Theatre

Farewell to JOY

LIVING A FULL LIFE Joy Michael (1924-2018)

LIVING A FULL LIFE Joy Michael (1924-2018)   | Photo Credit: Sandeep_Saxena

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Known for her electrifying exuberance, Joy Michael was one of the driving forces of Delhi’s theatre circuit

Those who believe that an individual’s personality cannot be determined by his or her name should have seen Joy Michael. Joy itself would be all around Joy Michael even during her eighties, such an exuberant personality she had. A person with very sharp observation and quick wit, she devoted all her life to the cause of theatre.

Born in Calcutta in 1924 to a Bengali father and a half-German mother, she was part of the Delhi’s English theatre circuit, which was quite active and vibrant in the second half of the twentieth century. Still, it can be said about her with certainty that she tried to bridge the gap between the English and Hindi-speaking people of Delhi, and she played a major role, along with many others like I.L. Das, etc., in introducing Delhi’s primarily Hindi-speaking people to the world of English theatre and drama through the adaptations of English plays into Hindi.

On the other hand, she also acted as a bridge between the English-speaking people and the other languages of India, as she got produced by Yatrik the Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada, Urdu works of the playwrights of all the Indian languages like Dr. Laxmi Narain Lal, Badal Sircar, Vijay Tendulkar, Adya Rangacharya, Rajinder Singh Bedi etc. She also became instrumental in promoting original writings in Hindi through the likes of Irpinder Puri, J.N. Kaushal, Sai Paranjpye, Chaman Bagga, etc.

She initially worked with Unity Theatre of Frank Thakurdas, a primarily English theatre group, till 1964, taking lead roles in numerous plays. She founded Yatrik in 1964 with Sushma Seth, Rati Bartholomew, Kusum Haidar, Sneih Dass, Nigam Prakash, Salima Raza, Marcus Murch, Roshan Seth and a few others. As she described in an interview, “We were travelling with our first production “Abe Lincoln in Illinois” written by American playwright Robert Sherwood and directed by Tom Noonan (which was produced by the USIS in Delhi). So, in the train, I suggested that since we have already gained so much experience, we shouldn't let this opportunity go waste. Nigam Prakash came up with the name ‘Yatrik' (for the new group). It was the first theatre group to pay a monthly salary to full-time actor. The famous film and TV actor Kulbhushan Kharbanda was its first paid employee who was given a remuneration of ₹250 per month.” Tom Noonan, an unusual Cultural Affairs Officer at the United States Information Services, New Delhi, also got attached with Yatrik during his stint in Delhi in the ‘60s.

Farewell to JOY

Yatrik performed around half-a-dozen plays or even more every year regularly. In the following years, she attracted to Yatrik a whole galaxy of prominent theatre personalities of Delhi like Om and Sudha Shivpuri, Ebrahim Alkazi, Sudesh Syal, Lola Chatterjee, Kavita Nagpal, Sai Paranjpye, Kabir Bedi, Barry John, B.V. Karanth, Rajinder Nath, Mohan Maharishi, Prakash Bhatia, M.K. Raina, Bhaskar Ghose, Avijit Dutt, Sunit Tandon – to name just a few, in different capacities as actors, directors etc. She established Yatrik as a professional bilingual repertory company, although, as Jaidev Taneja says that the plays done by Yatrik in Hindi were mostly the Hindi adaptations of the English plays. It was a period when facilities in Delhi were little, but enthusiasm of the artists was enough to cover up for the shortcomings of the infrastructure.

Sushma Seth remembers with her ever-energetic voice those glorious days, with a tinge of justified pride in her voice, “Under her able leadership, Yatrik became the first group in Delhi to establish a weekend repertory theatre, giving performances every Saturday and Sunday. (Yatrik’s 40 years celebration brochure tells that brochures listing the season’s programmes were issued in September, and theatre-lovers were invited to become members and buy season tickets at reduced rates.)” Youth Playing Club met regularly to prepare performances for the little ones.

She directed the affairs of Yatrik for a long forty years, after which she handed over the reins to Avijit Dutt and Prakash Bhatia. Nothing remained untouched by her hands – mystery, classics, musicals, comedies etc…Theatre was the aim, and not a particular ‘viewpoint’, which has been the bane of the Hindi and other languages theatre of India.

Keeping all together

Prakash Bhatia, a discovery of Yatrik’s regular workshops and its director for two years from 2008 to 2010, exclaims that she was a person who could keep all together...”she would give chance for directing the plays to every member of the group, to bring greater acceptability to the group! It really needs a big heart to give chance to others in the group created by you!”

Sunit Tandon emphatically mentions her being insistent on doing whatever had been decided by the group, “She would never stop a play or reduce it if there was lack or resources or anything – her idea was to keep on doing things, if you cannot do play due to time or money constraints, then do dramatised reading, or else, do poetry reading…do something…she was a big driving force.”

A scholar of world theatre, she lectured on and directed Indian plays at a number of institutions such as Sweet Briar College, University of Virginia, Russell Sage College, New York, etc. Waryam Mast, a leading theatre personality, says that she was a visiting faculty at Department of Indian Theatre during 1973 at the Punjab University, Chandigarh. She actively promoted theatre in schools as a part of basic education.

And how does a student remember her school’s principal? Alka Raghuvvanshi, the famous art-critic, remembers her student days at the Delhi’s all-girls St. Thomas School where Joy joined in 1970 as principal, “She was this smiling happy person who threw back her head and laughed, she wore her hair in a stylish short cut and elegant handloom saris, wore a very lingering perfume — in fact we could virtually smell her scent long after she had gone elsewhere. Later I came to know that her favourite perfume too was named Joy…I definitely am one of her girls in whose backbone she poured steel. The steel doesn’t show, but lingers like Mrs Michael’s perfume…” While there, she directed the play Stree, based on interviews with Aruna Asaf Ali and Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay.

Joy Michael retained her electrifying exuberance till her last, although she was wheel-chair bound in her last days and had some problems with her memory. Delhi’s theatre-fraternity suffered the great loss of her demise on 9th March, 2018. Sangeet Natak Akademi award and Padma Shri are just two of the long list of awards and decorations that she received for her long work in the field of theatre.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2020 1:10:52 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/farewell-to-joy/article23262999.ece

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