Two top names from Mumbai's theatre scene bond over a Brazilian meal

Updated: Jan 30, 2018, 09:34 IST | Snigdha Hasan

Mumbai's theatre scene is abuzz with avenues for performance and learning stagecraft. Two names at the forefront of it, Quasar Thakore Padamsee and Jehan Manekshaw, break bread over all things theatre

Quasar Padamsee (left) and Jehan Manekshaw enjoy a Brazilian meal at Boteco in BKC. Pics/Sneha Kharabe
Quasar Padamsee (left) and Jehan Manekshaw enjoy a Brazilian meal at Boteco in BKC. Pics/Sneha Kharabe

Over a Lunchbox conversation, it's not uncommon to watch guests bond over a common passion. The trajectory of the creative exchange between Quasar Thakore Padamsee and Jehan Manekshaw, however, is also indicative of the collaborative energy that runs through the city's vibrant theatre circuit today. While Jehan's decision to return to Mumbai from London to pursue a career in theatre was based on the reassurance offered by one of Quasar's productions he watched, Thespo, the youth theatre festival that Quasar co-founded in 1999, often sees participation by the students of Jehan's The Drama School Mumbai (DSM).

Boteco

One of their many collaborations is the upcoming series of workshops on physical theatre that will be held across cities in India. As the two theatrewallahs catch up over a meal at a BKC restaurant, several names from Mumbai's art circuit surface in their conversation; a heartwarming affirmation of how close-knit and symbiotic the community has grown to be.

Boteco

Quasar: When we started out, theatre in Mumbai was like anything else with minor resources. So, you became insular — my actors, my dates, my space, my ironing person — and it was needed then to survive. Over time, actors began to freelance. At the younger generation level, a network started forming. Someone like an Arghya (Lahiri) was directing one play, lighting another and doing sound for someone else's play, all within a festival scenario. That changed how we worked with each other.

Jehan: The nice thing about Bombay theatre today is that there is interconnectedness. He entered the scene a lot before I did. And I never experienced this cliquey-ness, thanks to the groundwork that QTP [Quasar's company] had laid in their founding years.

Boteco

Quasar: And what DSM students are doing is showing up theatre veterans! Much as we love it, theatre is the second thing you do, because you are doing something else to put food on the table, so, the discipline gets slack. When these students turn up on time and prepared, others realise what they have to match.

Boteco

Chef-co-owner Guto Souza gladly plays guide, and suggests an assorted platter of coxinha, pork momos, salmon gravlax, camarao Copacabana and pao de queijo com linguica , and escondidinho for starters, and mix grill.
Jehan : Why don't you tear into this [escondidinho]?
Quasar: We are on a date, Jehan. You take half; I take half. I think more importantly, there are two left-wingers eating beef. That's a real statement.
Jehan: I think it's buff.
Quasar: Of course, it's buff.

Boteco

Snigdha: So where does food fit in for theatrewallahs?
Quasar: My mother loves feeding people, and she knows that theatre people are hungry. No matter how much food you keep backstage, it's never enough.
Jehan: I had been to Chennai recently, where I watched rehearsals of a young theatre company. A theatre veteran would drop by with sandwiches every day because he believed in their work.
Quasar: In fact, there is something called Moonlight Cafe in Mumbai, which is run by a bunch of actors who all like to cook on the side. It is a formalisation of what used to happen at rehearsals.

Quasar Padamsee
Quasar Padamsee

Jehan: You know, the word company comes from compania, which means to eat together. And a theatre company is a company of people who eat together.
Quasar: Theatre is one of those few areas where you work as a community to create something. Theatre makes people better.
Jehan: If you are sitting on the magic potion to make a universe full of better human beings, then shouldn't it be the job of theatrewallahs to make a bigger impact (beyond the stage)? Everyone can do with a few drama workshops.

Jehan Manekshaw
Jehan Manekshaw

Snigdha: You have both taken theatre beyond Mumbai. How do you see it at a pan-Indian level?
Quasar: For theatre in India, everything that's true, the exact opposite is also true. What, however, the country needs as it gets urbanised is more small community spaces. You need more Prithivis across India because we are building soulless cities. These spaces are now coming up in Bombay, thanks to artiste-led initiatives. And that is really interesting.
Jehan: I was on a panel discussion with this gentleman and what occurred to me was within a 3-km radius of the Royal Opera House, there are eight to 10 auditoriums, which basically makes it a theatre district. Why can't it be that one of the key things that anybody who visits Mumbai does is catch a play in the theatre district like they would in London or New York? That would be something.

Quick takes
Favourite theatre spaces in the city:
Jehan: Experimental Theatre and Prithvi. I also like G5A and Dr AN Bhalerao Auditorium at the Mumbai Marathi Sahitya Sangh, which is acoustically beautiful.
Quasar: Harkat Studios, partly because of the programming and the vibe of the space. Prithvi, of course, and when done right, the Experimental Theatre is magical.

If you were to write about a play set in contemporary India:
Jehan: I don't know what the play would be about. But what I want to do is give people a handle that allows them to reconnect with themselves and make sense of how they are going to exist in the world as it is right now.
Quasar: I am getting increasingly worried about our lack of empathy as a nation, the lack of support for the underdog, which translates to majoritarian politics, where we are now. I am very scared.
Jehan: And centuries of history have told us that the majority isn't always right.

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