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Saturday, May 08, 2021

Joy Michael: ‘Disciplinarian….generous’

Actors and directors remember Joy Michael, Founder of Yatrik and its first Director, who reflected the best of what human beings can achieve — both on and off stage

Written by Dipanita Nath |
March 11, 2018 11:52:32 pm
Joy Michael Joy Michael (1926-2018)

 Avijit Dutt

My 30-odd years in Delhi have had one continuous inspiration — Joy Michael. She was friend, comrade in arms, Director of the group, sounding board and constant gardener of minds. She would be working the phone from early morning, making sure people turned up for rehearsal, or to support a play that was being staged, or maybe just to whisper motivation to calm opening night nerves. She was a relentless spirit, who held together a group of free-minded thespians in a completely anachronistic manner. This was the same spirit that gave birth to Yatrik. We were returning from a show in Dehradun, while the cold wind seeped in to the train compartment, she suggested the idea and the others heartily agreed. So Rati Bartholomew, Roshan Seth, Kusum Haider, Salima Raza, Sushma Seth and Nigam gave the group its chrysalis. In 1964 the group was registered as a bi-lingual theatre group. Soon it would become the first professional theatre group in the Capital. They ran a weekend theatre on Mahadev Road — now the Films Division auditorium and subsequently in the Defence Pavilion, where Pragati Maidan stands today.

Joy Michael in performance.

By the time I joined in 1983 much water had flown down the Yamuna. She would give a production complete freedom. Once the script and concept was discussed by all the ‘luminaries’, the Director was left to do her or his work with no disturbance and all support. A selfless giving that touched the lives of every important theatre talent in Delhi from the ’60s to the ’90s. A list too diverse and lengthy to name.

We will all miss you Joy, but every time on stage when we enunciate the fading emotion and chop the air with our gestures, you will be forever remembered, while you help others find their voice in the great beyond.

Kusum Haider

I got together with Joy in 1963, when I got back from Paris, where I had gone on a scholarship. I had done quite a bit of work with Mr (Ebrahim) Alkazi as a student and I was looking around for some theatre work and met Joy for the first time. She introduced me to the Unity Theatre, which was established before Yatrik. Joy was the main inspiration and the head of Yatrik and we were eight others who got together to form Yatrik in 1964. In 1961, she encouraged me to play one of the most wonderful parts in my life, Joan of Arc in The Lark, made by the Unity Theatre and the American Theatre Association, whose director was a brilliant man, Tom Noonan. She not only helped me but a lot of other people were given opportunities to play major roles. I am terribly sorry she is gone because I don’t know anybody else who can replace Joy Michael.

Joy Michael

Oroon Das

She was among the earliest people who tried to present theatre in an organised way, by bringing people together. In my early twenties, when we walked into the theatre from college, Yatrik was the only known group. Joy had an ability to hold people together, which went beyond the plays we were doing or not doing. There were lighting designers, set designers and writers, among the group. She built a community and, when younger people came in, there would be a core group to look up to. She had a very generous heart but she was a strict disciplinarian. She had her way of doing theatre, and was also the principal of St Thomas School. We had to turn up on time, and I was bad at it. I was most ill-managed with my time and that’s when I also saw her generosity. I have done plays from Greek tragedies to Agatha Christie. As a producer or director, whatever be her role in the play, she was very hands-on.

Vivek Mansukhani
Head IIE, India & actor 

Joy was the first person to embrace me and welcome me into the world of theatre in Delhi when I relocated from Calcutta two decades ago. She gave me every support and encouragement to direct my first theatre production in Delhi and gave me full freedom to do it my way. Her greatest strength was in raising capable people and giving them a chance to shine and become the best version of themselves. So many of us are immensely grateful to her for all that she did to make us believe in ourselves and our talents. She truly epitomised the saying: “The show must go on”….no matter what. She would never be defeated in any situation, and always managed to turn around every challenge into an opportunity. She will eternally remain a lighthouse, a beacon of hope, that illuminates the path for others. She was and will always be an institution that reflects the best of what human beings can achieve – both on and off stage.

Joy Michael

Bhaskar Ghosh
Former Director-General of Doordarshan

I have worked with her since I was 27 and now I am 80. I have been directed in so many plays by her and directed many plays for Yatrik under her guidance; it has been a long journey. She was such a source of warmth, affection and encouragement. She was involved with backstage, front of house, giving advice, there is no end to the ways she helped all of us. I personally feel a sense of loss at her passing. Something has gone which was very precious. The problem in the ’60s and through the ’80s was that theatre, in whichever language, was very difficult to set up because we didn’t have any audiences. Theatre has now become an integral part of Delhi, has blossomed in different ways, and spread in different languages. Those days, it was terrible to try to get an audience to come and see a play. When we were young and I was directed by her in the beginning, I found her an extremely severe and difficult director. She demanded the best from all of us and wouldn’t settle for anything less. She mellowed with age but she made it clear from the very beginning, ‘When I say 5, it means 5. It does not mean five minutes after 5’. But, I was a civil servant and I told her that I couldn’t get away from office and work till at least 7.30-8 pm, and she adjusted the rehearsal and so did the cast, god bless them. We would rehearse from late in the evening to 11 pm. Those days, Delhi was very safe.

Yatrik developed at a time when very few groups were operating. It grew, not because it had any source of income, in fact, it didn’t, but just through the dedication on the part of the founder members, to begin with, and
after that, those who joined later. I came a year later after Yatrik was founded. We did it for the sake of theatre. We loved theatre so much. There were funny times also. I remember a play, when there were more people on stage than in the audience. After that, things began improving. At Shri Ram Centre, which had a basement theatre, we got a good response.The point is that Joy never gave up. She used to have plays in her back garden and all over, because she said, ‘The show must go on’.

Sushma Seth

Joy Michael and I have had an association from 1960 onward, when I returned after having studied drama in the US at Carnegie Mellon. Once, we had all travelled together with three plays by American playwrights, directed by Tom Noonan, who was the cultural attache at the USIS. After the last performance, Mr Noonan was going to retire or go away, and we felt, ‘Why should we disband. We should form a repertory company and do plays regularly and together because we worked well together’. So, we formed Yatrik. We were all very excited. We wanted to introduce theatre as a professional activity in Delhi. We created plays in Urdu, Hindi and English, and we started doing children’s theatre.

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