Nostalgia was the lead player. Tuesday night, and the Tata theatre was packed to the rafters. There was room left only for laughter. Laughter in the House revived the magic of Adi Marzban whose plays and musical revues had kept all of Gujarati-speaking Bombay in splits for over 30 years. In the process, this multiple genius bestowed on the community two of its abiding cachets. The cliche of the lovable, old eccentric and the unique–and envied-reputation of being a people able to laugh at themselves.
By Bachi Karkaria | Times of India
Both attributes were alive, well and kicking up a storm that rambunctious night at the NCPA. The succession of gags, skits and songs, all from Adi Marzban’s staggering corpus. was directed by Sam Kerawalla, who had begun working with the theatre legend ever since ‘I passed out of SSC’, and is now a sprightly 80.
Adding to the production’s charm, quality and instant connect with the audience was the participation of so many of the old troupers who had become as much of a household word as ‘Apro Adu’: Ruby and Burjor Patel, Dolly and Bomi Dotiwala, Scheherazade and Rohinton Mody, Villoo Panthaky Kapadia, Moti Antia, Jerry Kumana, Pervez Mehta and Dinyar Contractor.
Some of them had returned to the stage after three decades. And while the likes of Scherezade and Jerry could no longer play their eye-candy roles, it was immediately clear that they had lost neither their talent or their spunk. The vintage production was sparked off by Meher Marfatia’s much-lauded coffee table book on Parsi theatre, Laughter In The House.
The young Jim Vimadalal kept up the pace as MC, and pretty, short-skirted actors took over the part of the ‘Fatakdi’ femme fatale who was as much a staple of Marzban’s plays as the domineering wife, henpecked husband, feisty grandfather, bumbling Irani servant, the Maharashtrian ‘ganga’, and the wastrel son. Hormuzd Khambatta’s troupe of skin-and-sequins dancers provided the high-energy higher-decibel glitz which has become the life-support of today’s entertainment. But the evening belonged to the golden oldies on stage, and in the audience. And no one on the disadvantaged side of the divide would have dared dispute that the night was still young.
Much of the evergreen quality came from the songs from the Gori-Gori and Jamaican Farewell’genre which Adi Marzban would spoof up with more relevant-and funnier- lyrics. And the eager audience, triumphant at having managed a ticket for this long-sold-out show, responded uproariously right from the first note struck by the band, led by Adi Marzban’s own conductor and musician, Marazban Mehta. Like his mentor and so many of the cast, he boasts a venerable artistic pedigree.
So after the young and lovely Farah Ghadiali poured out Come back to Sorrento in heart-wrenching soprano, the thespian Bomi Dotiwala, complete with dagla and striped bazaar bag, shuffled up the stage steps demanding to sing his version: a hilarious Tehmina tu pachhi ao, calling for the return of his runaway wife.
Boman Irani, who had auditioned for Adi at age 12, sang that historic song, the eternal tear-jerker, Danny Boy, and included the little-known second verse which the redoubtable Uma Pocha had written out for him in that long-ago age. The oldest of the Sami Sisters was married to Jimmy, a great comic actor of the Marzban brand. She was in the front row, and came up on stage to give Boman a hug and throw a kiss ‘to my Adi and Jimmy’ who surely were preening over that evening from the great audience in the sky.
Marzban’s slapstick qawwali pitted the bordered-sari women against the pyjama-ed and red velvet topi-ed men in the gender war which was the underlying current of this cult oeuvre. It brought down the curtain and the house.
The afterglow continued as the audience in retro frocks and replaced knees negotiated the grand staircase of the Tata Theatre and into raucous reality, Parsi theatre has deteriorated into vulgar corn. The Parsis are depressed by tedious arguments and ailments. But for that brief and shining moment, there was a reminder of a Camelot when the iconic Adi Marzban regaled a community which could belly-laugh at itself.