(Last Updated on : 28/01/2009)
Victoria Theatrical Company is an early Bombay-based theatre troupe. Established in 1868 this was also the first progressive and professional Urdu theatre
association. This established a high tradition in performing arts, especially musicals. It made all sorts of experiments in Urdu, Parsi Gujarati, pure Gujarati, and Hindi. It was the first well-organized Parsi theatre
company. It had definite plans, and strict rules and discipline. It organized competitions and invited the best plays for performances, helping both playwriting and the stage. Pestanji Dhanjibhai Master was appointed as director with a considerable salary. Victoria started the practice of employing actors on monthly pay. The rate in those days ranged from Rs 10 to Rs 30. It built the Victoria Theatre in 1870 and introduced women on the Bombay stage. Muslim actresses said to have been brought from Hyderabad
, played Sabaj Pari and Lai Pari in Amanat's classic Indarsabha i.e. 'Indra's Court' in 1872.
The company toured parts of Gujarat, Delhi
, and Allahabad
in 1874-5. Indarsabha at Lewis Theatre in Calcutta was a big success. Towards better prospects, Victoria travelled to Madras
, and even visited Rangoon and Singapore in 1878. The troupe also visited London for the colonial exhibition in 1885, which proved a financial loss though they staged Harishchandra and Alladin before Queen Victoria, and Ceylon. There they performed in Sinhalese. An invitation from the King of Mandalay, Burma, in 1881 earned them Rs 50,000.
K. Kabraji, Dadabhai Patel, Coonvarji Sorabji Nazir, and Dadabhai Thuthi were the trailblazing managers. Most were well educated in English and some had visited England to study theatrical conditions. Generally, their productions adapted English comedies to suit Parsi life and manners. They continued the English practice of giving short farces, in Gujarati, Urdu, or Hindi, at the end of the principal play. With a view to commercial success, they ordered stage machinery from England. The transformation of scenes and dissolving views were the main attractions. Pantomimes like Alladin and even pure operas were performed closely on English lines. Dadi Ratanji Dalai was the greatest scenic artist of Bombay at that time. He was associated with the Victoria. The actor-singer Khurshedji Balliwala was its last glorious proprietor and built the Novelty Theatre in 1887 and Grand Theatre
in 1907. After his death, Madan Theatres
bought the company.
The Victoria presented varied plays, including Shakespeare translations and adaptations. The names can be mentioned as Khodyo dungar ane kadhyo undar i.e. 'Dug a Mound and Unearthed a Mouse' in 1868 adapted Much Ado about Nothing in Gujarati. Kabraji's Bejan-Manijeh i.e. 'Bejan and Manijeh' in 1869 ran for fifty nights and established a pattern of playwriting and model for stage presentation and musical insight. Patel bought Rustam ane Sohrab i.e. 'Rustam and Sohrab' by Edulji Khorey. He was the soon-to-be famous dramatist, for Rs 300, published it in 1870. It was translated by Aram into Urdu
for performance. Patel's operatic staging of it was a milestone, highly rated for music, scenery, and dramatic situations given racy and powerful expression, stimulating both Urdu and Gujarati theatre
. Aram's Gul Bakavali i.e. 'Bakavali's Flower' is a noteworthy production in 1872. The Urdu dramatist Talib regularly wrote for Victoria from the year 1880s. Victoria Theatrical Company closed down in 1923.