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Our 1965 school play – it took us to the Prime Minister

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Introduction

Subodh Mathur

Subodh Mathur writes:

I completed my high school from St. Xavier's School, Jaipur in 1966. In those days, the school offered two different final examinations. One was the Indian School Certificates (I.S.C), which was a descendant of the older Senior Cambridge examination conducted by Cambridge University, England. The other was All-India Higher Secondary (A.I.H.S.), which was a national examination conducted by an Indian government agency.

Regardless of whether you took the I.S.C or A.I.H.S. examination, life in Standard XI - the final year - was focused heavily on doing well in the final examination.

Standard X was different. You were senior enough in the school, which gave you some freedom. And, the academic pressure was not so high. Every year, one of the activities of Standard X students was to stage a full-length play, under the supervision of a teacher.

As was the norm in those days, our school was for boys only. No girls. So, how could they choose a play that had a woman in it? There was simply no way that a Standard X boy would do a woman's role. Not in Jaipur in 1965. Anyhow, our teacher did solve this problem - read about it below.

The school used to publish a year book called The Blue and Gold. It included the photos and brief bios of all the students in the graduating class. I am using those photos - they show us as we were then.

The play that we put up was Hitchcock's famous Dial M for Murder (1954).

Cover page of the brochure produced for the play. Jaipur. 1965.
The complete brochure is also attached as a PDF file.

Brochure Cover

The play's brochure and all available photos


The Play

Udai P Singh

Udai Pratap Singh writes:

 

My memory of the play is still good, as I was in the lead role. Fr. Grace, our teacher, told me that the number of lines I had was more than the combined lines of all the rest of the cast of characters. That was the reason he gave to force me to watch the original Hollywood movie in the school auditorium about 8 times before we went public. Sometimes, he would start the movie and go away till the end. At other times, Fr. Cosgrove, another teacher, did it to make sure that I knew the lines and the way to say them.

 

Here is how it started.

In the early part of our Class X, Fr. Grace was trying to select the school play for the year. I had recently come from St. Xavier's Patna, where they also did similar school plays each year. Also, the Principal of St. Xavier's Patna (Fr. Gordon Edward Murphy) was at that time the head of all Jesuit high schools in India (that is the reason when I came from Patna to Jaipur in January 1965, all I had to do to get admitted at Jaipur was to give Fr. Pereira, the Principal of Xavier's Jaipur, a small chit with "Please admit Udai Pratap Singh in Class 10 ISC" and signed underneath by Fr. Murphy). I mentioned to Fr. Grace two of the recent successful school plays done at St. Xavier's Patna: Twelve Angry Men, and Dial "M" For Murder. Fr. Grace realized that it will be great to get the playscript that way. So he contacted Fr. Murphy who provided him the scripts of both plays.

The original movie had the former Princess/Queen Grace of Monaco (when she was a Hollywood actress, before she married the King) as the lead actress. St. Xavier's Patna had already converted that role from a wife to a stepfather, and Fr. Grace accepted the script from Fr. Murphy very happily and selected this play. Otherwise Rakesh Hooja would have dressed and acted differently in playing the role of my character's wife!

The auditions were done during the summer vacation of 1965, and Fr. Grace had already selected the cast by the time school started after summer. When I found that out, I went to Fr. Grace and complained that it is not fair to do the auditions during the summer vacation when only the day scholars (those living in Jaipur) could come in for the tryouts. Fr. Grace agreed, and had another round of quick auditions at the beginning of the school after summer, this time including me. This round resulted in basically the same cast (almost all of it), except that I (the only boarder) got selected in the lead role. I had a lot of one-on-one coaching from Fr. Grace on the play, and we also saw the movie together a few times. I believe the whole cast saw the movie only a few times.

So here is the cast in order of appearance:

Rakesh Hooja

Rakesh Hooja: Mr. Wendice

Shantanu Consul

Shantanu Consul: Mark Wendice

Udai P Singh

Udai Pratap Singh: Tony Wendice

Surajit Sanyal

Surajit Sanyal: Lesgate

Naresh Dewan

Naresh Dewan: Inspector Hubbard

Dhananjay Birla

Dhananjay Birla: Albert

Narendra Vashisth

Narendra Vashisth: Thompson

Rajendra Rathore

Rajendra Rathore: Williams

In the Hollywood movie, the lead actors were Ray Milland (playing the role of Tony Wendice, the character I played) and Grace Kelly (Margo Wendice, wife of Tony Wendice, which was converted in the play into stepfather of Tony Wendice and was played by Rakesh Hooja).

