At the end of every play for over two decades, Hamid Daudani enters the stage and addresses his audience with respectful greetings of “Adaab”. He thanks the audience, appreciates his team of artists one by one, and speaks very briefly about what he has on his mind. He concludes his speech with “Insha Allah fir mulaaqaat hogi. Ab ijaazat deejie. Shubh ratri, shab-ba-khair”.
Hamid Daudani & Group under the leadership of Daudani was started in 1991. This year the group will present their 23rd play “Aanchal Hi Na Samaaye” in April to a packed auditorium.
Theater is very different compared to other stage productions. Cultural shows, dance presentations, lectures, etc. are more common than play performances. It is harder to put together a play with right kind of sets, lights, sounds, costumes, makeup and above all a good script and talented artists who could deliver it right. May be that is the reason that there are very few Desi theater groups around.
Going back in the history, in 1986, Suresh Balsara in Los Angeles brought the first Gujarati drama from India. The response to the theater- starved population was tremendous, and he started a trend! Other entrepreneurs like Sunil Narkar, Chandan Oza and Harsh Mehta brought plays from India and the theater became alive and started thriving not only in LA, but also in San Francisco, New York, New Jersey, Chicago and Atlanta. These plays were in different languages including Marathi, Bengali, Hindi and Gujarati.
San Diego had no theater group in those days. It was in the fall of 1990, when a few art enthusiasts joined hands and decided to produce a play for the community of San Diego. They realized that it would be a big project requiring some serious commitment on everyone’s part, but they were ready. The aim was to produce a work of excellence in every respect.
It was felt that a musical play would be more appreciated by the community more than one without music and dances. Daudani had a theme and a concept for such a play in mind. He developed this concept in a full-length play and set the stage for “Prem Nagar Ka Mela”.
The play, as the name indicates, revolved around a village fair where many events took place. It showed the life of the simple people of Prem Nagar. It was presented to the public in February of 1991.
The success of Prem Nagar was overwhelming. It received great reviews and tremendous praise from the community. Some people even went a step further and called it a classic. This situation, naturally, prompted another play and the group staged “Sitaron Ki Duniya” in April of 1992. This second play presented the glittering world of film industry and the love, hate and greed of the stars.
Then on, it became a yearly tradition for the San Diego community. The group produced its 22nd play “Ek Sapna Dekha Tha” in 2015. Daudani has written, produced and directed all the plays and have acted in some.
Over the years, the group has tackled many issues of importance for our community and our culture. Some issues were bold and before it’s time but needed to be addressed.
As the this group became prominent it put its actions in a mission statement:
- Promote and help keep our culture alive
- Bring people of the sub-continent together under one roof
- Operate the theater group as a not-for-profit organization
- Provide a platform for artists of all ages to showcase their talent.
- Provide affordable and wholesome entertainment for the entire family
“Our group’s intention is not to make money. Our shows usually break even. The purpose of producing these plays is to explore creative talents and encourage people of all ages to participate. The idea is to bring the community together and keep our culture alive.” Says Daudani.
The group has earned a tremendous amount of respect from the local community. Clean entertainment for the entire family, quality productions, first class venues, timely presentations, and minute attention to all details have become trademarks for this art forum. The group commands the highest attendance in paid performances in San Diego.
Each production takes approximately four months to complete. As many as 85 people have participated in one play. Discipline, however, has remained a key word all the time.
“We don’t import plays from India. We start from scratch, auditioning actors, training them, rehearsing and fully putting up the show,” Daudani explains.” Our actors do not get paid, but they put their heart and soul into it and never compromise on quality.”
“We try to put up one play per year. It is not an easy task,” says Daudani. He prods his artists along with his famous line, “let’s break a leg.” He has written and produced plays for radio and stage. Broadcasting for All India Radio in his childhood and later presenting programs on Radio Pakistan’s overseas external services gave him an inside knowledge of the needs of the community.
“We have two wonderful things in our favor- one is that our plays are not restricted to one ethnic community and the second is that we get dedicated people working with us year after year with no ego clashes involved.”
Daudani has over 40 years of financial, management and administration experience. He has served as Vice President and CFO of various companies both in the United States and Canada.
The other shining star of the group is Nipul Shah. Having designed and created many sets on Nairobi and London stages, Nipulkumar Shah (a Ph.D. in radioactive heat transfer; principal design engineer) has been devotedly involved with this group since its inception, and has presented beautiful sets for all the productions.
Nipul handles set design, construction and technical aspects of production. Both of them have a great working relationship and they create a basic blueprint of the plan. After working together for over 25 years, they have an amazing camaraderie and an enviable working relationship. “We have never had any major disagreements” Hamid says. “I really admire and respect Nipul’s work and we work well as a team showing respect and courtesy to each other.”
“Nipul is so dedicated; he never takes a vacation during the play time!” says Hamid “Even when he was in hospital, he designed and prepared drawings of a haveli for the wedding scene of the play Shehnai Goonjegi. We discussed the project on my every visit to the hospital and finally he did create a beautiful set with the haveli with hundreds of lights and the wedding scene was such a hit!”
Nipul has created a variety of the amazing sets every year and used technology to its fullest. He went to an extreme to get a horse on the stage!
“The cast is completely local and we have a lot of fun with each production. One thing we are particular about is discipline. Everyone has to have a commitment and stick to it. Working together, we become like one family and learn from each other. It creates a bond with the production team” Hamid continued. “When we did play Yeh Jeevan hai, two of the artistes met on stage and then later on got married! That was an exciting thing for the team. We also had a girl who was very shy when she first participated in our play but after the play, she took part in the Miss San Diego contest and even won!”
“Our team works well since each person takes ownership of each segment. There are no arguments when they work together and everyone is very respectful and helpful to each other”. Hamid has a refreshing perspective on things. “If one puts away the ego, there can be no issues. Most people have been with this group for many years- Laila Daudani, Hamid’s better half, handles the public relations aspect and enjoys interacting with the theater group. His daughter, Anita does the program brochures and his son Rayhan attends and supports the show every year.”
Visit www.daudanigroup.com for further information.