Jalabala Vaidya

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A brief biography

April 9, 2023: The Times of India

NEW DELHI: Jalabala Vaidya was a legendary theatre actor and co-founder of the capital's iconic Akshara Theatre.

Jalabala Vaidya began her career as a journalist, contributing to a number of national newspapers and magazines in Delhi. She was born in London to English classical singer Madge Franckeiss and Indian author and freedom fighter Suresh Vaidya.

For her lifetime of contributions to the performing arts, she received the Varisht Samman from the Delhi government in February, the Sangeet Natak Akademi's Tagore Award, the Delhi Natya Sangh Award, the Andhra Pradesh Natya Akademi Honor, and the Honorary Citizenship of the City of Baltimore, USA. Jalabala Vaidya briefly wed renowned columnist and journalist C. P. Ramachandran, but soon after she met and wed playwright-poet Gopal Sharman, who would become her lifelong artistic and personal partner.

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. (With inputs from PTI)

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