Partap Sharma: playwright, author, actor, director and commentator

A Touch of Brightness: Biography of Partap Sharma

Partap Sharma (December 12, 1939 - November 3, 2011) was born in Lahore, which was part of the then undivided India. He was an Indian playwright, author, actor, commentator, director and documentary filmmaker. Known as the 'Golden Voice,' Partap was one of India's leading voice performers in narrations and commentaries on film, radio and television. But he was more than that, he reflected deeply about the nature of things relevant to his own areas of knowledge. One of Partap's favourite parts of the 'Bhagavada Gita' provides a small insight into his approach. Arjuna, in a state of agitation asks Krishna:

'What, O Krishna, is the description of someone who is calm and mindful. How does one of steady wisdom speak, how does he sit, how does he walk?'

Over the years Partap took his understanding into developing a holistic methodology for the improvement of vocal expression. This went beyond a study of speech, oratory, rhetoric, prosody and poetics to include aspects of theatre, yoga, the martial arts, and Hindu philosophy. In his own words 'to teach people how to be of steady wisdom, always open to reason, and able to reason; they will know how best to speak, sit and how best to walk.' He was sought after as a mentor to some of the most prominent voices heard on popular media and advised some of India's leading industrialists and businesspeople how move more confidently in the arena of international commerce.
Partap Sharma: playwright, author, actor, director and commentator
Partap Sharma: playwright, author, actor, director and commentator.

Background

Partap was the oldest son of Dr. Baij Nath Sharma and Dayawati (Pandit) Sharma. His father was a civil engineer who served as Technical Advisor to governments in Ceylon, Tanganyika and Libya and later retired to their ancestral property in Punjab as a gentleman farmer. This colourful Punjabi village forms much of the backdrop of Sharma's novel, Days of the Turban.

Partap's early education was in Trinity College, Kandy, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and then at Bishop Cotton School, Shimla. Partap received a triple promotion and completed school at 14 before going to study at St. Xavier's College, Bombay mainly because all other universities in India required a minimum age of 16. He was married to Susan Amanda Pick, they have two daughters: Namrita and Tara. Tara is, of course, known to many as the beautiful Bollywood actress, Tara Sharma.

Partap's association with the Indian National Theatre, Mumbai, began in 1961 with the production by it of his first full-length play "Bars Invisible" and continued till the eventual production of the banned "A Touch of Brightness." While working at his writing, Partap freelanced as a narrator for short films and newsreels. In due course, he also directed a few documentaries for the Government of India. As an actor he played the lead in five Hindi feature films and won the National Award in 1971. He played the role of Nehru in 'Nehru: Jewel of India' and then in an international film called 'Chou-en-lai in Bandung'. Partap spent three months in China during its production.

He was TV host of the popular programme "What's the Good Word?" produced by Television Centre, Mumbai. One of India's leading voices heard in narrations and commentaries on film, radio and TV, he has voiced many national and international award-winning documentaries and short films. He was known as the golden voice of India, and has often been referred to in the Press as simply 'The Voice'. He was the voice on most of the Son et lumière shows produced in India, including the one still running fifty years later, at the Delhi Fort, in Delhi.

Since 2002, Partap had been battling with emphysema, a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Given 6 months to live, Partap with his characteristic determination tried several alternative therapies and seriously started taking singing lessons to increase his lung capacity. Although he was on oxygen almost all the time made the occasional public appearance with oxygen cylinder in tow. This rare talent in Indian theatre, radio and cinema died in Mumbai of emphysema aged 71 on 30th November 2011.

Partap was always warm, encouraging and inspirational. The world will be sadder without him but greater for his contributions. Martin Pick, in his obituary in 'The Guardian' wrote: "Despite having to use an oxygen mask for 18 hours a day and with almost no lung function because of his emphysema, he managed to record three Shakespeare plays three years ago, reading every part himself. In 2010 he sang and recorded a CD of songs for his grandson Zen and wrote two new children's stories."


The richness, depth and resonance of Partap's voice made him a sought-after voice-over artist. But he was more than a mere voice. "Anybody who thinks of Partap Sharma as a playwright, a writer, a voice-over artist or actor, misses the point a little as he is all of this but when all the four are put together, they made a character and a talent that's rare" said stage and film actor Gerson da Cunha.

"In many ways, Partap contributed to this generation of Indian playwrights who now write in English," said Toral Shah of Q Theatre Productions.

Partap is survived by wife, Susan and their two daughters, Namrita, a journalist, and Tara, an actor and TV presenter.

Partap Sharma obituary - The Guardian

Tara Sharma's tribute to her dad - The Times of India

Partap Sharma - Biography - Bishop Cotton School Simla India

Voice Over - Indian Express

Partap Sharma, The Voice, passes away - Firstpost

Everyone's voice of choice - The Times of India

The Legend, Partap Sharma - QTP's The Script

Remembering Partap Sharma - Mumbai Theatre Guide

Writings

Books

  • The Surangini Tales (1973)
  • Dog Detective Ranjha (1978)
  • The Little Master of the Elephant (1984)
  • Top Dog (1985)
  • Days of the Turban (1986)
  • Contes de Vivek l'éléphant' '15 contes de l'Inde' (1996)
  • My Father's Magic Briefcase (2011)
  • Songs for Zen (2011)
  • Staged Plays

  • Brothers Under The Skin (1956)
  • Bars Invisible (1961)
  • A Touch Of Brightness (1965)
  • The Word (1966)
  • The Professor Has A Warcry (1970)
  • Queen Bee (1976)
  • Power Play (1991)
  • Begum Sumroo (1997)
  • Zen Katha (2004)
  • SAMMY! (2005)
  • SAMMY! le mot qui brisa un empire (2010)
  • CDs and Songs

    Partap Sharma made solo recordings of three of Shakespeare's best loved plays and a CD of songs for family and friends which he composed and sang.
  • Julius Caesar (2007)
  • The Merchant of Venice (2007)
  • Macbeth (2008)
  • Home Songs (2009)
  • Documentaries and Films

    Partap Sharma has directed some outstanding documentaries, as independent producer and for the Government of India’s Films Division, and Channel Four Television, U.K. His film credits include:

    Documentaries

  • The Framework Of Famine, 1967, an investigation of how nature’s devastation is compounded by human corruption and inefficiency; banned for it’s “ruthless candour” then released after other documentary-makers protested.
  • The Flickering Flame, 1974, a study of the mismanagement of the energy crisis and its effect on the suburban housewife; banned and never released.
  • Kamli, 1976, a short film depicting the status of women in rural Indian society.
  • The Empty Hand, 1982, (co-directed) a prize-winning audiovisual about the art of karate.
  • Viewpoint Amritsar, 1984, co-directed a film about the Golden Temple and environs in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar.
  • The British Raj Through Indian Eyes, 1992, a documentary series telecast in 1992 by Channel Four Television UK.
         Part I: The Uprising of 1857.
         Part II: The Massacre at Jallianwallah Bagh 1919.
  • The Sharma Archives

    The museum of the British Empire and Commonwealth, in Bristol, now has a permanent section entitled The Sharma Archive consisting of 30 video and 67 audio tapes made by Partap Sharma. Interviews and footage of Indian nationalists, freedom fighters and writers. Indian perspectives on the Raj. Some transcripts available (CDs, Videos and Cassettes).

    Sailing Around The World And Discover America Yachting Rally, two video programmes directed by Sandhya Divecha and produced by Sharma’s Indofocus Films Pvt. Ltd. British Raj Hindustani Nazron Se, 1995-98, A Hindi TV Serial.

    Children’s Film

  • The Case Of The Hidden Ear-Ring (1983), this fifteen minute long children's film was directed by Partap Sharma.
  • Feature Films

    As an actor Sharma played a role in the Merchant-Ivory film “Shakespearewallah”. Other films include the lead role in the following Hindi films:
  • Phir Bhi (1971)
  • Andolan (1975)
  • Tyaag Patra (1980)
  • Pehla Kadam (1980)
  • Nehru – The Jewel of India (1989)
  • The Bandung Sonata (2002) Filmed in China, Sharma played Nehru in this international film which was subsequently re-titled for release in China as Chou-en-Lai in Bandung.
  • Biography   Zen Katha   A Touch Of Brightness   Begum Sumroo   Days Of The Turban   Dog Detective   Little Master Of The Elephant   Sammy   Surangini   Top Dog   India Stories   Awards Please click an image to read
    about Partap's work and awards.