Sunday, July 21, 2024

Jalabala Vaidya, theatre veteran, dies at 86

Theatre actor Jalabala Vaidya.

Theatre actor Jalabala Vaidya.
| Photo Credit: PTI

Jalabala Vaidya, legendary theatre actor and co-founder of the capital’s iconic Akshara Theatre, died in New Delhi on April 9 after a battle with respiratory ailments, said her daughter and theatre director Anasuya Vaidya Shetty. She was 86.

Born in London to Indian author and freedom fighter Suresh Vaidya and English classical singer Madge Franckeiss, Jalabala Vaidya started out as a journalist, writing for various national newspapers and magazines in Delhi.

She was awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Tagore Award, the Delhi Natya Sangh Award, the Andhra Pradesh Natya Akademi Honour, Honorary Citizenship of the City of Baltimore, USA, and in February, the Delhi Government’s Varisht Samman for her lifelong contribution to the performing arts.

Jalabala Vaidya was briefly married to well-known journalist and columnist, C.P. Ramachandran, but soon after, met and married her lifelong partner in the arts and life, poet-playwright Gopal Sharman.

Her theatrical life started in 1968 with Full Circle, a dramatised selection of poems and stories, which became an instant success on its first European performance tour. The critical acclaim for Full Circle led to an invitation to Sharman to write and direct a play based on The Ramayana for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s World Theatre Season. Sharman wrote the play for a cast of 25 actors, but it became internationally famous as a one-woman performance in which Jalabala Vaidya played all the characters, in a style based on the traditional ‘katha’.

Sharman’s The Ramayana, a contemporary interpretation of the epic as a play in English is still the only Indian production to have played on Broadway where the New York Times called it ‘India’s Gift to Broadway’.

Jalabala Vaidya’s performances of The Ramayana – on Broadway, the West End, UN Headquarters, National Arts Centres in different countries, as well as in more than 35 cities and towns in India, garnered rave reviews from major Indian and international newspapers.

She co-founded the Akshara National Classical Theatre in New Delhi with Sharman. It is an exquisite arts complex and much-loved hub of theatre performances, designed and built by Sharman, where she played the lead role in more than 20 plays, including Full Circle, Larflarflarf, The Ramayana, Let’s Laugh Again, The Bhagavad Gita, The Cabuliwala, Gitanjali, The Strange Case of Billy Biswas, etc.

Also a director, Jalabala Vaidya helmed various plays at the Akshara Theatre, as well as its highly successful dramatised book-reading series.

In recent times, she had presented another version of The Ramayana, where she continued to perform the opening and closing acts of the play, supported by a group of young actors of the Akshara Repertory trained by her.

Jalabala Vaidya produced, performed in and narrated most of the Akshara Theatre’s television films, such as India Alive, The Kashmir Story, The Sufi Way, etc. She also authored five books: Be, This Is Full, That Is Full, Life Is But A Dream and The Akshara Acting Method.

She is also survived by three grandchildren singer-actor Nisa Shetty, actor Dhruv Shetty and writer Yashna Shetty.

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