It’s not “Gawd”… open your jaw wide to say, “God”!

Or, again, it’s not “Dawg“, but a jaw-wide-open “Dog”! Again? O, Gawd! Oops, sorry, Oh, God!

A long time ago, Hima Devi – a graduate of Trinity College, England, taught drama to kids at ‘elite’ schools in Mumbai; she also trained them for ‘elocution’, improving their pronunciation, diction, grammar, reading skills, etc. While reading Sam Roberts’ Unlearning to Tawk like a New Yorker, I was transported back in time, into my classroom at middle-school.  Appalled by our diction then, Hima Devi’s rasp cut through our reading session. Her outburst shocked us… a bunch of 24 kids. We were rather shaken by her voice as it jarred on our (then tender) ears; peeking through her smoker’s ‘voice-box’, her anger seemed magnified even further.

[Adding references to “Hima Kala Kendra” after a search in January 2016! ]


Hima 2

Of course, after all these years, I searched for references to Hima Devi on the internet. I think she was quite a lady… in a class of her own… very elegantly turned out, always! My search lead me to this 30th anniversary issue of India Today.

Bhanu Athaiya

It seems that Bhanu Athaiya, costume-designer, and winner of the Academy Award for ‘Gandhi‘ (Richard Attenborough’s 1982 film), once lived with Hima Devi. Hmm… now that’s interesting. I would read the article, “Lost and Found”  in India Today – July 03, 2006 issue.

This issue of India’s # 1 magazine at one point, has another interesting Cover Story, “Golden Moments”, and as used to be the case when I read this magazine fairly regularly, several other facts and figures, which make interesting reading. However, now India Today seems to sport a new look; I wonder if it continues to lead news stories, or if it follows the media maxims of our new era. Ouch.. tweet, tweet!

Well, after all this, I’m still searching for more information on Hima Devi… Amazingly, in cyberspace, there’s so little information available about someone who contributed so much to the theater world. Furthermore, towards grooming school-going kids to enable them speak with finesse… an attribute that often defines an individual’s persona!

But, hey, for all Hima Devi fans, here’s a photo, courtesy Bruce Bayley of UK… how could I possibly forget to mention that  Hima Devi, besides being a theater doyen, also expressed herself through dance!

Shrimati Hima Devi

Thank you, Mr Bayley, and I do hope you will not take offense to this reference. 🙂


5 thoughts on “It’s not “Gawd”… open your jaw wide to say, “God”!

  1. When I wrote this post, there was little in the media about this splendid lady. But on a search today, I’ve come across an archived article in Asian Age. Am pasting the entire text here, since often such links vanish from cyberspace or transform into dead links… so please, no copyright infringement intended. Thank you.

    “Coming of age
    By editor
    Created 13 May 2011 – 00:00

    The other day, I was sitting in a theatre waiting for a show to start. I looked around at my fellow “punters” and realised that I was probably the tallest audience member present. Everyone else was about waist-high. No, this wasn’t some Alice in Wonderland nightmare; it was just Bombay theatre in summer.
    The rise in temperature in the city now means only one thing for the theatre fraternity, children’s theatre. As soon as the schools close, children are “volunteered” for numerable workshops and activities. From Jazz dancing to pottery, all workshops are oversubscribed by parents desperate to get their kids out of the house. Naturally drama seems like a great way to spend the vacation therefore nearly every theatre institution or group holds summer workshops to meet this demand.
    The most organised of this has been the Summertime at Prithvi programme, which over the years has developed a fierce reputation as hosting workshops which are both enjoyable and of great value. This year for the first time, the NCPA has got into the act. And under the new team led by Deepa Galhot, they are working hard to re-activate the sprawling campus.
    Children’s theatre, however, has always worked in sporadic forms over the years. Pearl Padamsee and Shiraz Jeffereis were two stalwarts who tutored the children of J.B. Petit, Fort Convent, Campion, Cathedral, New Era and many more. Their work stemmed from theatre being a useful to tool to develop the personalities of the children, bring them out of their shell and improve their pronunciation. They created an army of very talented actors like Rahul Bose, Farid Currim, Aadya Bedi and many many others.
    Hima Devi was another great general of children’s theatre. Under the Trinity College London (TCL) Speech and Drama programme, she coached children, and also directed plays which gave many young actors their first time on stage. Her productions of Merchants of Venice, Importance of Being Ernest and others introduced the classics younger children. In fact, for many years, the TCL programme was the only access children had to theatre, especially through the dedicated and consistent hard work of people like Meher and Noshirwan Jehangir.
    In more recent years however there has been a shift; there are a new breed of drama teachers whose courses and workshops are almost a reaction to the formal exam-centric ways of TCL. The new logic being, why put them in a school type stressful environment when drama is supposed to trigger the imagination and be experienced not learnt by heart and regurgitated.
    The Prithvi Summer Workshops, the new NCPA Summer Fiesta, and conductors like Roo Jhala are all breaking new ground by devising interesting and yet specific programmes around theatre. Theatre is no longer confined to speech and drama, but also includes puppetry, poetry, clay modelling, and a whole world of other things.
    The plays too have changed over the years. The “foreign” classics have been abandoned for local stories. Punchatantra and Jataka Tales have been understandably popular. But the many plays have emerged, specially create for children, like Takadoom Takadish, Medha & Zoombish, and The Boy Who Stopped Smiling.
    This year, however, the line up looks as classical as ever. Many old plays and stories are being retold in new avatars. Alice in Wonderland, Don Quixote, Peter Pan, Waiting for Godot, Arms and the Man are all part of the summertime line up. Plays that are ordinarily quite verbose and hard even for adults to understand are being decoded to reach out to the newest of theatre audiences.
    As third bell rings and the lights begin to dim, and as my fellow audience members get excited by what is about to unfold, I can’t help but think of the productions of Pearl Padamsee, Shiraz Jeffereis and Hima Devi that I saw as child. Perhaps it was because of them that I fell in love with the theatre. So wherever they are, if they are listening — “thank you”. “

