Little Zizou’s Zenobia Shroff Stands Up

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Zenobia Shroff with Boman Irani in 'Little Zizou'. photo: Aparna Jayakumar

Zenobia Shroff with Boman Irani in 'Little Zizou'. photo: Aparna Jayakumar

Zenobia Shroff, Life after Little Zizou

When Zenobia Shroff tells people that she’s from India, what response do you think she gets?

“Oh, India! Have you ever sat on a tiger?”

“Oh you’re from India. I love naan bread. I had it last night.’’

“Seriously, India? – I know someone from India. Her name is su-ni-ta. Do you know her? Oh, you don’t?”

To which Zenobia retorts, “NO, I DON’T! There are a billion of us on the planet! ”

Yes, there’s a new standup comic in town, with her own zany view of the world, who can mouth off on just about any topic!  Zenobia Shroff brings a whole different flavor to comedy with her one-woman routine – ‘Exotic Observations’.

If you’ve seen Sooni Taraporevala’s critically acclaimed film ‘Little Zizou’ you will remember Zenobia from the wonderful performance she gave in that film with Boman Irani,  for which she was nominated for the best actress award at the MIAAC film festival in New York. Her warmth and exuberance made Roxanne, wife and mother, a very real and engaging character.

“If ever you don’t believe in fate, this story will change your opinion!” she says, recalling how she bagged that plum role. “I went for a one month vacation to Bombay. Sooni was still looking for someone for Zizou. She met my friend Anahita at the Bombay Gymkhana club. Ana said:  “My friend Zen is in town, why don’t you audition her?”

Zenobia had actually left the club just five minutes back but was called to Zoya Akhtar’s office and did the audition. The rest is history and a one month vacation turned into a prize role in an award winning movie. She says, “I will never stop loving Ana for what she did for me. Zizou has changed my life in so many ways, and opened so many doors.”

Seeing her in that spirited Bombay tale, many people probably don’t realize that Zenobia is very much a New Yorker, who’s lived here for two decades.  She came from Mumbai as a teen via theater acting with the legendary Pearl Padamsee and dancing with Shiamak Davar – before he became THE Shiamak Davar.

Zenobia Shroff, who starred in Sooni Taraporevala's 'Little Zizou' tries stand up comedy

Zenobia Shroff, who starred in Sooni Taraporevala's 'Little Zizou' tries stand up comedy

“We were given a free ticket to the US in exchange for shows,” she recalls. “Pearl encouraged me to use the ticket for good. She trained me and I auditioned for Circle-in-the-Square in New York. I came with $ 500, two suitcases and a six month visa. I didn’t even have a teaspoon to my name. It’s been 21 years – and I now have plenty of teaspoons!”

Zenobia Shroff’s  Funny World

She’s performed at the off- Broadway theatre Castillo, where she played several diverse roles from Nora in Ibsen’s ‘A Dolls house’ to German avant-gardist Heiner Muller.  She also performed in Mario Frattis “Erotic adventures in Venice” at La Mama and Milan Kundera’s “Jacques and his Master”. Zenobia has played in off-Broadway shows and taught drama and movement to inner city children. She writes and performs sketch comedy and will soon be seen in “When Harry Tries to Marry.”

“I have always been the informal entertainer in any room I am in. It’s my thing – it’s what I do, no pretense, no B.S. – just me talking. Friends have been encouraging me for years and years to take it to a more formal level.” Zenobia who writes sketch comedy on www.ajnabee.com finally decided to take the plunge.

Zenobia recalls how hard it was, as a South Asian woman, to break into show business back in 1989. All the ups and downs, the people she encountered, the responses she got have now become fodder for her one-woman show which was given its debut by Aroon Shivdasani’s Indo-American Arts Council at the Guild Art Gallery.

“I wrote the show at a very low point in my life,” she says. “Perhaps that’s why it’s funny.” And funny it is, funny, spicy and irreverent. The audience loved it, identifying with her immigrant experiences and seeing the humor in being South Asian, Parsi and a woman. So stay tuned for a spontaneous new voice, and for more about the world according to Zenobia Shroff!

Related Article: Bollywood Grows Up

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About Author

Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications. Twitter@lavinamelwani & @lassiwithlavina Sign up for the free newsletter to get your dose of Lassi!

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