In defence of their religion they migrated from their motherland Iran prior to the 15th century and came to Gujarat on the western coast of India. They reached Sanjan town, and as promised by them to Raja Rana they assimilated with the Indian people same as sugar totally melting becomes one with the milk. They only maintained separate identity of their Zorostrian religion.
They repaid their debt of gratitude to Gujarati and Indian people by performing multitude of good deeds; they have earned their glory in the fields of industry, national spirit, education, sciences and charities but unique is the Parsee community's contribution to the theatrical arts where they laid the foundations of not only Gujarati Theatre but also Urdu and Hindi Theatre. The full credit of the present progress of theatre in these three languages is to be given to the pioneering work of the Parsee theatre artists.
The Parsee artists did not draw inspiration from the Indian folk drama forms such as Bhavai, Navtanki or Ramleela. When the Englishmen came to India they began performing English plays by Shakespeare and other dramatists from 1840 or thereabout in Bombay for their own entertainment. The Parsees took inspiration from the English dramaturgy and in 1853 they started staging their own Parsee Gujarati plays in Bombay.
Their first drama company was named Parsee Natak Mandali (Parsee Drama Company). Faramjee Gustadjee Dalal was the proprietor of this drama company and the first Gujarati drama staged at the Grant Road Theatre in Bombay was "RUSTAM AND SOHRAB". Also performed along with it was a farce "DHANJI GARAK". Thereafter during the years of 1853-1869 twenty more Parsee drama companies were formed giving further momentum to theater activity. For Parsee Theater the Parsees sought cooperation of Gujarati, Muslim, Meer and other communities. Their drama companies went with their dramas to Surat in Gujarat and also to other places all over India evoking good response from audiences. The repertoire of these drama companies included adaptations of English plays and mythological, historical and social dramas. The Parsee Theater along with providing entertainment to Indian masses also played a role in their cultural moulding and promotion of social reforms.
The initiative of presenting plays in Urdu also was taken by a university- educated Parsee scholar Dadabhai Patel - affectionately called Dadi Patel. It was he who first produced on the Parsee stage his Urdu musical play "BENAZIR BABREMUNIR".
The Parsee drama companies travelled with their Urdu - Gujarati plays to Rangoon (Burma), Singapore and to London too and won much appreciative praise. The Burmese King Thibu gifted Rupees 4,300 and precious stones and diamonds to the drama company and its artists. Their London performances of "HARISHCHANDRA" and "ALAUDDIN" were graced by the presence of Queen Victoria and Edward VII and praised by them.
During the years 1882-1922 there were over 4000 shows of Victoria Drama Company's Vinayak Prasad Talib drama "HARISHCHANDRA" written by. A similar ecstatic popular response was accorded to Ranchhodbhai Udayram's drama "NAL DAMAYANTI" which continued to be staged countless number of times over the years.
In the history of Parsee Theatre some of the famous dramatic companies were Parsee Natak Mandali, Victoria Natak Mandali, Alfred Natak Mandali, Elphinstone Natak Mandali, Hindi Natak Mandali, Khoja Dramatic Club, Zorostrian Natak Mandali, Natak Uttejak Mandali, Gujarati Natak Mandali and Baliwala Theatre.
The first Gujarati play "KARANGHELO" was performed by Parsee theatre artists. Parsees in 1874-75 staged playwright Ranchhodbhai's "HARISHCHANDRA" in pure Gujarati language at the Framjee Cawasjee Hall near Dhobi Talao in Mumbai. The Natak Uttejak Mandali staged 1,100 shows over 16 years of their production "HARISHCHANDRA" on Parsee- Gujarati stage.
Thus the Parsee Theatre was a confluence of various theatre streams : different dramatic genres; four languages - English, Gujarati, Urdu and Hindi; historical, mythological, social, political story - lines and those adapted from the English stage; varied musical scores drawing on Western, Indian and Arabic music heritage, making use of different RAGAs of Indian classical music ; variety of songs and dances ; the English and Sanskrit dramatic styles; impressive stage décor, newer stage techniques etc.. Integrating the best from among all these sources and assimilating them, the Parsee Theatre thrilled the Indian people with some of the best dramas. The Parsee Theatre performed "INDRASABHA" as a grand spectacle and 125 years ago for the first time in this country chanced a woman to act on the stage . Though it did not succeed due to protests from the conservatives in the society it did bear fruit when after a few years women entered the drama world in bigger number as actresses in major and secondory roles. Many reached the pinnacle of acting, the outstanding among them being the Englishwoman Mary Fentun, Gauhar, Munnibai, Motijan, Amirjan, Latifa Begum, Khursheed, Mehtab, Rani Premlata, Saraswati Devi, to name a few.
