of the two. “As father and daughter, we agreed to disagree. However, as director, there is no scope for that. If I say this is how you do it, that’s how you do it,” he says, his tone absolutely flat and calling himself a ‘Boss Father’.

Was Alyque a strict father? Shazahn says that she was young, about 15, Sharon and Alyque split. “Growing up, we didn’t have much of a relationship; I guess I was too young,” she says. “But I have a cool relationship with him now; my mother and he are like best friends. And he gives me great boyfriend advice,” she laughs, talking about how they got close three years ago, when she was going through a hard break-up. “I discussed it with my dad, who has got so much experience in this department, a little too much, might I add! He extracted gems of wisdom from his life and I applied those to mine,” she says.

Alyque didn’t try to route Shazahn into a life of theatre either, knowing that she grew up in an environment where the house itself was like a theatre. He recalls his childhood, when his brother Sultan aka Bobby, 10 years older to him, did a scene from The Merchant of Venice. “My sister would be stitching, another made posters, and some others practised dance steps — the whole thing was real-unreal,” he says, again hinting at Legend of Lovers. “The house was always full of strange people, spouting lines from Hindi plays or Shakespeare — it was magical. Shazahn has absorbed it too, and I didn’t try to teach it, since we were in an atmosphere like a lunatic asylum. My life is theatre!” he says.

It’s strange. Despite the many differences in their lives and sensibilities, father and daughter are more similar than we’d think. Shazahn hates being put in a box (“Work at this age, get married at this age. Phew!”) — a trait that resonates in Alyque (“‘Act your age’ — I hate that phrase!”).

His favourite memory of Shazahn — after he praises her performance in Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji, in which she starred opposite Ajay Devgn — was when she read a two-minute piece called Dragonfly. “It was the first time she actually got on a big stage. Tears came into her eyes. I suddenly said to myself that here is a kindred soul,” he says, his eyes closed and hands steepled.

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