“So that’s goodbye Tosh…”


Pankaja’s speech at Anutosh’s funeral on 15th February 2015.

Anutosh send-off

The Rajneesh Theatre Group flourished in the extraordinary bubble of mystical energy which grew up around the Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in the 1970’s. Anutosh, having been a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company in the UK, and given to spouting wonderful Shakespearean speeches at the drop of a hat, wanted to combine his love of acting with his life in the ashram, and would occasionally have play readings in his room… and when Bhagwan heard about this and about the extraordinary array of talent that was available he gave the go-ahead.

The first production was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed at a venue in downtown Poona, and it was such a resounding success that it was decided to take it on tour around the country. This was also a brilliant way of winning over the Indian public, who were in equal measures thrilled and horrified by the imagined antics of these foreign followers of the ‘sex guru’, which were even more lurid than what was actually going on.

Anita, the professional actress – famous for having been a Dr Who girl among other things – had been playing Hippolyta but she had to leave India. I was no actress, but did have a British accent, so I was whisked away from my job as a cleaning lady to join the cast.

Theatre Group

Tosh was the director and guiding light of this whole magical creation; as Anuradha, his girlfriend throughout this time, and the stage manager of the group says, “What stands out is how being the director and actor absorbed all his inclination to obsess about things: he was thinking about the show morning noon and night and although that got a bit exhausting for everyone sometimes, it was a delight that he was so totally absorbed in his creative flow. He was in his element!”

We took A Midsummer Night’s Dream to other cities in India – I think it was in Ahmedabad that we all had to sleep on the floor of someone’s office, and couldn’t rehearse in the theatre because there was an electricity cut — a common occurrence in India in those days — and the lights only came on 10 minutes before the performance started. We had to do our make up by candle light! But the theatre was absolutely packed, and the wildly enthusiastic audience knew the play so well that they laughed at every joke almost before it was made.

Sannyasins Theatre Group meets Indira Gandhi

The high point though was performing in Delhi, and being invited to tea by Indira Gandhi. For political reasons she couldn’t come to a performance herself, but her daughter in law, Maneka did come to a rehearsal, which she enjoyed very much.

After Midsummer Night’s Dream Tosh was on a roll, and he directed a wonderful performance of Twelfth Night. Alima, who played Viola, says, “As a director he was relaxed and funny and brilliant and every day was a creative adventure. It was an amazing experience to work as a theatre group in an atmosphere of such freedom and creativity – and to be given total freedom to play and improvise and do our thing – and Tosh rose to the occasion magnificently.”

And then there was the Filmy Gala Night, when we were invited to put on a show at the Bollywood version of the Oscars. Tosh was a brilliant classical actor and director, but he also embodied that other side of the British theatre, music hall, and he knitted together a wonderful cabaret show in which everyone’s creativity was given free rein. The show was great but the audience gossiped all the way through and were more interested in what other local stars were arriving than what was happening on the stage.

There were lots of dramas – probably it was during rehearsals for Twelfth Night that we were stuck in the theatre in Bombay for 9 hours, the temperature must have been 40 degrees, the AC was not working, and we ran out of water and food — but the show went on!

He was a quintessential Englishman in the theatre tradition, handsome, charismatic, eloquent – but also loved a laugh, and was very at home in the pub and any other nefarious places you care to think of; before going onstage we would usually have a couple of swigs of Old Monk brandy.

He came round to a party in my flat just a month before he died, and I had this great idea; I really wanted to hear him speak some Shakespeare again, and he always looked so great! I wanted to make a little movie about Oberon and Titania 40 years on; with Madhura, who played Titania and now lives in Somerset, even though she has arthritis and is in a wheelchair – but I thought it could be really touching, and fun – and Tosh seemed to like the idea.

Pankaja adds in an email:

There were so many of Tosh’s non-sannyas friends there also. I don’t know anyone who has so many friends from every part of his life; several friends from his schooldays in Bedford came
– and he and Clive (Jitendra) and Prabodham had been friends from before the 11 plus…

So touching to see them all there; Clive sang this beautiful song he had written 40 years ago when they were throwing off the shackles of England to glory in the sand, sea and freedom of Goa. Clive’s voice sounded as fresh and young as they were in those days.

The Master of Ceremonies was a lovely actor; they had met as 18 year olds on their way to an audition. Another actor friend read Tosh’s favourite Shakespearean sonnet, and Bill Nighy, who was Tosh’s AA sponsor, spoke about their time acting in some play in Aberystwyth when he fell down a cliff and Tosh spent an afternoon picking stones out of his bottom, ending by saying, “As I said, we were close!”

Young Daya wrote a beautiful poem, but got held up and couldn’t get to the crematorium in time, so she read the poem at the Bull and Bush pub afterwards.

PankajaPrem Pankaja – www.pankajabrooke.com

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