When theatre runs in the family: The Padamsees

Alyque Padamsee’s three children, Raell, Quasar and Shazahn, do not share the same mother, but the siblings are bound by their one true love: theatre.
Raell and Alyque Padamsee(Kunal Patil)
Raell and Alyque Padamsee(Kunal Patil)
Published on Jan 14, 2017 05:38 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | By

Alyque Padamsee’s three children, Raell, Quasar and Shazahn, do not share the same mother, but the siblings are bound by their one true love: theatre. “The Padamsees breathe theatre,” says Dolly Thakore, Alyque’s second wife and Quasar’s mother, a well-known theatre artist herself.

Alyque made his stage debut when he was just seven, in a play directed by his elder brother Bobby Padamsee, whose theatre company was probably the first by Indians that did only English plays. “It was Merchant of Venice. My younger brother Chhotu and I played the two boys accompanying the Prince of Morocco. As soon as I went on the stage and the lights came on, I knew I wanted to be in theatre. When I was on stage I felt really alive and it’s the same today. I only feel at home when I am in a theatre,” says Alyque.

Raell, Alyeque’s daughter from his first wife Pearl is helming his new production. “We have done almost a dozen of plays together and she takes all the weight off my shoulders so that I can just concentrate on my actors and my play,” says Alyque. Although they often brainstorm together, and Raell herself is a director, each knows their area of expertise well and director and producer seldom fight.

But Alyque believes it is easier to work with non-family people. “I always say a husband and wife team in theatre is not a good idea. After you have a difference of opinion during rehearsal where do you go? You go home, to your family, and if that is the same person you had a fight with, then god help you,” says Alyque who has worked with all his three wives, Pearl Padamsee, Dolly Thakore and Sharon Prabhakar.

With Pearl, however, it was a different equation, he adds. Pearl Padamsee has produced more than 40 of Alyque’s plays, and the two met when Pearl produced Alyque’s first directoral play, The Taming of the Shrew. “She was very accommodating and I was very pushy, so it worked out. We worked as a team. If I came up with an idea, she would add to it. If I didn’t like her suggestion, she would come up with another one. But when I work with my children, they always treat me as Daddy,” he grouses, recalling shouting matches with Quasar during Romeo and Juliet, a play he directed and his son produced. “Oh yes we had fights! Lots of them.” Now he is in the same situation with Shazahn. “Suppose I tell Shazahn that in the scene her character is supposed to be unhappy, her immediate reaction is Why? So I explain… but then she will say, ‘No, I don’t agree’ …Then the gadbad starts.”

Shahazn is not finding this any easier. “This is my first time working with him so it’s quite a different experience to suddenly switch roles from daughter to actress. I keep having to remind myself that we have a professional relationship. And my father is an absolute perfectionist! So if I replace a ‘but’ with an ‘and’ in a scene, I’ve had it!” she says.

Raell and Quasar (fondly called Q) have their own theatre companies, Ace Productions and QTP (Q Theatre Productions) respectively, and although theatre binds the family together, each has his/her own brand of it.

“We can argue from very different angles because the plays we have seen or been part of are so very different. It is not a ‘I like your work and you like my work’ kind of bland discussion,” says Quasar.

Quasar Padamsee and Dolly Thakore (Kunal Patil)
Quasar Padamsee and Dolly Thakore (Kunal Patil)

Unlike Raell, who grew up in a house that Alyque had designed as a theatre, with the dining hall doubling up as stage and the terrace being the sitting area for the audience, Quasar spent most of his early years in a boarding school.

Raell picked up nuances of acting as well as production from very early on. From wrapping a floor with silver foil to looking after guests, no job was to be considered small. Her mother, the ‘queen of drama queens’, insisted she take up acting. Eventually she became a director, and then a producer.

Though Quasar had spent his childhood crawling around the house during script-reading sessions, he does not have many theatre memories. “My mother was a single parent then and there was no housekeeper or babysitter. She would go to review movies and plays, and I remember being dragged along to these events,” says Quasar.

So it was awkward when, as an 18-year-old, he met Shantaram while doing a play at Sophiya Bhaba Auditorium. “It was a bit role. I was standing in the wings and caught this old bald man looking at me. He kept staring and it was a rather off-putting experience. He waited till the end of the play and came up to me. His name was Shantaram and he worked there. Apparently when my mother worked while I was a baby, she would leave me backstage in his arms, do her scene, and come back and breastfeed me!”

Quasar insists his journey into theatre was his own, not via watching his parents perform, and it is just a coincidence that both he and Alyque took up the same piece to direct, with Dolly part of both. “I had randomly picked up Arthur Miller’s All My Sons off Dad’s shelves and wanted to do a play. It turned out Dad had done a reading of the same book, and with mom!” says Quasar.

QTP was formed because when he was in college, he met 10 odd people who were mad about theatre. This might also explain why his kind of theatre is so different from his father’s. “We are different individuals. He gets excited by scale and I get excited by the opposite. In his Jesus Christ Superstar, when the storm kicks in, you are blown by the special effects. I am sure that had kept him awake for three months trying to figure out how to do it. Mine would be a pause in the middle of a line,” he says.

His mother Dolly, an integral part of Alyque’s troupe of actors and who has also worked with Quasar, says, “He gives his actors a lot of liberty to improvise, it is a team effort, while Alyque is very meticulous. He will even choreograph the way you flick your cigarette.” However, she feels her son is wasting his potential as an actor.

Quasar admits it helps to have knowledgeable parents who support your work without putting undue pressure on you. “Mom came to the rehearsal and made some very astute comments and thanks to that the play became what it was,” he says. “On the dress rehearsal night, my father turned up with a cake to wish us all. The first act was going on. He didn’t come inside but waited till the interval and then handed me the cake, said he would watch the play when it opened, and went. It was an incredible show of faith. There was no handholding,” he says.

Alyque says he often finds it awkward to tell his children what he doesn’t like about their plays, although he usually takes them aside later and casually points it out. “It is up to them if they want to take my suggestions,” he says. Raell cuts him short: “Now, that’s so not you, dad!” she laughs, revealing that whenever Alyque watches their plays, he sits with a notepad and jots down points.

“After the play ends, the notepad comes out: ‘You see darling in scene one when he opens the door, there is a problem…’ and thus it begins!” she laughs, sitting with a notepad herself.

Clearly, apart from theatre, the Padamsees are also obsessed with notepads.


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    Ananya Ghosh is an assistant editor with Hindustan Times Brunch. She has 10 years of experience as a journalist having worked as a copy editor/feature writer in various publications.

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