Opening scene Dial M Muder

Opening scene: Tony Wendice (Udai), left, enters the living room and discusses his travel plans and other family matters with stepfather Mr. Wendice (Rakesh), right, and stepbrother Mark (Shantanu), centre.

[This brings to memory an Indian gathering we had several years ago here in the Bay Area when we were watching a newly (same day) released Hindi movie called Aitbaar (1985). After a few scenes, everything looked very familiar, and it clicked that the Hindi movie was an almost exact copy of the Hollywood film, including the exact translation of the dialogues I had learnt by heart many decades ago.

I started telling my wife what the lead character would say next in each scene (translated from the Dial "M" dialogue into Hindi), and I was on target, surprising all. These guys copied everything including the exact script and dialogues (translated into Hindi)! My watching the movie many times and reciting my own dialogues numerous times in practice and actual show made me realize that the script was still etched in my memory.]

We had to be careful during the murder scene. Tony Wendice hired an ex-class fellow and con man, Lesgate, to come and murder Mr. Wendice, but in the scene Lesgate got stabbed by Mr. Wendice defending himself. We placed a plywood board with a thick foam sponge on the back of Surajit. Rakesh used an actual knife to stab Surajit in the back. It went through the overcoat that Surajit was wearing and into the foam, but not through the plywood base.

Dial M Surprise

Tony (Udai) comes home and is surprised to find Lesgate's (Surajit's) dead body.

I had to come into all scenes and was asked to wear different suits in each scene, if possible. I remember that I had only one suit at that time. So I borrowed two or three suits from Vijay Bagaria and used them all for the play. During one of the shows when my father was in the audience, he noticed that I was in four different suits during the evening. After the play was over, the first thing he asked was if I had bought three additional suits, and was relieved that he didn't have to foot the bill for them. Vijay was a great help behind the scenes, an all-rounder helping the cast in many ways.

The cast and stage crew were treated to big slabs of vanilla ice cream after each full performance in late September and first half of October (without any significant audience), as well as after the three actual shows we put up. I used to look forward to that, especially after taking sips of cold tea (camouflaged as whiskey) with a terrible taste during a long scene with Surajit, when my character was blackmailing Surajit's character into murdering Mr. Wendice (Rakesh).

Fr. Grace was a great Director of the play. Fr. Cosgrove helped Fr. Grace with the background music score selection. Mr. Woods, Miss Sircar, Miss Francis, Miss Vijaya Singh, and Mrs. Bhandari did the costumes and make-up. Subodh Mathur was behind the scenes managing the stage crew. Virendra Singh ‘Laddoo', Umesh Joshi, Bobby Mehta, Rajendra Bader, Devabrat Lahiri, Vijay Bagaria, Davinder Singh, Madhusudan Birla, Mohan La Tank, and Borun Chatterjee were running around behind the scenes in whatever ways Fr. Grace asked them.

Our first performance was in mid-October at the school, but only for a selective invited audience (like a dress rehearsal, but better than that). Girls and teachers from MGD School attended, and several other invited guests from our school, including parents and families of the cast. The second performance was on 19 October, 1965 at the school for everyone at school (students and faculty).

The third performance, with tickets sold to raise funds for the National Defense Fund, was at Ravindra Manch in Jaipur on 3 November 1965. During and around the performance there were some protests by a political party (probably Jan Sangh) protesting having a play in a foreign language. We raised Rs. 2,500 from the proceeds of this performance.

Final scene Dial M

Final moments of the final scene: End of the road; no way out. Tony (Udai) tries to escape, but is confronted at the door by Sargent Williams (Rajendra Rathore).

Additional photos are available in the attached PDF file.

Surajit Sanyal writes:

The whole cast saw the movie at least 6 times in the auditorium on the top floor of our school. During the Indo-Pakistan war, blackout was in force, and all the Dayscholars had to cycle home in the dark, going home. Umesh Joshi was the closest to school, along with Shantanu Consul. Narendra Vaishisth was a bit far away with me being midway. Rakesh Hooja's mother would come sometimes to fetch him, since he was far in Gandhinagar but she had to shield her car's headlights.

The board with plasticine and foam was Fr. Grace's idea. Simply brilliant!

When Rakesh was stabbing me in the back, he whispered "Yahan maarun (hit here)?" After feeling for the right spot! He was obviously worried. When I lay listless on the stage floor, the entire audience was trying to figure out how that knife was still sticking out.

My suit was borrowed from Krishna Saboo. An off-white one.

