Ad man and playwright Rahul da Cunha pays tribute to actor Bomi Kapadia, who died on Monday.
“When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” – Julius Caesar
I deeply regret not having worked enough with Bomi Kapadia. In my view, Bomi was perhaps the most gifted actor of his generation in the Mumbai English theatre. Early in my career, I cast Bomi in my first three plays — I was in my early 20s, he in his early 60s, this was the mid- to-late ’80s — there were nights I’d watch him perform, add little unobtrusive touches to stuff we’d worked on, and make those moments his own, in ways I’d never conceived of.
It was sometime in 1990, I remember telling him: “Boms, one day I’d like to direct you in Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming — Max, is you”. (Max is the 70 year old patriach of a dysfunctional, North London family, in perhaps Pinter’s greatest play).
Bomi thought about it, and asked rhetorically, with his famous drawl, “Raoool, it’s a tough part, bit sinister yes?”
“Yup, but you’re the only guy in the city who can pull it off”, I answered.
“You don’t have to sell it to me, let’s do it”, he said humbly.
Sadly, that day never came — partly because life got in the way, and partly because of my inability to fully understand the Master of Menace.
Every time we’d meet, he’d always remind me, “Raool, I’m waiting”, and he’d let out that laugh that became his trademark, on stage and off.
It was a play of mine that was being performed at the Prithvi — it just hadn’t gone according to plan, bad shows can go either way, actors can be off target for a night, conversely, audiences can be off mood for that performance — as the show ended, I had my face in my hands, the six actors trooped off stage, their bodies drooped, their heads bowed. Bomi brought up the rear, as he passed me, he said, “Raool! What to do, you win a few, you lose a few”, then threw his head back and let out that huge laugh, which I couldn’t help but appreciate. Two lessons learnt, you just cannot take every show personally, and always keep the humour going in the process of constructing a play.
Comedy is truly the most difficult genre — to write comedy, for sure, is tough — but to to be a comic actor, is the hardest job in the world.
Slapstick comedy is perhaps easier, you slip on a banana peel, the world will laugh; you make a funny face, people are amused. But to take a comedic line, that is lying idle on a page, and then play with it, use it, mould it, make it your own, so you can with pinpoint accuracy, deliver it night after night, so the audience feels like you’re saying it for the first time — that was Bomi’s gift.
Like red wine, he’d roll the gag around in his mouth for a bit, while he considered how he wanted to deliver it so it would have the maximum impact — to bring on the maximum laughs.
Should he take the comic pause, should he bang it out, Bomi made humour into an art form — he knew instinctively when to hold back, when to play with an audience.
Bomi had that quality, where you felt he could deliver a line in a 100 different ways — pull it back, punch it, perform it, pause it, play it up.
So yes, that was the actor that was Bomi Kapadia.
Sorry my friend, maybe we will do Pinter’s The Homecoming one day, and we’ll explore his pauses and silences in a unique way, in a quintessentual Bomi Kapadia way.
Apologies that life got in the way for us to work together. In the meantime, rest well, my friend. And let out that huge laugh, so we may hear it from time to time.