Intangible Cultural Heritage-SNA

India Presents Navroze

As a part of the Multinational Candidature of Intangible Cultural Heritage – Navroze, Parzor Foundation’s ‘Navroze’ has been sent to UNESCO as India’s Representative Film.

Preserving Parsi Theatre

In order to understand the importance of the history of the Parsi Theatre as a cultural unit in India; the successful recording, archiving, preserving and cataloguing of the material and memories related to it was thought as an important step in manifesting the value of this theatrical from for society. For this purpose Parzor Foundation initiated the project ‘’Preserving Parsi Theatre” under the Scheme for Safeguarding the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Diverse Cultural Traditions of India, sanctioned under Sanction Letter No: 28-6/ICH-Scheme/26/2013-14/13641 coordinated by the Sangeet Natak Akademy. The the aim of the project ‘Preserving Parsi Theatre’ is that of preservation through a focus on the collection of material artefacts such as manuscripts, advertisements and handbills , the creation of a digital database of the pre- and post- independence Parsi Theatre’s scripts and the recording of the last Parsi thespians of the Theatre.

Parsi Theatre : A Brief Introduction

The first play of the Parsi Theatre performed in 1853, entitlediRustom Zabooli and Sohrab dealt with an ancient Persian theme from the epic – The Shahnameh, as did subsequent plays such astKing Afrasiab and Rustom Pehlvan. What drew popular attention to the Theatre however were the farces at the end of the main performance that parodied the follies of child marriages, excessive wedding expenses, quack doctors, superstitions and vices such as alcohol and gambling. The theatre therefore became part of a larger ideological apparatus for the reformation of Parsi society.

By the 1870s however, the Theatre came to be understood as a profit-making enterprise. This period resulted not only in the rage for spectacular plays consisting of magic carpets, gods and goddesses and flying demons that the Parsi Theatre came to be famous for and the secularization of audiences and theatre personnel but also in a distancing of the Parsi Community from the popular Parsi Theatre. In order to mitigate what was seen as a decline in the reformatory role of the Theatre, Kaikhushro Navroji Kabraji founded the Society for the Amelioration of the Drama which began to perform plays that portrayed Parsi families and their problems in Parsi Gujarati, what was to become a linguistic dialect of the Parsi community, resulting in the splintering of the Parsi Theatre into a subgenre of the Parsi Theatre for the Parsi Community.

Kabraji was swiftly followed by other Parsi playwrights such as his brother Bamanji Navroji Kabraji, Jehangir Patel and Phirozshah Marzban whose plays were performed primarily for the Parsi community communityunityre performed primarily for thinued to be staged on the day of Navroze until the 1950s. With the advent of the era of Phirozshah’s son Adi Marzban, melodrama came to be seen as obsolete and tragedy gave way to comedy as the primary form of entertainment for the Parsi community on days of religious festivities. Adi Marzban was succeeded by such stalwarts as Dorab Mehta, Feroz Antia, Homi Tavadia and Yazdi Karanjia who developed and established the Parsi Theatre that the Parsi Community knows today.

Currently, the Parsi Theatre is mainly seen on the two festival days of the Parsi calendar in Bombay while in other cities such as Kolkata, Hyderabad, Delhi, Kanpur, Madras, it has shrunk to skits and One Act Plays by amateur groups from within the community. Due to globalization and the loss of Parsi Gujarati as the mother tongue of Parsis outside Gujarat, even these plays use a mixture of English and Gujarati. It is only in Mumbai and Surat that a handful of groups continue to enact Parsi Theatre on a regular basis. Hence the need for a revival which will serve the purpose of preserving the theatre genre.

Our Journey Thus Far

By creating awareness of the project within the community, attempts have been made to procure  material artefacts such as manuscripts, advertisements, handbills and recordings of the last  thespians of the Theatre. The repository for these has been the New Delhi office of Parzor Foundation.

Along with collections – our field visits have also led to some interesting interviews of the thespians of Parsi Theatre and their family members in order to create a repository of oral narratives related to the art form.

Through the ‘Preserving Parsi Theatre’ project PARZOR  has initiated the process of creating a digital archive of tangible and intangible material consisting of scripts, photographs, recordings and pamphlets in order to save much of this primary information from perishing.