After fighting what he considered the twin hexes on his family, Rahul da Cunha succumbed to both. He fell into the ways of advertising and the English theatre. His fathers, uncles, aunt and assorted cousins were earlier victims. He shows no signs of recovery.
This is perhaps just as well for a highly successful advertising agency which he helps to run, da Cunha Associates—Chairman, Sylvester (Dad). Here Rahul is responsible for the creative product. This agency is best known for the advertising of Amul Butter and those marvellous hoardings.
When he speaks as an advertising man, you hear the global anthems of the profession, of the need to provide advertisers the best distillate of data, insight and daring. It is when he dons his theatre persona that you hear a more individual voice.
Director and conceptualiser of the Lloyd Webber classic Jesus Christ Superstar, now in its third month of full houses in Mumbai, he watches somewhat relieved. Wasn’t this production a financial gamble, he has been asked, even if it’s a great show. “I don’t gamble in the theatre,” he replies, “Too much hangs on what you do.” But the Jesus story? Too Christian, surely? Not so. “Set aside the sacred aspect for a minute. This is the universal story, timelessly interesting, of a man against a system, dying for what he believes and teaches.”
Rahul da Cunha considers that well done musicals cannot fail. “Anyway, I did JCS not for money or message. I just had to get it out of my system.” Maybe, he says, he wanted to add to his repertoire because “I want to end up having tried every genre.”
Not long ago he was responsible for the longest run of full houses in Mumbai’s English theatre. The play was I’m Not Bajirao, an adaptation of an American script. Asked how it was doing he replied airily, “If a single show doesn’t get a standing ovation, we’ll close.”
Bajirao has been something of a signpost. “It taught me,” he says, “that seeking a breakeven in Mumbai theatre no longer leads inevitably to sex comedy. People will pay to see something they are familiar with, as a city and country. We are thinking more Indian, whatever the language of the play.”
This story was first published in April 2000
Image courtesy: Harsh Man Rai