Variety

Prepare for landing... a role!

RHEA LOBO | Updated on February 03, 2011 Published on February 03, 2011

Naresh Goyal , Jet Airways Chairman, with daughter Namrata.   -  Bijoy Ghosh

Jet Airways staff enact the play Black Comedy in Chennai   -  Bijoy Ghosh

Ms Namrata Goyal, daughter of Mr Naresh Goyal, Chairman, Jet Airways.   -  Bijoy Ghosh

Jet Airways staff enact the play Black Comedy in Chennai.   -  Bijoy Ghosh

My father has never come for any of my parent-teachers meetings or Open Day at school. But for this play, he has come to every city where it has been staged. So it's not only for me, but for them…” says Namrata Goyal, the daughter of Jet Airways Chairman Naresh Goyal.

The players are Jet Airways employees; and they've turned actors for a play directed by her called Black Comedy (by Peter Shaffer). Fresh out of London's Queen Mary College with a degree in film studies, Namrata decided to stage a play to break the communication barrier in the company. She got together employees of all ranks to be part of a play called Six Seasons of Love, an adaptation of the Urdu play Tumhari Amrita. Following its success, she embarked on Black Comedy, this time for public staging.

“Me and acting? No way!” was how Rhea Murthy, a guest relations manager at Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, reacted when Namrata approached her to act in the play. Rhea believed she didn't have it in her, but Namrata wouldn't take ‘no' for an answer and said she would get ‘Papa' to call her. Well, Rhea did agree. “I didn't want the chairman of the company to call me!” she recalls.

Says Namrata: “By bringing all these employees together, you are breaking levels of management… in this play we have a four-month-old employee who checks in passengers, and somebody who is a manager and been in the company for 16 years. No ‘sirs' and ‘madams' are allowed, and everybody calls everybody else by name.”

She believes that when monotony creeps into corporate lives, people stop thinking out of the box. For many of the employees, however, it has proved to be much more than an HR exercise. Dheeraj Vaswani, another guest relations officer, says, “I had stage fear. I've never been on stage, never seen mikes and lights, and I never thought I could ever go on stage for a two-hour drama and learn by heart pages of lines… I don't know where all this talent was hidden!”

Although the play is a comedy, Namrata hopes people can identify with the eight characters that portray different shades of human behaviour such as jealousy, love loss and betrayal. As a director, she also found the play challenging in its offbeat use of lighting as “the actors had to act like they can't see when the lights are on, and can see when there is no light.”

So, why did she opt to direct rather than act in the play? “Although my actual passion is acting, with direction I get to influence things. I am somebody who needs to be in control, and with acting I'm not in control of the situation.” She admits this is a trait she has inherited from her father. The energetic 21-year-old says that although she is equally passionate about films, what excites her about theatre is that it affords a wider scope for acting; to illustrate, she says that in a play one can act like a tree or an animal as opposed to a film, where you just shoot a tree or an animal.

Zia Sheikh had barely worked for two months as a customer service executive before he started practising for the play. “Coming from a small town, my English was not so good… but now I know when to stop and pause, and voice modulation. This has helped me a lot, I've learnt how to interact and speak to people,” he says.

Some employees went the extra mile to prepare for their role. Conal Lobo, an in-flight supervisor, plays a gay character. “It's not easy playing the gay role; I did some research on the Internet and spoke to my gay friends, and Namrata helped me fine tune the movements and actions,” he says.

Of course, some worried about how people — both colleagues and outsiders — would react to their onstage adventures. Rhea, who has been with Jet Airways for 14 years says, “I had inhibitions on how I was going to face my team and management — you know, as a manager, I'm doing crazy things like acting like a 60-year-old drunk woman.” But she is delighted now that colleagues have appreciated her performance and even passengers (who are wondering why she's not at the airport) have been showing up for the play.

Soft-spoken Radhika Nora, a guest relations supervisor, admits she went cold during her first performance. “But now if you ask me, even if there are 4,000 people in front of me, I'm not scared to perform at all,” she says with a wide grin.

Going by the responses from the employees, the play seems to have achieved what it set out to do — improve communication between them. The employees are constantly interacting with each other and, as Namrata says, they've become like ‘best friends' who are constantly exchanging text messages such as ‘what are we eating for lunch?' and ‘are we going partying tonight?'. “It has brought so much confidence in us,” says Radhika.

So, did the drama troupe get its own special charter plane to zip across the various metros? Far from it, says Namrata. “We didn't have any chartered flights, we had to make sure that we didn't get offloaded because of flight availability! We were supposed to come to Chennai and there were no seats, and my mum [Anita Goyal, who is in charge of network planning and revenue management] strictly told me that she's not going to put us above a revenue passenger. We are not spoilt at all; we travel economy (except when I travel with family) and do everything that a normal passenger does.”

Asked which he preferred — his job or acting in a play, Lobo replies, “The job is obviously like bread and butter, and there's always a little garnish like jam and all — that's what the play is, like the icing on the cake.”

Follow us on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter Instagram, YouTube and Linkedin. You can also download our Android App or IOS App.

Published on February 03, 2011
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor