Journalist Meher Marfatia still recalls how, as a child, she was taken along by her aunts to watch the doyen of Parsi theatre, Adi Marzban’s plays. The plays were satires on society but were laden with generous doses of comedy and humour. The performances had such an indelible impact on her mind that last year, she penned Laughter In the House: 20th Century Parsi Theatre, which chronicled the history of the Parsi theatre from 1930 to 2000 and was a ready reckoner for anyone who wanted to know everything about the iconic actors and directors.
This book proved to be a catalyst for Laughter In The House: A Tribute to Adi Marzban on the theatre veteran’s 98th birth anniversary on April 17 this year at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA). The nostalgia show, directed by veteran Sam Kerawalla, comprised an evening of hilarious gags, sketches, songs, music and the original Parsi Qawaali penned by Marzban. It featured yesteryear actors Ruby and Burjor Patel, Dolly and Bomi Dotiwala and Scheherazade and Rohinton Mody, to name a few, as well as the younger crop of Parsi actors.
The show, which premiered on a weekday, got such a stupendous response from Parsis as well as Gujarati-speaking audiences that the organisers will now stage its second show on June 9 at the NCPA.
Actor Burjor Patel, one of the co-producers of the show, who had worked with Marzban closely over the years, reminisces, “I was just out of college and started working with him. We had an association for 12 years and I learnt the art of acting from him. He taught me how to project my voice and the significance of body movements. He had a knack of extracting the best performances from his artistes.”
Patel admits that Kerawalla, who had worked with Marzban for two decades, was a natural choice to helm the tribute, which showcased some of the most prominent works of the legend since the ’60s.
The organisers also decided to rope in younger actors to familiarise them with Marzban’s works and the history of Parsi theatre. Patel explains, “It was a logical move since we couldn’t possibly play the roles that we had essayed when we were in our twenties. So, we needed younger actors and decided to cast the brightest of the lot.”
Patel, Marfatia and Kerawalla started off by perusing the scripts of Marzban’s plays and picked the best of the lot. Later, they incorporated songs, gags and qawwalis to give a wholesome experience to the audience. “The idea was to show the best of Marzban’s works within a span of two hours. We also decided to have a compere who would explain to the audience about the proceedings since the show started off with a song, moved into a gag and later had qawwalis.”
The entire cast and crew had to rehearse for two months, as it called for extensive synchronisation and featured musicians, lighting and choreographed dances. However, everyone associated with the show exclaims that it has been a wonderful experience. While it gave the veterans a chance to relive their glorious past, the youngsters were initiated into the rich world of Parsi theatre, about which they had only heard from their parents and grandparents. Danish Irani, who had heard tales of Marzban’s works from his grandparents, says, “It was an absolute delight to work with Sam Kerawalla and the veteran actors, dance to the songs and tunes composed by Marzban and experience this vintage world of Parsi theatre.”