Those who dedicated life-long efforts to the Parsee Theatre and their plays were : Kekhashru Navroji Kabraji ("BEJAN MANIJEH"-1869, "JAMSHED" - 1870, "FAREDOON" - 1874, "NAL DAMAYANTI" -1874, "HARISHCHANDRA" - also in 1874, and "SITAHARAN, "LAV-KUSH", "NAND BATISHI"-1880, and "OKHA HARAN" ); Bomanji Navroji Kabraji ("BHOLI GUL", "GAMADA NI GORI", "BAAP NA SHRAP", "KALAJUG"); Jehangir Patel-Gulfam ("MASTAN MANIJEH", "PATAL PANI"); Framji Dadabhai Pande, Edalji Khori ( "RUSTAM AND SOHRAB", "SONANI MULNI KHURSED"); Sorabji Ogra, Dadi Patel, Nanabhai Ranina ("SAVITRI"), Pirojshah Marzban Pejam ("MAJANDARAN", " AFLATOON", "MASINO MAKO"); Jehangir Khambatta ("MAKI BHIL", "DHARTIKAMP"); Khurshedji Baliwala ("BEJAN-MANIJEH"); Firoze Gar, Dhanjisha Mehta, Dadabhoy Thuthi, Kavasji Khatav etc.
Besides the Parsee artists there were dramatists, directors, actors from other communities who had enriched the Parsee-Gujarati, Parsee-Urdu and Parsee-Hindi Theatres - prominent among them were Amrut Keshav Nayak, Radheshyam Kathavachak, Aga Hasra Kashmiri, Pandit Narayan Prasad Betaab, Munshi Vinayak Prasad, Munshi Syed Mehdi Hasan and Munshi Shekh Mahmud.
PARSEE THEATRE AFTER 1947
The Parsee Theatre took a new turn in the post-independence India and its standard-bearers were Adi Marzban, Feroze Antia and Dr. Ratan Marshal.
Adi Marzban's father Pirojshah Pijam was himself a known Parsee dramatist and Parsee journalist (JAME JAMSHED was owned and edited by him). Adi freed Parsee drama from the shackles of tradition and brought realism to Parsee Theatre. He bid farewell to the prevalence of songs and music in the plays. He was a journalist, playwright, director and actor - a versatile drama personality. Receiving a UNESCO scholarship he went to the United States and trained himself in dramatics with the Pasadona Playhouse. He produced many plays on the modern Parsee stage; notably "CHHAIYE AME JARTHUSTI", "MOTA DIL NA MOTA BAWA", "PIROJA BHAVAN", "KATARIYU GAP", "MATHE PADELA MAFATLAL", and "SAGAN KE WAGHAN".
Along with Adi Marzban another talented dramatist Feroze Antia brought realism to the dramas on the Parsee stage. "BEHRAME SHUN KIDHU", "BEHRAM NI SASU", "PYARA PESTONJI", "HARISHCHANDRA BIJO", INT's record-breaking play "RANGILO RAJA" are some of his very successful plays.
Dr. Ratan Marshal, a dedicated researcher of dramaturgy and a gifted playwright, director and actor, has made significant contribution to the Parsee Theatre. He can rightly be called a life-long devotee of the Parsee Theatre.
Other illustrious names of the Parsee Theatre world have been Homi Tavadia, Eruch Pavri, Erick Paymaster, Naju Dastur, Pilloo Mistry, Moti Antia, Dinshaw Daji, Minu Nariman, Burjor Patel and Ruby Patel, Dinyar Contractor, Abar Patel and Pilloo Wadia.
Bombay's leading drama institution Indian National Theatre (INT) has been known to be commonly engaged in producing Gujarati plays and research in dramatics but in the fifties it started a separate Parsee Drama Wing and presented modern Parsee plays in Mumbai and other cities; its popular plays being "UGI DAHAPAN NI DADH", "TARU MARU BAKALIYU", "GHER GHUNGHRO NE GOTALO" and "KUTARANI PUCHHADI WANKI".
Today in Surat, Yazdi Karanjia Group of Dramatics consisting of Yazdi, Mahernosh and Vira of the Nausherwan Karanjia family keeps alive the glorious tradition of the Parsee Theatre of yore by advancing modern Parsee Theatre on progressive lines.
There would be no exaggeration in stating that the Parsee community has fully repaid their debt to the soil of India for seeking shelter on this land by showing dedicated loyalty in all fields of dramatics; they contributed to the entertainment and cultural moulding of the Indian people and by their noble work they have made people indebted to them.
Indian scholars have written valuable treatises and books on Parsee Theatre. Every one of the personalities of the Parsee Theatre has done the work of an institution, has given life-long services to the Theatre and together they have etched a golden age in Indian dramatics.
The contribution of the Parsee Theatre to Indian Theatre will be written in letters of gold.
The information presented here in respect of the Parsee Theatre has been gathered from available sources. It has been like an attempt to gather pearls from the ocean. It is possible that some happenings, names of some dramas and dramatists and drama artists may have been left out. For our lack of knowledge we seek your forgiveness and at the same time request the experts in this field to draw our attention to any errors or mistakes by writing to us the correct details. We assure you such corrections will be promptly carried out.
Further the names of dramas, playwrights and drama artists who are listed here are not in any order of priority of their qualities or achievements but only with a view to present the information as it has been gathered.
Lastly we once again request you to send in your suggestions, information etc. in respect of Parsee dramas and thereby enrich this humble record of the Parsee Theatre.