‘Theatre has tremendous transformational power. All I ask is for you to allow me to touch you and your child with that power’https://indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/theatre-has-tremendous-transformational-power-all-i-ask-is-for-you-to-allow-me-to-touch-you-and-your-child-with-that-power/

‘Theatre has tremendous transformational power. All I ask is for you to allow me to touch you and your child with that power’

Sanjana Kapoor talks about her initiation into the world of theatre,her company Junoon and how,some day,she hopes to watch more of her father Shashi Kapoor’s films 'with a more benevolent eye'.

In this Idea Exchange,theatre personality Sanjana Kapoor talks about her initiation into the world of theatre,her company Junoon and how,some day,she hopes to watch more of her father Shashi Kapoor’s films “with a more benevolent eye”. This session was moderated by Special Correspondent Dipanita Nath

Dipanita Nath: The story of Sanjana Kapoor’s involvement with Prithvi Theatre started with her grandparents: Prithviraj Kapoor and Geoffrey and Laura Kendal. She’s the daughter of Shashi and Jennifer Kapoor. It must have been tremendous growing up in that kind of a household?

Sanjana Kapoor: My maternal grandfather,Geoffrey Kendal,was my complete and absolute hero. We used to call him Gaga,and my grandmother Gagi. I grew up with their stories. I didn’t hear fairytales,I grew up hearing of my grandparents’ adventures or Shakespeare stories which all merged into each other. It came as a rude shock when I was a teenager and realised that’s what I wanted to be a part of—their lives,and a travelling theatre company. People tend to forget that Prithviraj Kapoor,at the peak of his career,created a theatre company. So in 1944,when India was going through all its turmoil,he believed that he needed to take theatre to the cities and speak directly to people about issues that were powerfully important to him. I didn’t know him very well at all; I was five years old when he died. In 2006,we celebrated his birth centenary. We chose plays from across the country that had something to say. That’s the world I grew up in—hearing and knowing about these adventures. Three things were banned in my house as a child: Coca-Cola or fizzy drinks,comics except Tintin and Asterix and,Hindi film magazines. We were kept miles away from cinema,or a certain kind of cinema,very consciously.

Dipanita Nath: Prithvi Theatre was actually started by your mother.


Sanjana Kapoor: All through my childhood,everybody thought it was my mother’s baby and I took for granted that it was her idea. But my aunt,Felicity Kendal,was writing a book about her own life in India,travelling with the theatre company and she found a letter from my mother,saying Shashi’s gone mad,he wants to build a theatre. So it was his idea. She built it,he financed it.

Dipanita Nath: What were the circumstances under which you took over as director of Prithvi Theatre?

Sanjana Kapoor: It all happened very surreptitiously and gradually. There was no directorial post. One day I was supposed to go for a swanky corporate meeting and I had to call myself something so I said,“Okay,I’m the Director.” I spent years staying away from it because I was terrified. Then I decided to bite the bullet. For one year,I watched every show. That was a study for me. And I discovered that as things become financially viable,you tend to cater to the lowest denominator,so the shows were not at their best at all. You had talent but they were creating rubbish to pull in the money. The audience was terrible,there were paan stains on the wall,etc. And I thought,we can only do this by reaching out to the younger generation,bringing back the world of art to theatrewallahs. I started with a few projects…The only thing the trustees—my father and brother—said was,“go find the money yourself”.

Dipanita Nath: When you went out for funding,did it help that you had a certain surname?

Sanjana Kapoor: Of course,the surname helps,it opens certain doors. It’s a blessing but then you have to prove yourself and put your money where your mouth is. It’s always a challenge.

Dilip Bobb: What do you think of corporate sponsoring of theatre now?

