Manhar Gadhia, a man for all seasons

Old timer: Manhar Gadhia was a dyed-in-the-wool Mumbai theatre person

Old timer: Manhar Gadhia was a dyed-in-the-wool Mumbai theatre person  


Theatre critic, Deepa Gahlot recalls the Mumbai theatre veteran producer and his dedication to the stage, whatever the language

Born in 1952, Manhar Gadhia was a dyed-in-the-wool Mumbai theatre person. Ghadia who died on November 17 was a producer who had began his career as a PR professional for Gujarati plays in the mid 1970s. At the time, theatre was not covered so widely as it is today in the mainstream media. His work was mainly to design, schedule and position ads in the Gujarati papers; hardly any ads appeared in English papers, there was very little, if anything, about regional language theatre. So he was delighted, that I would be also be reviewing Gujarati plays for my job with a (now defunct) city magazine as theatre critic.

Right from the start, Manharbhai had the pulse of the Gujarati audience. Actor Darshan Jariwalla who began his career in a play with which Manharbhai started his as a PR professional in 1976. The play, titled Sindoor was a flop, that is until Manharbhai suggested that the name be changed to Kothani Kabootri, after which the play completed 200 shows.

Impeccable manners

Today’s PR teams could learn a thing or two about professionalism from Manharbhai. He would phone in invitations for the plays he was handling—his opening words always, “Do minute baat kar sakte hain? He would make it a point to be at the theatre to receive the journalists he had invited—back then flamboyantly dressed in floral shirt with a thick gold chain around his neck—his style toned down in the later years. He would hand over an envelope with stills and a neatly typed cast and credits list—this was before the days of computers and email. He would insist on his guest having a cup of tea, and if he hadn’t watched the play himself, he would sit in the auditorium too, sometimes accompanied by his wife Bhartiben. His company was called Kajal Ads, after his older daughter (the younger, Hetal, was into fashion designing).

When Manharbhai, started concentrating on production, it was Kajal who took over his PR work demonstrating how she had inherited her father’s strong work ethic.

Later, when Kajal joined him, he took on the promotion of plays in other languages, and after computers were introduced, a listing of plays was sent out every week, with photographs, show details and contact numbers. Kajal keeps up that practice. When she briefly moved to Benguloru after marriage he said, “I feel my hand has been cut off.” He was inordinately proud of his daughters and granddaughter.

Dramatic legacy

He was not picky about the plays he took up for PR—and he did several for new groups without charging a fee—but when he produced plays, he said he wanted to break the mould. He backed plays like Gandhi Viruddh Gandhi (Hindi and Gujarati), A Suitable Bride, Shyam Rang, Sir Sir Sarla (Gujarati) and the series of monologues titled Saat Teri Ekvees (7x3=21), for which he pulled of the near impossible feat of getting seven of the best Gujarati playwrights, seven outstanding directors and seven stage stars together. Nobody could say no to Manharbhai. More recently, he produced an all-woman season three of the series of monologues, and was pleased by its success and award wins. Manharbhai always had a few plays in the works, and if he ever saw a good Marathi play, he wanted to produce it in Gujarati. He was keen on, but never managed to do, an adaptation of Ionesco’s The Chairs, ideally with Ketan Mehta directing.

In spite of dietary restrictions owing to his health, Manharbhai was fond of food, and often a show was followed by a meal in a vegetarian restaurant and a sharp dissection of the play. I remember one session in a south Mumbai Gujarati restaurant, where the manager welcomed him like visiting royalty. He sampled the daal dhokli and handvo and pronounced them inadequate. “My wife makes them better,” he said, “Come home one day to enjoy real Gujarati food.” However, like it happens in Mumbai, invitations are not followed up, people get busy, and then suddenly one day, a friend is gone. Mumbai theatre will miss Manharbhai.

The writer is a theatre critic who has been covering the Mumbai stage for over two decades.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 2:12:20 AM |

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