Dolly Thakore is a charismatic theatre actress with many feathers in her cap. From being the first art auctioneer in India to a radio broadcaster for BBC world service in London, her journey has spanned many remarkable milestones.
Some of the numerous plays that she has performed in are Tennessee Williams’ ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of A Salesman’ and ‘All My Sons’, Edward Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’, and ‘The Vagina Monologues’. She played the lead in Benn Levy’s ‘The Rape of the Belt’ with Amitabh Bachchan as co-actor at Miranda House, Delhi University. She has also acted in feature films: ‘Page 3’, ‘White Noise’ and ‘Mittal versus Mittal’. Being a connoisseur of art, her house is akin to an art gallery, with many priceless works.
Thakore has been on stage since the age of 5 and has since pursued her interest in the performing arts. She has been involved with theatre, debates and youth festivals since her school and college days, which has been her training ground and has introduced her to like-minded people. She continued her passion in theatre in London by participating in plays for the India High Commission with actors like Zohra Sehgal and Saeed Zaffrey and was often invited to speak to a student audience. Upon returning to India, she was warmly welcomed into the theatre community.
In a conversation with Prerna SM Jain, the dynamic Dolly Thakore spoke about her life and work.
How did your tryst with visual art begin?
My interest in art began at Samovar in the veranda of the Jehangir Art gallery, the hub of all emerging creative talents in Mumbai. There I met eminent artists like M.F. Husain, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, Anjolie Ela Menon, F.N. Souza. Many of their works stare down at m, as I sit here in my home. These have been given to me as gifts and are very personal to me. I do not have an inch of space empty on my walls, but when someone gifts me a work, as long as it is not a large one, I readjust and accommodate them. As my son says, my living room is my art gallery, and my bedroom is my library.
Your opinions on recent exhibitions of art galleries?
I used to visit all the art galleries, I used to visit all the exhibitions, but much less now. I am not as regular as I used to be. Now, everyone has become an impresario in art, it’s no more the great art galleries of the Chemoulds [Prescott] or the Pundoles. Now there are a lot of housewives who are art gallery owners and because they have the purchasing power, because of the changing economics of the world and the country, they are able to acquire art because artists are always looking for buyers. The people that I respect, I do visit them as often as I can and appreciate their work.
How was your experience working with your son, Quasar Thakore Padamsee?
I have done only one play with him, Arthur Miller’s ‘All My Sons’, and he swore he would never work with me again. The young have a very different style of working. When we were working, our rehearsals were from 6 o’clock to 8.30 or 9. Whereas today, the whole system has changed: offices are not 9-5 anymore, rehearsals start at about 8.30-9, by which time somebody like me would be very tired. In my day we read the script and analysed the character till we were almost word perfect. But with the young people there is intense voice training, breathing exercises, body training, muscle training and improvisations before you get down to the actual script. In my day we each had to have a 9-5 regular job to pay our bills, then do theatre in the evening. We never got paid initially, but these days theatre has become a profession. It is a changed world.
How has the lockdown affected the theatre industry?
In spite of the lockdown, there are a lot of people who are online. There was a time when you thought that the online was only for the upper classes or for the middle classes. But today everybody has a mobile. If you just go through Whatsapp you will see some theatre group or the other in Calcutta, Kerala, Hyderabad, and the actors in Mumbai are doing wonderful things. They are running theatre workshops and rehearsals online. I do confess that I don’t watch all of it, as I prefer watching theatre in the theatre rather than seeing it on my small mobile. I don’t want to experience it that way. The theatre community is very together, lots of things are happening and we are in touch with each other. Zoom has been a great boon. ‘The Vagina Monologues’ was conducted on Zoom, but sadly I was not in it, as I didn’t know how to use Zoom at that time. There have been a lot of great things happening in theatre. No one has allowed the isolation and quarantine to isolate their talents… no one has allowed themselves to be redundant. Certainly, there is no money in it. So, the livelihood of a lot of people has suffered. But at the same time, groups have been set up, and some people have been generous enough to contribute for the daily workers like the lighting boys, the set boys, the carpenters. Sadly, we can’t look after everybody as our government does not have any institutional funding for arts and theatre. But it has brought all of us a lot closer together, as there has been a great deal of bonding with distance. This has helped us empathise, and that in itself is a great step forward. Theatre builds relationships that last forever.
How are those relationships affected with the ongoing crisis?
Even though you may act with a person for 2 years or 10 years, the bonding lasts forever. Look at us, we have just lost Bomi Kapadia, who was with me in ‘The Birthday Party’ in 1973. He was one of the most brilliant actors of the English stage and he died at the age of 92 or 93 during the lockdown. We also lost Ruby Patel, a brilliant actress. How I would have loved to have been a Ruby Patel but I was not a comedy actress, and she acted in Gujarati and English plays. She died at the age of 87. What is sad is that during the lockdown the theatre community could not come together, hold hands and pay last respects to fellow talent. Like when Alyque Padamsee left us in 2018, the Worli crematorium did not have an inch of space. When the shutter came down on his cremation, a loud applause spontaneously burst through the air – how he would have loved it! During this lockdown the greater loss has been for us as we haven’t been able to express our grief, our pain, our love and admiration, appreciation for people who have given their life to the theatre.
How have you spent your time during this lockdown?
I haven’t had a day’s boredom. I was writing a column which, because of the print media being restricted, it has stopped… but it will start soon hopefully. I have done a lot of reading of material that I had acquired over the years but had kept aside because it didn’t require urgent attention. I have watched such wonderful films on Netflix, learning a lot about other countries and cultures. I have been watching a lot of foreign films… telecommunications and modern communications have made life wonderful.
A few films that you would recommend?
Call my Agent, Blood Lines, Munich, and Maudie come to mind immediately.
Your most memorable compliment?
People recognising my voice over the phone!