Krishna Shah

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Krishna Shah (1938-2013) [1]. Distinguished India-born American/Gujarati film and theatre director, screenwriter, playwright, producer, and production/distribution executive.


Born on 10 May 1938 in Bombay, India, Shah graduated from the Indian Academy of Dramatic Art and became a leading actor on the professional stage.

He next turned to directing when he staged Kadam Milake Chalo in Bombay, the play winning the first prize in the State Drama Competition in 1958 and Shah was named best director of the year. This catapulted him into another realm at the time, as indicated by a programme note to Sponono (which he had co-authored and directed in 1963): "Two directors are cited for their experimental work in India, Satyajit Ray of Calcutta for his films, and the young director, Krishna Shah of Bombay, for his stage plays."

Sponsored by the Indian National Theatre, Shah now went to the United States to study and survey Western trends in Drama. As the winner of an international scholarship he studied and taught at Iowa University. In this period he directed Rabindranath Tagore's play King of the Dark Chamber (the English version of Raja) in New York, the production running for a year to rave notices.

In 1961 Union Artists brought him to South Africa to mount an 'All-Indian" production of the play with AMDA students in Durban and Johannesburg. The play was a success once more and he also went on to do important work with local artists between 1961 and 1963, leading to the founding of the Shah Theatre Academy, a Durban based training academy named after him. (See section on his contribution below)

In 1963 he and the South African writer Alan Paton collaborated on a very successful play, Sponono, which Shah directed for Union Artists to general acclaim. However, when they tried to take the play to the Cort Theatre in New York, Shah ran into problems with co-producer Mary Frank and was ultimately banned from the production.

After this fiasco Shah turned his interest to film and TV, enrolling in UCLA's film program of the day.

In 1969 Shah married Diane Hillman and he passed away on 13 October 2013 in Mumbai.

For more on Krishna Shah's life and subsequent international career see for example the Wikipedia entry on him at

Contribution to South African Theatre

In 1961 the progressive professional theatre organisation Union Artists. brought Shah and his production of Tagore's play to South Africa The production starred Indian stars Surya Kumari and Baskhar and opened in Durban before playing at the Wits University Great Hall. then went on to play at the University of the Witwatersrand's Great Hall. This event would have a great influence on the evolution of theatre among the South African Indian community as well as the theatre industry as a whole. In 1961 Shah brought his New York production of Rabinadrath Tagore's The King of the Dark Chamber () to Durban, South Africa .

In 1963 Shah returned to Durban to conduct workshops and co-create and direct Sponono (with Alan Paton) - which they also took to New York.

In recognition of his influence in the period, the Shah Theatre Academy in Durban was named after the director.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

He was brought to South Africa by Union Artists to mount Rabindranath Tagore]’s King of the Dark Chamber in 1961. It starred Indian stars Surya Kumari and Baskhar and opened in Durban before playing at the Wits University Great Hall.

He directed a production of Sponono in 1963.


Dennis Schauffer. 1990. "In the Shadow of the Shah: The Indic Contribution to Our Developing South African Culture". Asoka Theatre Publications.

Tucker, 1997.

Programme of the play Sponono staged in February 1963. Programme sponsored by The OK Bazaars.

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