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Mala Pasha

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“It was all scotch-and-soda theatre”

Mala Pasha is a theatre person with over four decades in the field. She has toured the world with English plays that have been well received from Dubai to Vishakhapatnam. She is also the founder of one of the oldest English theatre groups in the city: The Torn Curtains. She only recently returned to India after eight years in Canada and is hoping to bring with her more of quality English theatre in the city. A few words with Ajinkya Deshmukh:

Q. Theatre began at a young age for you.
A. Yes. It was 1970. I was all but 16 when Ram V. Raman, my brother Tony Mirchandani and I started The Torn Curtains. English theatre in the city at that time was only budding. Only the Dramatic Circle of Hyderabad existed four years before us. We pioneered the movement of English theatre in the city. We were all kids then and late Mr. Raman was the only senior so to speak.

Q. In your promotional material for ‘Meri Kahani’, you spoke of a revival of theatre in the city.
A. ‘Revival’ is a term that only the media has started using. For 10 to 15 years we were a part of concerted efforts to promote theatre in the city and were very active indeed. Gradually, the group dissipated in ways. Mr. Raman passed away in 2002. Much before that my brother Tony went into films in Mumbai, another group member Lalit Sharma went to Dubai. Even I was away in Canada. During that time, the DCH was pretty active, and Mohammad Ali Baig also did well by, if not producing, at least importing good plays into the city; which is not at all a bad thing. I live and breathe theatre and after having returned from Canada after eight long years, I thought The Torn Curtains required a revival if not the theatre scene as a whole.

Q. How has The Torn Curtains grown over the years?
A. When we started off, we did adaptations of 1930’s and 40’s British classics. Mysteries, murders and drawing room comedies. We regurgitated foreign theatre in India. We also experimented in existential theatre. It was all scotch-and-soda theatre and there was a vast English and regional divide which prohibited people from relating to the plays. 18 or 20 years down the line we decided that that was not what we wanted. We decided not to always go for a message and not to fake a British accent. What was necessary was to have an Indian connection. So we performed, among others, Mahesh Dattani’s ‘Where there is a will’ and Tony wrote ‘Love, divorce and carrot juice’. We did theatre with Girish Karnad and Gautam Raja too. We want to bring theatre to its original form in India.

Q. What did you bring back with you from your theatre experience in Canada? Did you find a cross-cultural influence in the way you perceive theatre?
A. Eight years is a long time, and it does change you in more ways than one. Though I did not act in Canada, I did do a lot of volunteering work and learned a lot in terms of theatre technique. When I came back to India, I felt the need of a strong script; a play that was meaningful. And coincidentally, the script came from Canada from two women: Mehreen Poonja and Umbreen Inayet who were doing their Master’s in Sociology from the University of Toronto. It was the perfect script. I do find changes in terms of how I see theatre. I have grown as a person and in my awareness of theatre too.

Q. What is ‘Meri Kahani’ about? What theatre occupies you now?
A. ‘Meri Kahani’ is a series of six monologues about women and abuse. There are issues that we as Indians don’t want to face. I know there are families with gay women whose orientation goes unacknowledged. They are forced into heterosexual marriage and given false reassurances. I want to do theatre that explores dark realities that we don’t want to face as a society.

Q. Do you think that such theatre will bring change in the society?
A. I wouldn’t say one play will make you a different man, but theatre is definitely more powerful than films. Film world is perfect. Magical, unreachable, untouchable. Theatre is people like you and me. It is closer and way more personal. People emulate films; but for films to bring about a change, it takes a whole spate of films of the same theme. Theatre reflects life and is hence more potent an agent for change.

Q. Is the Indian crowd receptive to such serious theatre?
A. I don’t like to admit it, but there is much indiscipline in the audience of the city. Plays never start on time, people keep munching something in the theatre hall. The fault also lies in part with the theatre groups because they give in. I wouldn’t generalize it to Indians on a whole. We toured India and Dubai with some of our shows and the audience in Kolkata was fabulous. For one production, I and another actor could not make it to the city because of bad weather during the flight. When my brother announced this to the crowd and the show was done with two people reading out our parts, the crowd gave us a standing ovation! Things are changing. I was apprehensive about ‘Meri Kahani’, given its theme. But the Indian psyche was ready and the response was overwhelming.

Q. What plans ahead?
A. I will be traveling with ‘Meri Kahani’ to Kolkata, Bengaluru, Pune, and later Chennai and Mumbai. Sarojini Naidu School of Arts has expressed interest in staging the play. There are plans for new inductions into the group. Also, workshops that give people chance to speak, emote and sensitize themselves. Such workshops help grow through theatre and are good for the corporate organizations. I’m also looking forward to scripts, comedy or serious. No slapstick comedies though.
I have a dream of organizing a ‘Hyderabad Theatre Festival’ with all the theatre groups in the city. We’ve had many imported fests, but this is going to be only Hyderabadi. There is so much youth that can be channeled into theatre by it.

Q. What do you see as an ideal state for English theatre?
A. I want young guns to join us. Anyone interested may email us at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . I also want to see a small theatre hall with its own lights and sound system where one can see plays every day. On a Friday night Hyderabad must have ‘theatre’ among its other evening options like ‘dinner’ and ‘movie’. Something like Rangashankara in Bengaluru. It may only seat 150 people, even that would do as long as it’s inexpensive for the smaller groups. It would also be nice if sponsorships become hassle-free. Five or six companies turned us down when we went to them for ‘Meri Kahani’. I don’t know the situation with the government and the red tape. I don’t anticipate drastic change but if the corporate can spend money on culture it’ll be great. I’ve been out of touch with India and have had some ‘feely’ talks with various government agencies. We’ll have to work hard for this dream, but once realized it’ll be a miracle!

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