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The little lady with big ideas

On her 15th death anniversary, Pearl Padamsee's daughter, Raell, talks about the indomitable spirit of her mother who is known as the 'Giant Pixie' of Indian stage

Pearl Padamsee's life was far removed from stage and theatre. Her father was associated with the Freed-om movement and that ensured she went to college (St Xavier's College, Bombay) in khadi salwar kameez. But, that didn't stop her from joining the theatre club where she also met her future husband Alyque Padamsee. And that was just a beginning of an eventful journey.

Pearl Padamsee with her daughter Raell whose production house has put together a retrospective of Pearl's best plays. Titled Celebrating Pearl… the Giant Pixie, it will be staged at NCPA's TATA theatre at 7.30 pm this Friday
Pearl Padamsee with her daughter Raell whose production house has put together a retrospective of Pearl's best plays. Titled Celebrating Pearl… the Giant Pixie, it will be staged at NCPA's TATA theatre at 7.30 pm this Friday 

However, it was not until 1971 that Pearl decided to actively join theatre and produce her own plays. It was a time when theatre was still considered a male bastion and there she was all of five-feet commanding her own shows. "People adored her so much that they were always ready to help her out. She wanted to stage her first play, The Serpent, at a church and managed to get the permission from the pastor of Scots Kirk," says her daughter Raell Padamsee.

Pearl was known to come up with weird ideas but everyone had immense faith in this little woman with big ideas. "She wanted to put silver foil on the entire floor of the church for the show. I still have no clue what she had in mind, but we were all summoned and put to work. I was hardly eight or nine years old then and it seemed very bizarre to me.

But, there was no questioning her," says Raell, who calls this foiling-the-floor experience one of the most vivid memories from her childhood and also one of her first lessons in theatre where every team member is supposed to know and pitch in for every kind of work.

From the very beginning, Pearl loved to experiment with large spaces and while this on one hand translated into some spectacular extravaganzas, it also meant huge production costs. "She loved to mount her plays in innovative ways and on a lavish scale. She had no sponsors. But every time she put up a play, the shows would go houseful. I still don't know how she managed to do that," wonders Raell.

However, she was a very hard taskmaster. "There was no way you could land at the rehearsals without knowing your lines. She insisted that all the actors wear the right kind of footwear as that not only helped them get their gait right, but also gave one an accurate idea of his or her height in relation to the other actors on stage,"says Raell.

Apart from her theatre and her robust laughter, she was known for was her cooking and Raell recounts an incident that not only reflects her passion for cooking but also her unyielding nature. "Our house at Bella Terrace would leak every monsoon. And inspite of fixing it each year, we would still be running around placing pots and pans to collect the dripping water. My mom was short and needed a stool to reach the pots whenever she was cooking.

Once I came home and was welcomed by a hilarious sight. There she was, standing on her stool, stirring the broth with her ladle, and right next to her was our governess holding an umbrella over her head! It was pouring, and Bella Terrace was being Bella Terrace, and my mom was being... well just herself — the indomitable Pearl everybody treasured," says Raell with a smile.

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