Deeply miss Rakesh Hooja , gentle and humorous. (Editor's note: Rakesh Hooja passed away in 2012).


Meeting India's Prime Minister in Delhi

Udai Pratap Singh writes:

Minesh Gajjar added another Rs. 2,500 to the funds collected for the National Defence Fund. We went to New Delhi and presented the Rs. 5,000 cheque to Prime Minister Shastri in December 1965. I couldn't go on this trip (a schedule conflict with another family trip), but most of the cast with Fr. Grace and some other classmates went on the trip. Shastriji died only a month or two later.

Surajit Sanyal writes:

We stayed at St. Xavier's, Delhi on what was then Ludlow Castle Road. Xavier's had shifted into this property owned then by Cecil Hotel and had retained much of a Hotel look. So, we got two large, well-appointed rooms for the lot of us. Fr. Grace was staying on the same property a little flung away.

With PM Lal Bahadur Shastri

With Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri

L to R: Pavan Jaipuria, Brother Rai, Kulbir Kohli, unidentified, Dhananjay Birla, Krishna Saboo, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, Manish Gajaria, Madhusudan Birla, Subodh Mathur, unidentified, Michael Ratnaswami, Surajit Sanyal, Umesh Joshi, Shantanu Consul, Udayan Chatterji, Fr. Gerald Grace.


Epilogue

Vijay Bagaria

Vijay Bagaria writes:

Dial M was a huge event for all of us at Xaviers, Jaipur. Never before had we put up anything on such a scale in the school, and then to stage a full-length play on a public platform like Ravindra Manch was both challenging and exciting. The rehearsals, the staging of the play in the school auditorium and eventually at the Manch --- all had to be performed while the school was in session.

For us boarders, not much used to life outside the little boundary wall that formed the perimeter of the school campus, it was a different type of experience but in the process, we at least had the (legal) opportunity to get out of the school compound!

Coming to the drama itself, we had a strong task-master like Fr Gerald P Grace as the director. We could think of taking liberties only at the risk of inviting Fr Grace's his wrath. Each actor was naturally expected to put in a flawless performance.

But then, apart from the cast, there is the "crew". This is where I had to play a key role. I was managing the props, so I was tasked with the responsibility to ensure that from before the first Act to the last one, everything was in its place and nothing is amiss. The tiniest item would have to be present where it belonged, literally.

What if the key was not placed underneath the carpet on the staircase, or it was placed in a different position? What if the board placed in the back of Lesgate (Surajit) was not made correctly and the dagger pierced the board???

What if the dagger itself was not sharp enough for the stab? The placement of each item of furniture, the telephone, the pictures in the background, the liquor bottles, the lamp-shade, etc. - all had to be placed accurately where they belonged, and this had to be done speedily between the acts. The time available when an Act was in progress was used for minute planning for the next Act to ensure that everything was readily available.

Coupled with my role as a "props manager" I was naturally expected to do whatever else was necessary as member of a team, such as getting the 3-4 suits for Tony (Udai).

But as they say, "the proof of the pudding...". The show was widely acknowledged as most thrilling, and the performance as most outstanding. Of course, the icing on the cake was the presentation of the cheque for a handsome amount of Rs 5,000 to Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, though I missed this opportunity as I was a boarder who had returned home for our winter vacation.

Looking back, it gives me immense satisfaction to know that I played a role in the huge success of this "magnum opus".

Subodh Mathur writes:

Looking back at life in 1965-66, not the play itself, two things come to my mind.

First, for us students, life went as normal in the 1965 war against Pakistan, even though Rajasthan has a land border with Pakistan. There were rumours that Pakistan's Air Force would try to bomb Jodhpur. In fact, Radio Pakistan had claimed that they had bombed Jodhpur (did not happen), and were targeting Jaipur. Hence, people in Jaipur had to observe a blackout - meaning no light in the streets.

As Surajit mentions, most of the cast and the supporting crew were ‘day scholars' - students who lived in Jaipur with their families, and just a few were ‘boarders' or ‘hostel boys', who lived on the school campus in the hostel. So, when the rehearsals for the play went on until late, day scholars like me had to go home in the dark on our bicycles. No matter. No one was scared. We continued with our lives.

Second, when we had collected funds for the National Defense Fund, it was so easy to get a meeting with the Prime Minister fairly quickly. And, there was hardly any security at the Prime Minister's home, where we went in the morning. And Shashtriji readily agreed to a photo with us. Those were simpler times!


