Monday, September 10, 2012

A classy act all the way

Meherzad Patel's play, 'The Class Act', provides rollicking laughter and subtle lessons. The director, a twenty-something Mumbaikar, is witty and talented

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo by Manu R. Mavelil

'The Class Act', is set in a classroom, with a blackboard at one side, posters on the wall, one of which has 'Black Comedy' written in large letters, a table and chairs. And it is Mr. William's acting class for a bunch of crazy people: a loud-mouthed Parsi by the name of Mehernosh Siganporia, a young Muslim, Mohammed Abdul Khader Sheikh, the tall, kurta-clad Mahesh Kadam, Dolly Gandhi, a TV actor, and a Goan hotelier, Victor Rodrigues. And it is this motley bunch that is trying to learn acting.

The actors introduce themselves, and Victor says, “The first time I sang in the church choir, 200 Christians changed their religion.”

When Victor is asked to fall over backwards from the top of a box, and develop the trust that Dolly will hold her, he says, “I can't do that. My family jewels will get stuck in my throat.”

He also gives an apt definition of divorce: “To rip out a man's genitals through his wallet.”

The man who has written all these catchy lines is a twenty-something Parsi called Meherzad Patel, who acts as Mr. Williams in the play held recently at the JT Performing Arts Centre at Kochi. Apart from 'The Class Act' he has written a farce on teenage angst called 'Like Dat Only', another one about a Parsi, Rustam Screwwala, called, 'Rusty Screws', a third drama called, 'Four Square', and shows in Gujarati and Hindi.

Meherzad got his impetus when in Class 10 at St. Mary's school, Mumbai, during an inter-house competition he directed a play called 'Snow White and six-and-a-half dwarfs'. “It was a parody,” he says. “So Snow White was a huge, dark, and broad-shouldered boy who towers over the rest. The dwarfs play different characters who were in the news at that time, like Sourav Ganguly and David Beckham.”

The play bagged the first prize and some of the student actors, like Sajeel Parakh and Dhanesh Irani, are in ‘The Class Act’ also. Later, in St. Xavier's College, Meherzad did not get much of an opportunity, but things opened up when he joined the Government Law College. “There was far more free time,” he says.

Taking the opportunity, Meherzad worked as an assistant director in the musical, 'The Wizard Of Oz'. And it was a learning experience for him. “I understood that things that can go wrong at any time,” he says. “A backdrop can fall on you suddenly. You have to ensure that the mikes and lights are working properly. Make-up should be done early, and not at the last minute.”

Meherzad, who set up Silly Point Productions in 2008, has a different approach to acting. “I give my actors a simple instruction,” he says. “There is no joke at all in our plays. We are performing for the sake of acting, not for the sake of getting a laugh. The humour lies in your character.”

And to fine-tune the satire, Meherzad keeps changing the lines. “We tailor it according to the audience,” he says. “If is a younger group, we will use more four-letter words. For the older crowd, they would prefer a smarter and well-scripted joke.”

One reason why the plays are popular is that Meherzad works a lot on the script. 'The Class Act' took six months to write, while 'Rusty Screws' took two years.

If you rush through you will not get the content you are looking for,” he says. “Mumbai is the big inspiration for me. In this city, you get all types of people – from angry bus drivers to laid-back college students. It is put out in a daily buffet right in front of you. The jokes people tell you are not just that. It is their real-life experiences. When you put this on stage, it makes the play more realistic.”

And despite being the son of chartered accountants, his realistic parents have given him the leeway to do what he wants. “They are a little scared of me,” he says, tongue in cheek. “Seriously, they come to watch all my plays and enjoy them thoroughly.”

But Meherzad admits that being a full-time playwright is an uphill task. “I can probably earn much more as a lawyer,” he says. “But this is a passion for me and the creative satisfaction that I get is probably something money cannot buy.” 

(The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi) 


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