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'No star would travel third class'

November 17, 2006 19:33 IST
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She is the youngest daughter of Shashi and Jennifer Kapoor.

She is also the granddaughter of veteran actor Prithviraj Kapoor as well of Geoffrey Kendel of the British travelling theatre company Shakespeareana.

Theatre literally runs in Sanjana Kapoor's blood.

Sanjana's first ambition was -- naturally -- acting. Especially since she was afraid she would fail eighth standard in school. She wanted to establish a travelling troupe that could 'perform in every nook and corner of this fantastically crazy country.'

But she became instead the face of Mumbai's Prithvi Theatre.

As the Prithvi Theatre festival draws to an end on November 19, Komal Mehta caught up with Sanjana and chatted with her on her favourite topic:

Kala, desh ki seva mein (Art in the service of the nation) was a fantastic aim when it was coined at the inception of Prithvi Theatre in 1944. How do you relate to an aim like that, today in 2006?

That was the most daunting part of this year's festival. It was Prithviraj Kapoor's logo and motto. So we decided to interpret it for what it meant today.

The way we tried to look at art today is quite frankly facing the fact that we live in an age where we want to get on with life without being concerned with too much. We want to have a good time. Within this scenario how will theatre respond to the social scenario? Obviously, this is in a broad ambit of things. I was worried because I wondered how I would put together quality art. But in 28 days, we could do that quite easily.

Of course, Prithviraj Kapoor's theatre was in a time in the 1930s when the whole world was responding against fascism, against what was going on in the world politically, and artists, poets and literary people were responding. Prithviraj Kapoor was a part of that wave. It came naturally to him.

He could have chosen to do commercial theatre because he was at the height of his film career. He was a big star when he created the theatre company and yet travelled in the third class compartment on trains. This is something no star would dream of doing today. I mean, walk across to Shah Rukh Khan's house. He lives in an armoured fort! And it's a shame. Does he have any connection to the world and life around him?

Prithviraj Kapoor chose to stay deeply connected with people.

How did he veer towards theatre?

I think the theatre bug bit him when he was in college. He decided to leave his studies -- he was studying law -- and act in cinema in the silent film era.

He was in a British theatre company called the Grant Anderson Company for a year, and they toured all over the country.

I think that's where Prithviraj Kapoor's professionalism and his approach to theatre got nurtured. When he created Prithvi Theatre in 1944, he chose to create a new idiom, a new language of theatre. Hindi language theatre did not exist then, so he created something that was away from folk, away from the Paris theatre tradition. It was realistic theatre, which spoke about concerns which really burned in him.

For me, it's been a fascinating journey of trying to discover a man and his passions. There are still some blank patches and I wish I could talk to him and figure them out.

Prithvi Theatre is associated with quality theatre in India, how does that make you feel?

For me, it's sadly a dichotomy because Prithvi, in a strange way, is what it is because of the theatre groups that perform here. The dichotomy is that all shows performed are not of the highest quality. But then again, what we are, is because of the festivals we present.

Prithvi is a non-profit theatre and runs on donations. Have you ever given thought to having a system that will make it self-sustaining, if not profitable?

Our rent is subsidised so that we let the groups survive. The groups pay only about 40 percent of the actually cost. Hutch (mobile service provider) covers the rest, that is how we have survived over the years.

We have never had government support; the government does not seem to think that things like these are important. Even the government-run theatres charge the full amount. They are not subsidized and these are government-run institutes.

Over the years we have managed to nurture amazing good will. But our foolishness has been that we've never EVER saved any money. And that's a really stupid way of managing things. If we even had Rs 10 put away somewhere every year it would have added up. I guess my family and I are a little foolhardy about this. But now we are planning things, we are seriously looking towards a purpose where we are able to, from the interest of it, just basically be able to cover our rental and the cost. So that when we use sponsorship money, we use it for events. Right now we're burdening our sponsors, and Hutch is being incredibly gracious in supporting us right through the year and then supporting our events too. 

Prithvi is for theatre and Sanjana is for Prithvi. How do you feel about that?

I'm not sure. I'm a very deep-rooted Hindu (I'm not Hindu in anything but this, perhaps) and that is -- I feel a great passion, but also a great detachment. I completely love this theatre. I wouldn't be able to put as much passion energy into another building because theatre is what it is. But on the other hand I'm very happy to be able to completely detach and hand the reins over to other people.

What is Sanjana apart from Prithvi?

A doting mother. I've got a four-year-old kid and I'm not much right now, apart from being full-time mom.(After a pause she adds) I love scuba diving.

Have you ever thought of having the more popular Kapoors, who are favourites with the youth, further the cause of Prithvi?


People who are not into theatre don't quite understand what people who are into theatre see in theatre. How would you describe the magic of theatre to them?

It's like it is because you see something happen in front of you and you know it could go wrong and it doesn't. It actually moves you emotionally and touches your brain and it leaves things with you that linger on.It is something else to be able to come sit in the darkness and know that your being moved by some people in the spotlight and all of you'll are feeling the same thing in the darkness.

For details, visit the Prithvi Theatre Official site

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