At 83, Alyque Padamsee is pursuing his passion for theatre as fervently as ever. As he starts work to recreate his 70-member production, Jesus Christ Superstar (JCS), after 40 years (to be staged in October), he talks about its new, contemporary version, and today’s theatre scene.
Tell us about JCS. Why did it take so long to revive it?
It’s the story of Christ, who was a son of man and believed in love and forgiveness. The highlight of the play is how we shift from one time period to another — a more contemporary one. We start with Roman costumes and Biblical robes, but by the final act, you’ll see plebeians in jeans and T-shirts. I’d first directed this play (in 1974) in the chaotic period leading up to the Emergency under Indira Gandhi’s government. Similarly, this is a crucial year for the government. I’ve always tried to draw parallels, since this play has political undercurrents. So it felt like an apt time to stage it again.
JCS has always faced controversies. What kind of responses did you garner?
It was a massive project, and perhaps the biggest one in India. It was loved by most theatre-goers. There were objections, but I met the archbishop to explain my perspective, and he supported my vision. Back then, JCS was an experience for many. The first two rows were kept empty because, during the final crucifixion scene, nuns and priests would gather near the stage and wail and pray. It was a spectacle.
You had also acted in JCS earlier. Why not this time?
I cannot act and direct at the same time. I have shifted my focus towards directing. It was because of my daughters — Raell and Shazahn — who pleaded me to get back to acting that I made a comeback after almost three decades with Death Of A Salesman. I was thrilled to be on stage again. But now, we have started auditioning and have found some wonderful voices. The youth today eat up their words and one can hardly understand what they are saying. Some of the past cast members are with me as advisors. We will train the actors vocally.
How has Mumbai’s theatre scene evolved over the years?
Mumbai is definitely the heart of revolution in theatre. I love the experimentation, but somewhere, the discipline on stage is missing. The youth has ideas but no patience to nurture them, so execution suffers.
What should the audience expect from the new JCS?
Even after 40 years, the play has emotional beauty. There’s a unique sense of humanity. We have Andrew Lloyd Webber’s permission to use original compositions from the musical, but with a contemporary feel. It’s notat an old-fashioned play; it’s a modern and relevant tale.