SAN JOSE, Calif. – The troubled and colorful life of thumri singer Gauhar Jaan, India’s first female recording artist, was brought to stage here Feb. 10 by Indian director Lillette Dubey, as a fundraiser for EnActe Arts.
More than $51,000 – via an on-the-spot pledge drive – was raised by mathematician-turned-comedian Sammy Obeid, who emceed the fundraiser.
Dubey made a pitch for EnActe, helmed by Indian American Vinita Sud Belani, stressing the importance of performing arts.
“Technology has drawn us into a non-human space, which is more insular. Performing arts are the means to connect with each other, humanizing our shared experiences,” said Dubey, founder of Mumbai-based Prime Time Theatre Company.
“Gauhar,” a play written by Mahesh Dattani, is based on Vikram Sampat’s novel, “My Name is Gauhar Jaan.” The play made its U.S. debut in Houston, Texas on Feb. 2.
The acting was superb, as were the sets and costumes. The music, with many songs based on the poetry of Ghalib, was exceptional. Rajeshwari Sachdev performed as Gauhar, singing in several languages. Denzil Smith, a respected Indian actor who played Jinnah in Gurinder Chadha’s film “Viceroy House,” performed as Fred Gaisberg, an engineer with the Gramophone Company in London, who persuaded Gauhar to record her voice.
The show was stolen by the exquisite and transcendent voice of Zila Khan, who played the role of Gauhar’s mother – singer and poet Malka Jaan – as well as the older Gauhar. The daughter of legendary sitarist Ustad Vilayat Khan, Zila is an accomplished singer in many musical styles such as Indian classical, Sufi and folk music, in many languages.
The fund-raising goal for the evening was $50,000, to support a new competition in the San Francisco Bay Area for K-12 children. This annual event aspires to allow children and their teams a 20-minute performance judged by an international panel of judges.
Anurag Mairal, strategic advisor to EnActe, announced the new competition. “We need leaders who understand society better. And supporting theater encourages human interactions and furthers that goal,” he argued eloquently. Santa Clara, Calif., County has provided EnActe with $5,000 to support the competition.
EnActe Arts Inc., is a SF Bay Area theater company whose mission is to stage South Asian Theater with universal appeal. Belani, a high-tech executive-turned-entrepreneur who is founder and artistic director of Enacte, introduced her company, its mission, values and performances. She spoke of 17 productions over the past 12 years through which the company seeks to represent a “hybrid of cultures: stories of the world we come from, set in the land in which we live.” EnActe’s upcoming production “My Fair Dude” – which will run May 11-13 at the Cubberly Theater in Palo Alto, Calif., – is inspired by the Lerner and Loewe classic “My Fair Lady.”
On behalf of EnActe, Dubey presented the “EnActor of the Year” award of $25,000 to Ranjita Chakravarty, who has been featured in several of the theater company’s production. The award will enable Chakravarty to direct a play of her choice.
The attendees of the gala were joined in the theater by members of TiE, following a charter member event on the premises.