For Farah Ghadialy (27), Parsi New Year has always been about tradition. The day begins with prayer at the fire temple and ends with a family celebration in the one way that Parsis love — watching a play. The Parsi-Gujarati genre, known for its popular comedies, usually draws packed audiences during the community’s New Year week in August, the only time such plays are staged.
"People like a good laugh and want to revive their culture on festival days, so families buy tickets in bulk," said Ghadialy, a marketing professional who will be on stage herself this Parsi New Year on August 19, acting in Sam Kerawalla’s play Hasa Has.
It will be staged at the National Centre for Performing Arts in memory of Adi Marzban, the theatre veteran who wrote plays in the 1950s and 60s when Parsi families would visit the theatre on a weekly basis.
"But today, Parsi theatre groups are struggling to keep even seasonal theatre alive," said Cyrus Dastoor, founder of Universal Theatres which is coming out with two comedies this season — Just Don’t Do It in English and Aay Karastan Konu? in Gujarati.
While Gujarati commercial theatre is thriving with weekly shows for the public and several shows for private societies and ladies’ clubs, Dastoor said there were few takers for Parsi theatre groups.
"There are few Parsi-Gujarati writers because the youth is moving towards English. And the audience, too, mostly comprises the elderly," he said.
Kerawalla, nostalgic about the "good old days" of Marzban when Parsi plays were often long musicals, said this was inevitable in a community whose numbers have dwindled to 65,000 in Mumbai. "Also, theatre has grown too expensive for many; the New Year is the only time they’ll patronise it."