RETURN TO INDIAby Vinta Nanda May 16 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 11 mins, 40 secs
An interesting conversation between the courageous, outrageous but emotional Dolly Thakore, and Vinta Nanda, which brings back multiple memories.
Dolly Thakore was born in Kohat on 10 March 1943. Trained in radio and television with BBC London, she returned to India to become a leading newscaster and television host. She came into the limelight as news speaker in English for Mumbai Doordarshan. Most of her career has been spent on the stage, acting in plays by master playwrights including Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, Harold Pinter’s The Birthday Party and Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. She appeared in the films Page 3 and White Noise.
Thakore was the casting director of Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi (1982). She was responsible for recruiting the Indian actors in the film. She tells me about how Richard would come over to her house at Peddar Road and sit on the mattress on the floor to discuss the casting of the film. Since then she has worked on a number of Indian and international co-productions like Far Pavilions, Kim, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Jinnah and Such a Long Journey. In 1997, she was the casting assistant for the film Sixth Happiness.
Born into a conservative protestant Christian family, Dolly’s father worked in the Air Force, which took her to various towns while growing up. When I asked her what she wished was different about the India as we know it, she recalled the time she participated in the Republic Day parade and how wonderful those days were when she went to school in Delhi. She said, “I would love, if I could, to bring back that India once more. I worry for the youth of today, the boys and girls who haven’t seen the days when there was hope, when every person contributed to building the nation, when each one of us celebrated our diversity and felt proud of the fact that we as a nation are the cradle of all the cultures and religions of the world. Today I feel sad that even the memory of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the best years that I have seen, are being debated and put to test. It makes me sad to see misinformation being deliberately spread to distract people from real issues. The young generations must know of their past factually, but who cares!”
Dolly studied drama at Miranda House in New Delhi where she discovered her love for theatre. She met Dilip Thakore while working at BBC and fell in love. They married and moved to Mumbai where Dilip practiced law. In Mumbai, she met fellow stage actor and producer Alyque Padamsee. She divorced Dilip to live with Alyque and had a son Quasar Padamsee. Quasar is a renowned theatre professional, an actor, director, and producer.
Dolly played a small but significant part of Karan’s (Rahul Bose) mother in the film White Noise (2005), with the late Pratap Sharma essaying the role of her husband. And, it’s from here, because I made it, that our friendship started. We don’t really hang out, but when we meet it is with warmth. Her smile is electric and when one’s lost in a sea of humanity at the theatre and events, it shines brightly and beckons you.
A couple of weeks ago, we met at a discussion arranged by Dr AL Sharada, Director Population First and Laadli Media Awards, at the BKC Mumbai. After an enlightening presentation made to UNFPA’s visiting dignitary Ms Upala Devi and Anuja Gulati, and a high tea filled with chatter between the eclectic set of people that Dr Sharada had brought together, Dolly took a ride back with me in my car. “I’m putting up with Quasar (her son) at Versova,” she told me. “My own house at Peddar Road is undergoing renovation so I’ve moved in with my son for a few days”.
It took a long time for us to reach Versova, over two hours, because of the traffic, but time passed faster than the speed of sound because we got talking and Dolly was generous and willing to answer the questions I was asking about her vast life.
I knew Alyque, too, quite well. Besides having met him often at places and events, I recall the first meeting with him vividly - he asked my business partner, Raman Kumar, to get me along for a cup of tea way back in the mid-1990s. He expressed a desire to meet with the writer of the television series Tara, a fierce feminist show that I was co-producing and writing, which was the talk of the town. For me it was a big event, to meet ‘the Alyque Padamsee’, God of advertising and theatre. The discussions we had, spread over a couple of hours, sealed a friendship that lasted for years.
My friendship with Alyque grew massively after two life-altering events in the history of Mumbai. The first was after the cloudburst that led to the floods in 2005, when Mahesh Bhatt, Majid Memon, the late Nutan Bajaj, Raell Padamsee, Alyque Padamsee and some more citizens filed a PIL against the government of Maharashtra. And, the second event was the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai when we protested widely, and drove all the way to New Delhi for the campaign called ‘We are coming Mr. Prime Minister’. Alyque supported us and met us in Delhi where we were parked at Jantar Mantar demanding to meet the PM, Dr Manmohan Singh. We were not able to meet the PM, but because Alyque was with us, we were given adequate assurances by the PMO, and union minister Renuka Chowdhury, and told that the city of Mumbai would not be left vulnerable again.
I’d like to add here that it was the Indian National Congress in power during both the events - when we demanded the resignation of the Chief Minister of Maharashtra after the floods in 2005 and sought accountability from the union government in 2006. Today, when we protest against the divisive politics of the present government, we are called intellectual mafia, presstitutes, anti-nationals, liberandus, urban naxals. Ironically, back then, it was the RSS and its affiliate, the BJP, that praised us for our dissent. What I’m trying to tell you is that till 2014, protests were legitimate, protestors were heard, and the governments could hardly use the media or, for that matter, the agencies to escape criticism. I’m sorry I’ve digressed, but this time for a good reason, right?
