Jun 8, 2011

The Taj Mahal on 'home turf'

Lisa Ray and Kabir Bedi feature in Taj



“You have company,” the stage manager says, calling up the stairs as if we are visiting Lisa Ray in her home.

We are, in a way. The Toronto-born actress says she is pleased to be working on “home turf.” Ray, 39, and internationally acclaimed Indian actor Kabir Bedi, 65, are starring in the Luminato-commissioned production TAJ, opening June 10 at the Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto.

In the upper lobby of the intimate waterfront theatre, Ray greets us from a tall round table. She looks relaxed, like she belongs. She even matches the decor: the carpet is blue, the walls are blue and she is in a blue blouse, jeans and grey sneakers.

Bedi, meanwhile, thoughtfully examines the surroundings, and snaps a photo of a mural like a tourist. Earlier, he lingered on the stage, leaning on a prop almost in reverie. “Kabir? Nothing will make sense until we start technically with lighting. Why don’t we deal with it later?” the stage manager said to him.

Bedi, who lives in Mumbai, is clearly excited to get to work on the dance-theatre production. He says he was attracted to its lyrical script; “It’s a modern Shakespeare,” he says.

Governor General’s Award-winning playwright John Murrell wrote the project and Dora Award-winning theatre and opera director Tom Diamond is directing. The piece, which is produced by Sampradaya Dance Creations and was conceived by artistic director Lata Pada (the first South Asian artist to receive the Order of Canada), tells the drama behind the Taj Mahal, which the 16th century Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built in memory of his third wife.

“I grew up in New Delhi and Delhi is a very historic city,” Bedi says. “Some of Shah’s great creations, the Red Fort and the Jama Masjid, the main Muslim mosque in Delhi, are spectacular. So I’ve always been in awe of Shah Jahan.

“About 15 or 20 years ago, they were doing a Son et lumière at the Red Fort and I was picked to be the voice of Shah Jahan,” he says. He was cast as the emperor in the 2005 historical Hindi epic, Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story.

He assumes the role again, this time with Ray playing his daughter. Bedi has appeared in more than 90 film and television appearances including more than 60 Bollywood movies and a season with The Bold and the Beautiful. He played the hero in the European television hit Sandokan and the nemesis to Roger Moore in Octopussy. “Theatre ultimately is a labour of love,” he says. “Film and television pay the bills; but I love the stage.”

The last time Ray did theatre was in drama school; this is her Canadian stage debut. The Hollywood/Bollywood actress’s film credits include Cooking With Stella and Deepa Mehta’s Oscar-nominated Water.

Ray has been careful in selecting her projects of late, though. She is, in her words, “a cancer graduate.” A few years ago, she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, which is now in remission.

“I make sure that whatever I choose to do now is aligned with my core values,” says Ray, who opened a Moksha yoga studio in Brampton, Ont., a few weeks ago. “I do feel like there’s a greater fearlessness in my acting. What’s the worst thing that can happen really?”

TAJ, presented by Luminato, runs June 10-12 at Toronto’s Fleck Dance Theatre. For more information, visit luminato.com.

(Source: The National Post - The Ampersand / Melissa Leong)

(Photo: Aaron Lynett / National Post)

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