Sanjana Kapoor: The Mahindras have started doing it and are one of the leading players in it today. This baby of theirs,with the idea of awards,has impacted the way theatre is being done across the country. The government has taken an initiative with the Bharat Rang Mahotsav—that is also something aspirational for people to be part of. The trouble is,it’s not a trend. The corporates are not lining up and we need them to. And that’s what my work is about—going out there and saying we value the arts. If we have to have a society that is sane,and civilised,the arts have to be central to it. Access to the arts is also crucial. I shouldn’t have to go to an art gallery to see a painting that will move me. It should be something that I encounter on a daily or weekly basis. Going to the theatre shouldn’t be such an effort. It should be something that is accessible and easy to do. These are things that touch your soul and you need them,especially when we’re building such an incredibly scary nation. The only thing that will pull you in and bring you closer to who you are is the arts.

Suanshu Khurana: You were the first woman from your family to start acting. Was it breaking tradition or a natural progression?

Sanjana Kapoor: People forget that my mother was a Kapoor when she started acting. I’m not sure about this Kapoor woman thing. I come from a family of actors and actresses and it was about getting on with the job and doing what you’re capable of doing.

Dipanita Nath: You stepped down from Prithvi to start Junoon. Can you tell us a little more about that?

Sanjana Kapoor: It’s been a growing progression over the last 6-8 years where my interests were broadening beyond this tiny little building. My concern was how to impact people in the city. That there are no other Prithvi theatres in the country is horrific. We got a proposal from the Planning Commission to write the success story on Prithvi,and I refused because we’re an exception. If we were a success,everyone would be following us. It still disturbs me. I really wanted to spread out. With Junoon,we want to impact the ecosystem and environment,and we’re also looking at capacity building. It’s going to be done by very tiny,focused steps. Fifty per cent of our activity at Junoon is working with young people and children and 50 per cent with adults. We have programmes for children and workshops for schools which are just panning out across schools. My inspiration is Geoffrey Kendal. No matter where I go,I always meet somebody who has experienced my grandparents in their school or college. Naseerudin Shah is an actor today because at boarding school the only thing he would look forward to was the visit of the Shakespearana Company. What is exciting for me is that the economics of theatre is changing and we don’t have to depend on scholarships. It can be self-sufficient. People have more money in their pockets today that they’re willing to put into watching theatre.

Seema Chishti: Is there something beyond economics that limits theatre,particularly in north India?

Sanjana Kapoor: I dare not speak for north India,it’s a vast space that I don’t know. Places where theatre has rooted itself as a regular,middle-class activity are Maharashtra and Bengal. In southern India,the traditional arts are a part of daily living. Twenty years ago,in Maharashtra,you would go to a 11 am show on a week day and it would be full of people who would buy the scripts as they walked out of the theatre. Who buys scripts in Delhi? Or anywhere? We don’t have an entertainment tax in Maharashtra. That’s critical. You can’t have theatre if you don’t have infrastructure. You can’t have theatre if you have an entertainment tax. Do you know what you have to do in Delhi to have a show? I wouldn’t do a show here and I’ve lived here for 10 years. It’s a nightmare. If I were to work here,you’d have to pay me a lot of money. I promise you,infrastructure is important.

Dilip Bobb: We grew up watching Amitabh Bachchan on stage,but right now,what is the theatre scene like in educational institutions?

Sanjana Kapoor: There’s something changing which is very exciting. I think it has to do with more money in people’s pockets so parents take their children to watch theatre. In October,we did six shows for 3,000 children in Mumbai. These were professional shows by adults for children and we were terrified. We went to neighborhood schools and asked them to participate. We begged and pleaded. They agreed. But still I thought nobody’s biting this,nobody wants to come and watch theatre. But suddenly,it was like the gods shone down on us. We had to add extra shows. We had 12 shows,and more than 6,000 children—and such applause! I knew the kids would love the shows but I didn’t expect two things. One,how much they loved the interaction with the actors after the show which we had planned. Two,I didn’t expect how thrilling the experience was for the actors. With kids,you have to grab them and for an actor,that’s the greatest challenge. So we’re convinced that bringing the experience of theatre to a child is most critical,and the schools want us to do this again and again.

