Verma was selected for his four decades long contribution to British theatre, throughout which he has thrust many young writers, directors, actors and other professionals into the spotlight while maintaining a reputation for humility.
“People behind the curtain knew he was a remarkable and generous figure with his own talent and expertise,” compere Nihal Arthanayake said, “and that as a teacher and educator he had considerable gifts”.
Hosted by Eastern Eye and now in its second year, the ACTAs celebrate the best of British Asian arts and culture throughout the year.
Accepting the award, Verma expressed the importance of “celebrating the new” and supporting young and emerging talent, making a “simple plea” to those in attendance.
“What we have to face is the fact that Asian engagement in the arts in this country is lower than anyone else’s,” he said. “Yes, there are all sorts of reasons and all sorts of places we should go to raise a plea. But I want to raise a very simple one: let the artist be as valued, as important in our homes as the surgeon.
“Asian engagement in the arts in this country is lower than anyone else’s.”
“That’s the only message: we are the surgeons of the soul. That’s why we are so important. If your business is going to survive, it’s going to survive because the arts carry it forward. It’s going to develop because it is the artists that are fronting it.
“All of these fantastic artists we’ve seen today represent what is deeply important to us. Yes, we live in this country, but yes, we are also different and all art is based on differences. That’s what makes all art. My plea to you all is: let us all be the surgeons of the soul.”
Speaking at the event, culture minister Matt Hancock said: “(Tonight) is not just a celebration of those who are here and are nominated. It is a celebration of Asian arts and culture in all of its forms. It’s a celebration of the richness and vitality that you bring to this great nation through arts and culture.
“Let us hope that the strong foundation of the bonds which tie us together also allow us to have confidence in the celebration of our diversity as a nation. How each individual is beautifully unique and how we are at our finest when we are strong and open and looking out to the whole world.”
Seventeen awards were presented for categories spanning theatre, literature, film, music and comedy, among other mediums.
“everything is to fall in love with, nothing is to despair on.”
Presenting the Best Production award, Southbank Centre artistic director Jude Kelly commented: “If we really demonstrate the breadth, wealth, depth and imagination of the communities of south Asia and Britain, everything is to fall in love with, nothing is to despair on.”
Other artists performed as well, including dancer Aakash Odedra, hip-hop duo Hype and Fever and comedian Sindhu Vee, who was presented with the Eastern Eye Award for Comedy earlier in the evening.
This year’s ACTAs saw 200 guests flock to the May Fair Hotel in London, including musician Naughty Boy and Sukanya Shankar.
Readers of Eastern Eye chose Riz Ahmed as the recipient of the People’s Choice Award.
Those who received an award at the ACTAs included: