Eminent advertising and theatre veteran Burjor Patel has passed away early Tuesday morning. The former Khaleej Times advertising director was 91. Family sources confirmed Patel died due to old age and had no major ailments.
He joined Khaleej Times in December 1988, at the age of 58, and retired from the company in March 2009. Patel was the senior vice president of strategy and development at the time of retirement.
A member of the Parsi community and Mumbai-native, he held various positions during his tenure at the newspaper, including vice president marketing and advertisement manager. Before joining KT, he was with the Mumbai advertising division of the Calcutta-based Statesman Newspaper.
Patel made an impressive impact in the media sector in the UAE during his 20-year tenure in the KT, helping it along its journey to becoming a media powerhouse.
Burjor and his wife Ruby Patel, who died in May 2020, were well-known names in Parsi Gujarati and English theatre. The couple contributed in great measure to the arts scene in Dubai.
The couple has two daughters – Shernaz, a renowned Indian theatre and television actress and Feeroza. Their son Marzban is the CEO of Mediascope, a content and media sales corporation in India.
In a career spanning several decades, Burjor Patel lived through some of the most exciting times for his two passionate likes – theatre and publishing. As a kid, he was fond of cricket, but in college (Elphinstone in erstwhile Bombay), there was no scope for him to get into the team, which had players like Madhav and Arvind Apte (both brothers) and Subhash Gupte. However, his passion for theatre was enormous.
After college, Patel would sit near Churchgate station and watch the rehearsals being done by Adi Marzban, an award-winning theatre personality, a recipient of the Padma Shree, the fourth-highest civilian award in India and the Sangeet Natak Akademi award. “I was waiting for my chance for more than a month,” he recalled in an interview.
“Then I got a role with two lines. I realised later that this was Adi’s way of mentoring — exposing young talent to the drill and regimen of acting, not blooding them instantly. That discipline helped me enormously.”
After he completed his law degree, Marzban urged Patel to get into advertising; he joined Jam-e-Jamshed, one of the oldest publications in India (it was started in 1832) and worked for 12 years; it also allowed him to pursue his theatre career. Marzban along with Patel is said to have transformed modern Gujarati (including Parsi) theatre in India.
Patel later joined the Times of India, but his busy career saw him neglect theatre. CR Irani of The Statesman was constantly urging him to join the publication and he promised that he could continue with his theatre activities. Patel finally relented and joined the paper and also set up the Parsi Syndicate Group, encouraging the world of comedies and thrillers in the Mumbai theatre stage.
Later, he was transferred to Delhi by Irani but used to fly down to Mumbai on weekends to pursue his love for theatre. Much later, he tied up with other newcomers in theatre including Alyque Padamsee.
In the 1980s, he joined hands with Hosy Vasunia and Bharat Dabholkar and launched the Bottoms Up series across India under the banner of Burjor Patel Productions.
Bharat attributed its success to Patel’s efforts. “I have great respect for him,” he told Khaleej Times.
“Burjor Patel backed my first directorial venture. In fact, just before the Covid pandemic, we were planning to launch Bawaji Bottoms Up. After his passing away, I plan to launch it as a tribute to Burjor.”
Leading actor Boman Irani told Khaleej Times that he was a great fan of Ruby and Burjor Patel from his childhood days. “I came to Dubai a few times for I’m Not Bajirao and Burjor Patel was a perfect host. It was a pleasure to listen to the stories of Indian theatre from him,” said Irani.
Patel returned to Mumbai from Dubai ‘at the ripe young age of 79’ in 2009 and planned to pursue his passion for theatre. And he also ventured into modelling. He did commercials for the ‘Delights’ campaign of Vodafone. "These days when I walk on the streets or enter a restaurant, people start nudging and whispering 'Vodafone man,' he recalled a few years earlier. “
At times, they request for photographs with me."
After the huge success of the ad, Patel recalled getting calls from ad agencies. He was asked about his charges. “I thought I was the Shah Rukh Khan of the TV commercial world and quoted accordingly,” he recalled. “They never called back!”
Patel also had a regular feature in a leading newspaper. In one of his columns, he wrote: “I may not be the toast of the nation anymore but I can send a message to all 80 plus men and women that ‘Life also begins at eighty’.”
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