Vidya Prabhu: Are you happy with the kind of subjects that Indian theatre is dealing with right now?

Sanjana Kapoor: There,I think,we should give credit to Delhi. They’re more gutsy. Theatre in Delhi will try to delve into uncomfortable areas or things that don’t necessarily make you happy. In Mumbai,we’re cop-outs on that front. And that’s something that needs to be challenged. Groups need to be pushed curatorially and qualitatively. What is interesting is that the younger generation is looking at theatre as a profession in the last six years. On the other hand,Marathi theatre that was very strong—script and content wise—is going through a crisis. They’re influenced by television and creating theatre that is episodic and the audiences are left wondering what that is. They haven’t really coped with it.

Priyanka Pereira: You said that while growing up,Hindi cinema magazines were banned in your house. Was Hindi cinema also banned?

Sanjana Kapoor: Obviously,I did see a few of my father’s films. He has done over 300 films but I don’t know if I know 10 of them. My friends from Delhi think I’m from the moon because they can’t believe I don’t know things about my father that they know. In the 70s,the films became really violent. Now I’m not a great feminist,but I would watch my father’s films and the way the women were treated in films would completely freak me out. I would ask my mother,how could he do such films? My mother sat me down and said,when he started films,cinema was different. The actors would sit in the script writing session,in the music and lyrics session and be part of the creation. When things got out of hand,cinema started getting created for the so-called audiences that were out there—the lowest denominator. I remember asking my dad as a really young kid,“Tell me the stories you’re acting in,” and he was working on five or six films and would mix them all up. He had no idea; he hadn’t even read the script! It was ridiculous. My mother told me then that he has a lifestyle and he has to cater to it so what he’s doing is making all this money and putting it back into the cinema he likes and a theatre which he loves. Maybe one day,I will watch more of my father’s films with a more benevolent eye.

Seema Chishti: Tell us of one film you liked.

Sanjana Kapoor: In my late teens,I used to go to FTII,Pune,a lot. All vela actors would do that. Watching Deewar in FTII was so much fun because there you had these arty people,mouthing every word of the film! That was my most thrilling experience. The films my dad produced I loved deeply. On Sunday mornings,you could watch world cinema at film clubs,so my dad would take me to Bandra. You could also rent films from the FTII archives,so he would bring them to Mumbai and we would watch all of Ray’s,Bergman’s and Kurosawa’s films. I got filled up with all those sensibilities so when I watched a regular Hindi movie,it was different. I made a lot of enemies with friends of mine who are now in the industry. Like Aamir (Khan). I knew him before he came a star,and then he would say,“You don’t like my film,right?” and I would say no,and he would say,“Oh,then it’ll be a success!”

Dilip Bobb: You have a husband obsessed about wildlife (Valmik Thapar) and you’re obsessed about theatre. How does that work?

Sanjana Kapoor: We also have a son obsessed with cars,so tell me about it! I walk him to school every day and we have long conversations where I try very hard to show interest.

Rakesh Sinha: Do you ever get the feeling that not many parents encourage their children to do theatre?

I think it’s changing. I know what I do,or my world,has tremendous transformational power. All I ask is for you to allow me to touch you and your child with that power. I believe that it’s incredibly important. We want to touch the parents as well.

Prashant Dixit: If any of your father’s films were to be remade,would you consider being a part of it,or maybe remake one yourself?

Sanjana Kapoor: I could be my mother in 36 Chowringhee Lane perhaps! But,no! What a terrible idea. I am not interested in cinema. It’s a wonderful medium but it just doesn’t give me the same thrill.

Alaka Sahni: After spending almost all your life in theatre what still gives you goosebumps?


Sanjana Kapoor: If you stand at the back of the hall and see the kids immersed in the play—that’s the reward. Also,when you come out of a show and people linger. We need to create a space where when you come out of a play,you don’t want to rush home,you want to stay with it. When people linger and there’s this buzz,that’s what’s rewarding.

Transcribed by Swetha Ramkrishnan