Tribute to our Alumnus: Alyque Padamsee

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 18

As we wait at the threshold of our sesquicentennial celebration, St. Xavier’s mourns the loss of the effervescent Alyque Padamsee one of our colossal alumnus. He changed the course of history in every institution he chose to enter. Lintas was never the same after he intervened. Urban theatre bears his Midas touch. He will remain immortal in the repository of World Cinema.  

Donning many hats such as being the ‘brand father of advertising’, theatre producer, actor, author, trainer Padamsee immortalised himself singularly in each role. Brands such as Surf, Liril, Cherry Blossoms will remain memorable due to his fine etching of character. His Cherry blossom-Charlie Chaplin, the Liril girl and Lalitaji from Surf are part of ad-lore now. His Kamasutra ad led to questions being raised on the floor of the Parliament. His role of the monocled-Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Richard Attenborough’s magnum opus, Gandhi will remain an enduring memory in the history of cinema. Additionally, he is credited with  celebrating the power of the musical in theatre with his staging of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar. It was upon Padamsee’s request that Girish Karnad translated his Kannada play Tughlaq into English.

Padamsee entered the portals of St. Xavier’s in 1948 as a student. He was an ardent member of the Dramatics Club and the Debating Society. His histrionic skills were honed in the St. Xavier’s College Hall where he won the 3rd prize in the Annual Dramatics competition in 1949 and the winner’s trophy for his performance In the Morgue in 1950. It was in the Dramatics Club that he forged some lasting relationships with stalwarts like Gerson da Cunha. He met his first wife Pearl in the Xavier’s Green Room! While at Xavier’s, in 1950, he was the leader for the proposition for a debate on why in his opinion the extra-curricular activities should play a major part in University training. He graduated from St. Xavier’s in 1953. Later in 1968, he returned to direct Irwin Shaw’s Bury the Dead for the Xavier’s College Dramatics Club. Further, in the 1960s in his characteristic style of pushing the envelope, he staged an anti-religious play called Marat/Sade in the midst of stiff opposition.

Living the college motto ‘Provocans ad Volandum’, he soared great heights and provoked others to take leaps and risks. Always a pioneer, he set many trends which is not an unfamiliar streak in a true Xaverian (a term which was in vogue during his times at Xavier’s). Later, he was on the Alumni Advisory Board of the College for about 10 years and contributed a great deal to the visioning for the College under Autonomy, including. In one of the training sessions in June 2007 on Presentation Skills, which he conducted for the Faculty at St. Xavier’s college he said, “Don’t call it a lecture. That sounds boring. Think ‘edutainment’! Use zingers! Your job as teachers, is to take the black and white words from a text and ‘bring them to life’ in your classrooms. You know you are effective when you have a ‘lean forward’ audience.”

Padamsee’s work of art will always inspire. His Hands of Harmony after the 1992-1993 riots in Mumbai was a human chain linked by hands starting from Colaba to Dahisar. Total strangers held hands to indicate that Mumbai was dominated by the spirit of people who wanted peace. Padamsee writes in his book A Double Life, “When the sirens blew, everyone linked hands and read out a pledge that we had prepared, and then sang the National Anthem together.” He received the Karmaveer Puraskaar, November 26, 2007 for Lifelong Fight for Social Justice and Action. 

St. Xavier’s was privileged to have Alyque Padamsee as one of its alumni. He was as Shakespeare says in The Tempest, ‘We are such stuff/As dreams are made on… (The Tempest Act 4, Scene I)

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