Lily Don’t be Silly


September 30, 2006

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Art | Theater

For Parsis, the New Year play is an annual family tradition…and there’s one enthusiast who’s giving out 500 free tickets!

August 18: Philandering husband Savak finds it tough to manage with wife Lily in one room and girlfriend Lily in the other. In slapstick style he avoids what could potentially be a hazardous three’s company. The flagship scene from Dinyar Tirandaz’s new potboiler Lily Don’t be Silly comes with a high cringe quotient on any given Sunday, but on August 20, Parsi New Year, the actors will play to a full house.

An annual tradition, as old as the origins of Parsi theatre in Bombay, the Navroze natak is typically a light-hearted comedy. ”I tell my regulars, bheja fridge mein rakh ke aana,” says Tirandaz, who’s been performing New Year plays for almost 20 years.

For this production, patron and advocate Shahrukh Kathawalla has blocked 550 seats at Tejpal Auditorium. But the altruistic lawyer doesn’t intend to join the crowd. He’s already adverstised in the Parsi Sunday paper, Jam-e-Jamshed, to distribute the tickets free to the city’s Zoroastrian community. ”I want everyone to enjoy themselves without worrying about money,” he says.

Parsi plays first hit the city with a production of Rustom and Sohrab in the 1850s. Subsequently, skits opened in theatres like the Baliwalla Grand with no air conditioners or frills. ”Sometimes, actors even brought along their own curtains,” says playwright Ramu Ramanathan, in an article for the National School of Drama journal, Theatre India. The commercial success of Parsi theatre paved the way for the film industry in India.

Today, putting on a show for a Parsi-majority crowd on Navroze is a checklist affair. Not only must the play be funny, but the auditorium must have strong air-conditioning, spotless toilets and great parking. Plus, the final bow needs to be taken before 9 pm so that guests can make dinner plans.

Director Dinyar Contractor, notorious for his Gujarati comedies, is showing his new production Tame Hastu Modhu Rakho at the Sophia Bhabha Hall. ”I get calls asking about the logistics of the hall that I’m planning to hire. They won’t come otherwise,” he laughs.

While sexual innuendoes, buxom castmembers and mistaken identities are the evergreen ingredients of a successful comedy, for performers like Pervez Mehta, New Year is a time to toast his old mentor, the late Adi Marzban, who transformed Parsi theatre post-Independence, with much needed realism.

This year it’s Aye Calender Konnu, a comedy on artificial insemination, in which Mehta played the role of the doctor during Marzban’s time and at the age of 73, will take centrestage again. ”Many of my actors and director Sam Kerawalla are stalwarts from Marzban’s troupe,” he says.

In its heydays in the ’40s, Parsi productions were big-budget affairs enacted at theatres like Bhulabhai Desai auditorium and the erstwhile Bhangwadi.

Now, both funding and crowds are in short supply. But on Parsi New Year, a peek into Mumbai’s theatres, greeted with roaring laughter, confirms that

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