  2. Another reference is here:

    “… Curtain Call
    Tasneem Fatehi, co-founder of the Theatre Professionals group, grew up taking speech and drama lessons. “It was only thanks to that exposure that I got that I decided to take up a career in teaching theatre,” she says. “I went to Hima Devi’s drama classes as a child, where I received training in acting, backstage work and other on-stage techniques. That’s when I fell in love with the theatre.” … ”
    Their website:

  3. And another:

    Published: December 2, 2006 00:00 IST | Updated: March 23, 2012 15:08 IST December 2, 2006

    At home in exile

    BEYOND TELLYWOOD Alyy Khan says it is impossible for an actor to get work in the U.K. without an agent

    Television star Alyy Khan discusses movie matters with NANDINI NAIR

    Alyy Khan’s face is more familiar than his name. A common face from Indian television and theatre, Khan, though, is now settled in London in “exile”, and explains that he’s married to a girl from Pakistan and he has a British passport. Recently in New Delhi for the Teacher’s Award, Khan mentions that he has just finished the third schedule for A Mighty Heart, the much awaited movie on journalist Daniel Pearl’s life, which also features Hollywood heartthrob Angelina Jolie. The movie has been shot variously in Pakistan, Pune and Mumbai. He admits that he has not shared screen time with Jolie, but adds that he has seen her operate as an actor.

    Easy transition

    Having worked for 15 years in Bollywood, Khan seems at ease with his transition to international productions. Asked about the differences, he says, “Essentially it’s the same. But there’s a difference in attitude and professionalism.” He explains that in England it’s impossible to work without an agent. Actors only worry about the acting, while agents take care of the business aspect. It’s unlike India where producers have to be stalked for cheques. While he might be enjoying the work, he insists, “This is my country, I love it. I come here often.” Khan speaks with excitement about Sharpe’s Challenge with the likes of Sean Bean (of The Lord of the Rings and GoldenEye) and Padma Lakshmi. Khan plays the role of Lt. Mohan Singh. He is a cavalry captain, with a rather dramatic role. The programme was aired on ITV (UK). With a diploma in film/video production from London, Khan is well acquainted with the technical aspects of cinema. He has made public service messages for different organisations on issues like the pulse polio campaign. While he might often feel that a director is not getting it quite right, he says, “The happiest actor is one who follows the director. It’s best to follow the director’s vision.”

    First love

    But Khan’s first love is still theatre. He elaborates the difference between the mediums: “In an auditorium, you have a captive audience. They are watching you and watching every nuance. While for television or a movie, one might be absorbed in a scene, but from ones peripheral vision one can see the make-up artist scratch himself. And that ruins ones concentration!” He says that he has been “fortunate to get macho serious parts” for stage like Hamlet and Laxman. His favourite role to date is still Hamlet, which he did around 10 years ago while working with Hima Kala Kendra. Khan says simply, “I owe my life to Hima Devi. She was my guru.” Talking about the play, he says, “There are so many conflicts and layers to the character. But once we cracked it, the energy was awesome.” While Khan might say he’s in “exile”, he also makes clear that life has not changed. “I go to the masjid every Friday in Mumbai, I do the same in London.” He slips effortlessly into Hindi, “Khaana, peena, rehna, poshaan,ek ki hain.”

    Email the Editor

    Printable version | Jan 7, 2016 4:11:40 AM |

    © The Hindu

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