Direction : Meherzad Patel
Writer : Meherzad Patel
Cast : Sabira Merchant, Danesh Irani, Nauheed Cyrusi, Azmin Mistry, Sajeel Parakh & others.


Deepa Punjani


There was a time in Mumbai, Bombay then, when Parsi Gujarati theatre thrived and roared. Meher Marfatia in her book 'Laughter in the House! Twentieth Century Parsi Theatre' recalls those glory days. A couple of years ago, snippets of those times, in fond memory of Adi Marzban, the grand man of the Parsi-Gujarati stage, were resurrected in a production titled after the book. The variety show featured some of the famous old-timers of Parsi Gujarati theatre who were complemented by a young generation of actors. Needless to say the production was warmly received and had houseful shows. A notable characteristic of the Parsi Gujarati play is that it lampoons its own community and its eccentricities. It is quite uniquely a Mumbai experience that also finds favour with Gujaratis and the Muslim Bohra community. In recent times, writer-director Meherzad Patel has given a new lease of life to this quaint genre of comedy. THE BUCKINGHAM SECRET, which in most part is in English, but generously peppered with Parsi Gujarati lines, is quintessentially a Parsi comedy in its lineage.

The play fantastically makes a humorous case for the Parsi community, known among other things, for its quirk for all things British, and in particular, a fondness for Queen Victoria, who was Empress of India while the British ruled. The plot is clever. So beyond the royal façade of the house of Windsor, there is a secret, best found out from the royal butler who doubles as the narrator.

However not too long into the play, the zany idea on which the play so dearly depends begins to look jaded and is spread out thin with situations designed for laughs in the tradition of the Parsi comedy. But there's nothing particularly new or charming about it. After a point, the 'great' idea clearly runs its course and the comedy is not even slapstick. That's a pity actually because there is the lingering promise of a more provocative comedy in store given the outrageous, yet funny theme of the play. Patel could have literally reinvented the Parsi comedy. He and his actors understand comedy (rarely found in the city's theatre), but in this production, the effort is reduced to creating lame scenarios and the jokes- some familiar, some so-so, some racist (quite without the humour which can be observational) dampen the originality of the situation at hand.

The ensemble cast featuring the royal family is led by Sabira Merchant playing Queen Elizabeth. She is apt for the role although in some instances, her Parsi Gujarati appears a little forced. But she makes up with her charisma in a play that clearly relies on her persona. The play's other highlight is its majestic set executed by veteran stage designer Fali Unwalla.

Danesh Irani who plays Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (the Queen's husband), in spite of his young age, provides the maximum humour. The rest of the cast does fairly well too, maintaining at least the requisite pace, without which, this comedy would have further stumbled. The NCPA-Silly Point Production of THE BUCKINGHAM SECRET is bound to be popular but it might have been a stronger and a better play if it had intelligently explored its comedic narrative that has an exclusive edge in its Parsi moorings.

Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

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