© Respective authors 2018

Comments
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Subodh Mathur   |2018-01-11
Looking in 2018 at my bio in 1966.
Once a nerd, always a nerd, it seems. Got a Ph.D. in Economics, and live in USA.
Editing and publishing - still there.
Music and social service - yes, still there.
Dramatics? Not at all.
Electronics? No. Did we even know what electronics was at that time?
Chess? Remains aspirational
Vijay Bagaria   |2018-01-10
Excellent! Udai, what vivid memories!! Always great to look back and wonder how
we could achieve this. This was an early lesson in team-work.
Jatinder Sethi   |2018-01-11
I NEVER REALISED THE AGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN YOU AND ME so acutely as i did now
after reading your school play Dial M which you did in1965!!! It was 1965 that
We, Uma,I and our son Amal,came back to India from London. My God. Now you,to
me, seem so young.
Wonderful./
Can you tell "Where are they Now? all the
Star cast of your school production?"
In our school days there was a saying
"HONHAR BACHEY KAY CHIKNE CHIKNE PAAT." Applies to you perfectly.

And
photo nwith JAI KISSAN JAI JAWAN PM.
Three Cheers.
Subodh Mathur   |2018-01-11
Let me respond about Rakesh Hooja, who passed away in 2012. He and I were close
friends and collaborators after high school. In 1972-73, after completing our MA
degrees, Rakesh and I were lecturers in Rajasthan Univ, Jaipur - he in Political
Science, and I in Economics. We spent 'millions of hours' together.

Later he
married my younger sister Meenkashi - both of them retired as high ranking
Rajasthan IAS officers.

As his school bio says, Rakesh could write. And he did.
In college. In the IAS. Many books - all serious stuff. And got his Ph.D.

After
he retired from the IAS, he became the Director of the Indian Institute of
Public Administration, New Delhi - a recognition of his academic-administrative
experience and work. http://www.iipa.org.in/dir.html He passed away in this
job.

Our families miss him a lot. And so do his classmates.
Vijay Bagaria   |2018-01-11
After completing my ISCE in 1966 with Subodh, Udai and others I moved to my home
town Tinsukia, Assam where my family was engaged in the business of tea
machinery manufacturing. I used to attend B. Com classes in the evening whereas
during the day I was a 'trainee' in our business. But there was no further study
after B. Com as I was quickly absorbed in the family business. My interests are
not many, but I have been a Rotarian since 1972, have tried to keep pace with
computers, enjoy photography (though I do not possess a proper camera), love
scenic beauty. Miss my school-mates but our re-union in Dec'16 (the Golden
Jubilee of our passing out year)found most of us meeting after the 50 years gap.
We met again in Dec'17 at Kumbhalgarh and are now a close-knit group. Love to
keep in touch with the rest of the gang! Was actively involved in editing the
'X-Rays' (our school paper), was Troop Leader of our Boy Scouts group, actively
participated in social service activities, etc.
JK Anand   |2018-01-10
Thank you. Many lives on one canvas. P
Udai Pratap Singh   |2018-01-13
Two of the cast (Rakesh Hooja and Rajendra Singh Rathore) have passed away. We
miss them.

After St. Xavier's Jaipur I was in IIT Kanpur (1967-1972) for my
B.Tech. in Civil Engineering. In 2009 IIT Kanpur gave me their highest award,
the Distinguished Alumnus Award for lifetime achievement and excellence in
environmental and water resources engineering. In 1972 I went to USA and
completed my Master's and Doctoral degrees. Joined CH2M HILL, which eventually
became one of the largest civil engineering firms in the world, in 1974 in
Florida and transferred to California in 1986. Was Vice President of CH2M HILL
in their Environmental Services Division from 1998 to end of 2014 when I
retired. Currently I do part-time consulting and hope to fully retire in the
next year or two.

I have been active in my profession, writing and editing
books and technical papers for the last 40 years. I was leading the
environmental and water resources engineering profession in USA in 2009-2010
after being elected as President of the American Society of Civil Engineers -
Environmental & Water Resources Institute, and was an Advisor to the United
States Congress. Was also a leader of the Asian Civil Engineering Coordinating
Council, composed of civil engineering organizations in 13 countries including
India, from 2013 through 2016. Am still involved in other leadership roles in
ASCE and ACECC.

My wife, Manju, and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. We
have a son, Neeraj, also living in the Bay Area, and a daughter, Neha, who lives
in London. I enjoyed reconnecting with my school classmates after 50 years and
hope to stay in regular touch with them.
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