Mirth anniversary

Updated: Oct 06, 2019, 07:20 IST | Rahul da Cunha |

Way before Richard Attenbourough made a star out of Ben Kingsley, I was the original Gandhi

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Rahul da Cunha

So, the Father of the Nation destroyed my acting career. Okay, let me re-phrase that. The Father of the Nation destroyed my stage acting career.

Let me explain this blasphemous statement. Way before Richard Attenbourough made a star out of Ben Kingsley, I was the original Gandhi. The year was 1972, and yours truly was cast as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

It was the annual school play, and I was 10 years old.

Clearly, the leading roles were the Mahatma's and Nathuram Godse's.

Rehearsals were in full swing. D-day was approaching and there was stress in the system. The problem was my inability to remember my lines.

A combination of a bad memory, and an attractive Kasturba, was distracting me.

I could hear Mrs Mahablesharwalla, our drama teacher whispering nervously to Mrs Darukhanawalla, our school principal: "Problem che, the boy can't remember his dialogue… su karech, Mrs Darukhanawalla? Shall we get a promptor, should we scatter chits with the dialogue all over the stage? Bol bol."

"I have a better idea, Siloo," the ever resourceful Mrs Darukhanwalla suggested, "…let's give all the lines to Jignesh."

"Giving all Gandhi's lines to the boy who's playing Nathuram Godse, odd lagech no?"

"No no. I mean let us switch the focus of the play, so we see the life of Bapu, through the killer's eyes. So that daCunha boy has minimum dialogue."
Minimum dialogue was pared down to two words, "Hey Ram".

The big day dawned. October 2, 1972, Gandhi Jayanti. As hundreds of children and teachers filled into the school hall, to witness the last days of the Greatest Indian who had ever lived.

The lights dimmed and the play began. Nothing untoward happened in Act 1, except for General Dyer's khakhi shirts falling off as he was about ask his soldiers to shoot.

But finally, we came to the climax. I began my walk down towards a cardboard cut out of Birla House, Jignesh 'Godse' Goradia blocked my path and shot me in the chest,
while improvisong with a vocal, 'dishkayon'.

As I began my fall backwards, everyone gasped and waited for those two dying words, lo and behold, I forgot them.

Perhaps it was the pain of the imaginary bullets, perhaps the Maganlal Dresswalla dhoti had been tied on too tight, perhaps with the perspiration my wig was beginning to slip, perhaps I couldn't hear the prompter, the truth is, I forgot to say, "Hey Ram". But presence of mind kicked in and I died wordlessly.

Obviously the funeral scene followed, I was about to be lifted onto the pyre made up of red and yellow gel paper. And I then recalled the words. True professional that I was, I uttered them, albeit as a dead man.

A tragedy became a comedy as scores of school children doubled up in laughter. That, then, was the end of my acting career.

And so, while we celebrate Bapu's 150th birth anniversary, please dear reader, also acknowledge what would also have been my 47th year jubilee of playing the Mahatma.

Rahul daCunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahul.dacunha@mid-day.com

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