The Pathbreakers: Dolly Thakore On The Variety Of Work That Makes Her Life Extraordinary

Theatre actor, broadcaster, newsreader, master of ceremonies, Dolly Thakore wears many hats. Turning 75 hasn’t made her take off a single one of those, she tells us in this freewheeling chat as part of our PATHBREAKERS series

The art on Dolly Thakore’s living room wall is a testament to the friendships, love and respect she has accumulated over the years. “Did you know that I was the first auctioneer of art in India?” she asks us.

“Quite a lot of this art is given to me because I inaugurated an exhibition or auctioned something.” For over four decades now, Thakore, who turned 75 recently, has been a known name and face in the theatre, art and media world. Her striking personality finds a reflection in the trademark big bindi, silver bangles and short grey hair. It’s not easy to put a professional label on this active septuagenarian, whose diary barely has a day that’s free. She’s been a theatre actor, casting director, radio broadcaster, Doordarshan newsreader, auctioneer, communications consultant and social activist. Her anecdotes are fascinating, much like the stories behind the art on her wall are.

“That’s the mother and child painting MF Husain walked in with one day; the artist B Prabha, gave me that one,” she says, pointing to a huge canvas of a woman in a white sari, sitting amidst green fronds. “I used to wear a mundu in those days and she said this reminded her of me.” There’s an Anjolie Ela Menon painting too, a post-midnight gift to Thakore from the artist when the painting was freshly made and still wet!

Dolly Thakore comes from a defence services background. Her dad was in the Indian Air Force. His beautifully carved wooden airplane models occupy pride of place on her shelf. And while there was a time when she “couldn’t pronounce Beethoven,” she went on to work with The BBC in London, followed by a stint in advertising in India and then as a newsreader on Doordarshan when it started in Mumbai in 1972. But the constant presence in her life has been theatre, right from the time she played ‘Krishna’ on stage at the age of 5. “Every year, the Air Force wives’ association would stage a play on some occasion. I was chosen to play Krishna and just as I stepped onto the stage, the curtains opened and my sari came off!” She recalls, voice brimming with laughter, “The curtain closed and a few women rushed to fix my sari. Then it opened again to a huge round of applause!” Thakore has been addicted to that applause ever since. “I have always been interested in getting attention,” she jokes.

On The Stage Forever

The laughter and anecdotes continue. “I learnt my real Hindi in London,” she says. She had a job with the BBC and edited the Overseas Press Bulletin and London Calling, two magazines that listed the programs. ‘I also did a radio show for immigrants from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, then Ceylon.” Thakore was also given the additional job of a Hindi translator for eight-minute scripts for a Hindi broadcast. She laughs remembering how her childhood friend, the playwright Farrukh Dhondy, then a Cambridge student with poet Adil Jussawala and writer Daryl D’Monte, chipped in to help her. “It took us 18 hours to do one script of 8 minutes! But by the end of the assignment, it used to take me just one and half hours to do a script.”

Dolly with son Quasar

Once back from London in the late 60s, Thakore, who had moved back to India because then boyfriend Dilip had proposed, was introduced to the Mumbai theatre scene. She has since then worked with all the known theatre greats of India – from one-time partner Alyque Padamsee to Adi Marzban, Janak Toprani and Pratap Sharma, to name a few.

Thakore has been a performer in the iconic play The Vagina Monolugues for 16 years, part of the original cast with director and actor Mahbanoo Mody-Kotwal. “At the opening show, an 80-year-old man came and touched my feet and said I’m grateful to God for letting me see this day when the Indian woman has reached such heights. It’s been a very enriching and emotional experience.”

She has also cast for International cinema, the most notable being Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. She was responsible for the casting from India, especially of actress Rohini Hattangadi in the role of Kasturba Gandhi. She was also the person who suggested Bhanu Athaiya, who went on to win an Oscar for costume design. “I met Richard through Rani Dube, a friend from my London days, who was co-producing the film.” Padamsee, Thakore’s partner at that time was selected for the role of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. “After some days Richard said would you like to do the casting? It was not a challenge as they made it easy and I was in theatre and knew all the actors.”

Thakore saw Hattangadi in a play and though Bhakti Barve was her first choice, she thought Hattangadi would be perfect to play Kasturba given their similar physical appearance. Attenborough agreed but wanted her to lose at least 11 kgs before the screen test, which she did and grabbed the role of a lifetime. Thakore went on to work as casting director for India in the movies Sixth Happiness and Kim, doing crossover work long before the term became popular.

A Charmed Life

Dolly Thakore at her birthday celebration with son Quasar, Shazahn, Alyque and Raell Padamsee and Sharon Prabhakar

A single mother to her son Quasar Padamsee, a theatre producer, Thakore talks of how she managed working with her son in tow throughout his early years. “I used to host a show called Glaxo Bonnie Babies on radio and travel throughout the country interviewing doctors for it. I would carry Quasar in the carrycot and then a sling. When I would read the news on Doordarshan, he would be there, sitting quietly and playing.”

Dolly Thakore has always lived life on her own terms and in her own words, “has no regrets.” In fact, she is friends with ex-husband Dilip Thakore and continues to be family to former partner Alyque Padamsee. This is a family that is truly bonded by theatre despite all three Padamsee children having three different mothers. “Shazahn, Alyque’s daughter with Sharon Prabhakar, Raell, Pearl Padamsee’s daughter and Quasar are the best of friends,” Thakore adds with pride, showing a photograph of the entire clan at her recent birthday celebration in Mumbai.

These days, Thakore devotes most of her time to social work and is the National Coordinator of the Laadli Media Awards. The seeds of social work were sown early, when a 13-year-old Thakore would escape her air force accommodation on hot summer vacation afternoons to go and teach village kids in the neighbourhood. She fondly recalls her real introduction to social work through the late Dr Zulie Nakhooda, who ran the India Sponsorship Committee and the National Sponshorship Council. Thakore helped her set up a home for orphan and destitute children in Lonavala.

Age doesn’t factor in her busy life. “I have never thought about growing older. I have never had to stretch my hand to anybody for anything and everything in terms of projects has come to me. In fact, I modelled for Shaina NC just recently.”

She has had her ups and downs but hasn’t believed in holding a grudge, which probably explains the circle of friends she still has around her. “I’m still involved in so many things. It’s wonderful to be accepted and known,” says the actress, host and social activist, signing off before graciously asking us to stay on for lunch.

About the author

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Reshmi Chakraborty

Reshmi is the co-founder of Silver Talkies. She loves books, travel and photography.

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Shriniwas Patki

28 Mar, 2020

Excellent. Very informative.

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Silver Talkies

29 Mar, 2018

Dhanyabad Arunji :)

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Arun Bhatia

28 Mar, 2018


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