While Dolly was telling me about Alyque and her, how they met in the early 1970s and about how he made her feel wanted, something she missed in her marriage to Dilip Thakore, images of my meetings and discussions with Alyque, who I knew to be a graceful man, committed to activism, were flashing in my mind. I remember him sitting me down in 2006, and explaining to me how important the role of the media, which was expanding so aggressively, was to the ‘new India’. How it must be an effective vehicle of change. We didn’t think then that media, too, like many other discoveries that have taken humanity to greater heights, could be weaponised.
Dolly and Alyque’s love story is a phenomenal one. As we drove through the traffic, she told me about ‘those heady days’. Theatre was growing and her return to India had left her bereft of love because the man she had married, and came back from London to be with, was not the same person anymore. And Alyque, who fell head over heels for her, left no stone unturned to let her know how much he loved her. Flowers and chocolates followed and with that devotion of a kind she’d only yearned for.
While in Delhi for a conference, he missed his flight to stay back for the day and spend it with her. He surprised her with a sudden visit at her parent’s home where she was staying, with lunch packed in a box, and whisked her away to Surajkund for a picnic. He was there at the airport to receive her when she returned to Mumbai, and took care of her like none other had. As the eldest among her four siblings, Dolly didn’t have a very good relationship with her mother. She was mostly taken care of by her grandmother while growing up. When Dolly met Alyque, he was married to Pearl Padamsee, a theatre doyen and personality in her own right, and they had children, Raell and Ranjit. That Alyque could put his marriage at risk to be with her was daunting as well as exciting for Dolly.
Dolly was a newscaster with Mumbai Doordarshan, the only television network in the 1970s, until the early 1990s when the satellite television revolution happened. She read the prime time news every day. She remembers how she would scour every newspaper that was published, arm herself with the knowledge of what was happening in politics and society, have all the information at the tips of her fingers, and because of her need-to-know attitude, she never required a script, which, in those days, was handed to newsreaders two hours before telecast. “Remember”, she said, “There was no such thing like the ‘teleprompter’ in those days.”
She loved her job. She knew every politician, media baron, celebrity, industrialist, film and theatre personality, personally. They were all her friends. She, too, was a known face, a celebrity, and was recognised by one and all. After reading the news at 8pm, she would join Alyque at the wonderful parties Bombay was known for, and luminaries from every field of work would shower her with compliments. She loved every minute of it.
“I would walk into stores and the shopkeepers would smile at me. Mostly, they would refuse to let me pay for what I was buying, but I would insist. I have no regrets for anything in my life. And, I don’t bear grudges. Of course there are some people I like more than others. All of us like to criticise, so I hold nothing against the people who are critical of me. I don’t waste my time on them though. Instead I spent a lot of time with NGOs, like Alert India, which worked with the Leprosy affected, I work with the visually impaired, I have used my talent of reading with the Talking Book Studios. The first book I read was ‘Freedom at Midnight’. I’ve also read Shobha De’s books for them. I work with organisations that work with destitute women and children. My God, how I love doing everything. Unfortunately, I’m not able to do as much as I used to do earlier, but I offer my services to whatever extent that I can.”
My conversation with Dolly ended because we reached her son’s home where she was staying but not before she invited me to drop by for a cup of tea a couple of days later. With this recent love for photography I have, I don’t miss an opportunity to take pictures of the people I know, especially those I love and admire.
So, we continued over chai, khari and mawa cake a couple of days later. I wanted to know where her fourteen-year-long relationship with Alyque went after they parted ways. She said, “We didn’t talk to each other for ten years after he left me. He was living with Sharon and I kept my distance. But then Quasar was there and Alyque would meet him regularly. Afterwards he would come by on Quasar’s birthday and also invite us over for the famous Christmas parties he used to host at his place. I do regret that I didn’t meet Pearl enough. It was only during her last days that we met. As a matter of fact, Sharon, Pearl and I were in the same room those days with Alyque sitting on the rocking chair. Later, I was by Alyque’s side before he passed away. We, Raell, Sharon, the kids and I, were there with him. He passed away on 17th November 2018 and we performed all his last rites together. We even worked together to celebrate Alyque’s life at the Opera House. It’s unfortunate that ever since my book was published last year, things have become a bit strained with some of the family; we don't meet and communicate as often as we once used to.
‘Regrets, None’, the recent book Dolly has written, is published by Harper Collins and is a best seller. Written with wit, humour and candour, it is a rare memoir that is unafraid to bare it all. It follows the veteran theatre personality’s life and career - growing up in Delhi and an assortment of Air Force stations, getting her start in theatre in college, her time in London, involvement with social issues, casting for Gandhi and filming it across India, working in radio, television and advertising while returning always to her first love, theatre. Dolly Thakore brings alive another era - the glitz, the glamour, the struggles. She speaks candidly about love, sex, infidelity, motherhood, commitment, ecstasy and heartbreaks. She emerges as a true-blooded embodiment of what it means to be a strong, empowered, vulnerable, courageous (and sometimes outrageous) woman.
I can go on and on with stories from Dolly Thakore’s life, but I would rather that all of you grab a copy of the book instead.