Prominent ad filmmaker and the doyen of theatre Alyque Padamsee drew his last breath Saturday at 5.30 a.m. The veteran 90-year-old is best remembered for his role of Mohammed Ali Jinnah in Richard Attenborough’s multi-Oscar award winner classic, Gandhi.
Padamsee was known for his productions that redefined Indian theatre experience for an English speaking audience. Trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, London, Padamsee was distinguished both as an actor and director with over 70 productions to his name, including record-breaking plays such as Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar and Death of a Salesman.
He made his stage debut when he was all of seven years old in Merchant of Venice, a William Shakespeare play that was directed by his eldest brother Sultan Bobby Padamsee.
A few years later, at the age of 23, Padamsee directed his first ever play — Shakespeare’s Taming of The Shrew. He went on to direct five more Shakespeare plays after this.
In 1974, Padamsee staged his version of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s path-breaking rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar in Mumbai. Padamsee’s Jesus Christ Superstar was the first major musical to be staged in India. It ran uninterrupted for more than a year.
The play highlighted the way we transition from one period to another. It starts with Roman costumes and Biblical robes and by the final Act, actors are seen in regular t-shirts and denim pants. What is interesting is, Padamsee’s Jesus Christ Superstar helped him transition from one phase to the other; it was after this record-breaking play that he realised that the way to reach out to a larger audience is through musicals.
Two years later Padamsee directed and came up with his second musical, Man Of La Mancha, a semi-classical musical. Even if it didn’t break the records of Jesus Christ Superstar, or go anywhere near it, it was considered a “modest success”.
In January 1982, Padamsee’s theatre group presented Evita with Sharon Prabhakar playing the role of Evita Perón, the wife of former Argentine President and dictator Juan Perón. In what was a rock opera on the Argentinian first lady, it left the Indian audience completely dazzled.
Known to translate and tweak Girish Karnad’s Broken Images and make it a huge success, Alyque Padamsee didn’t shy away when he had the thought of staging Karnad’s Tughlaq. Alyque Padamsee requested Karnad to translate it into English, after which it was staged by the Theatre Group, Bombay in the 1970s. It was a great success and was later translated to different regional languages.
Almost 25 years after of directing plays, Padamsee marked his comeback and took the stage in his daughter Raëll Padamsee’s production Death Of A Salesman in 2013. Ever since it was first performed in 1949, the family drama has been recognised as a milestone of American theatre and has won several awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.