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Chat with Sanjana and Kunal kapoor of Prithvi Theatre

Tete -A-Tete – Drama at Prithvi: Act Two, Scene 1

RESHMA S. KULKARNI

Sanjna Kapoor: Focus on qualitative growth

With the stage set for a change at Mumbai’s iconic Prithvi Theatre, siblings Kunal and Sanjna Kapoor discuss their plans for the future.

The theatre fraternity received a jolt last week when Sanjna Kapoor announced an unexpected curtain call from the iconic Prithvi Theatre, theinstitution she has been associated with for the last two decades.

With the baton passing to her brother, Kunal Kapoor, who has been involved with Prithvi for almost a decade more than her, the brother-sister duo reveals the reasons behind this decision and their future plans.

Sanjna has been the ‘face’ of Prithvi for some time. Will her absence hinder Prithvi in any way?

Kunal:Sanjna definitely has been the “face” of Prithvi Theatre and why not? She is much prettier, much more photogenic, and fun!! But this is/should not be the reason for people to come forward and join the theatre movement!

Our efforts have always been and continue to be to make theatre a financially viable, exciting and desirable world for people to be part of: as an audience, actor, director, playwright, costume, set and production, lighting and music designers, managers …

Sanjna:The real face of Prithvi is the magical space itself and how it energises people. Keeping it vibrant space is a host of dedicated people behind the scenes, who are still at Prithvi and who do a wonderful job. I also strongly believe institutions need ‘fresh blood’ at the helm; so this sort of change is always important.

Kunal’s role was more or less hidden from public view. Was this a conscious decision?

Kunal:I have been actively involved since the end of 1983. Sanjna joined in the late 1990s; or to be clearer, I dragged her into it when the work started multiplying. It was a conscious decision to stay out of the limelight because I preferred letting my work and Prithvi speak for itself. I know it is easier for the press and the world at large to put a face in the foreground; it does becoming a connecting factor but I would still prefer it to be the end result and let the work speak for itself.

Some are wondering if Sanjna’s exit is the outcome of a rift. Comments?

Kunal:Typical, I would say! But this decision should be viewed on a positive note. There is so much that can/needs to be done in promoting Prithvi both at a local and national level. Our new plans are very expansive and, to make this effective, a division of responsibilities was definitely required. There is too much for one person to do out of one little theatre in Juhu.

Speculation notwithstanding, I know we have a much more positive and supportive reaction from theatre groups who regularly perform at Prithvi and our well wishers!

Sanjna:We have been working on this decision over the past 8-9 months. It is to concentrate on qualitative growth that I’ll be relinquishing my Directorship of Prithvi from April 1, 2012. Sadly, there is no more masala to it than that!

A major revamp of Prithvi Theatre is said to be in the offing. Will the theatre retain its old-world charm or will we see a modern, futuristic Prithvi?

Kunal:The building is over 33 years old. It needs attention that has been too long delayed due to our busy schedules, lack of funds … None of this should take away any of the original charm or warmth… Personally I am a great fan and protective of history, while keeping things relevant and alive; so the revamping would definitely happen in keeping with Prithvi’s iconic charm.

According to the new plans, you’re poised to promote professional theatre in India. What happens to promoting amateur theatre then?

Kunal:We have never been interested in promoting amateur theatre. Theatre and cinema is our profession and has been for now four generations. Personally I find the concept of amateur offensive; you would not tolerate or accept and amateur doctor/pilot/police/prime minister!

Sanjna:The words ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ in Indian theatre are a bit tricky. It can’t actually be seen in the same light as in the West. It is more an attitude and rigour towards the work rather than making a living off theatre. What I strongly believe is that if the infrastructure was made available, then theatre could be a viable choice of a profession to make a living from. But sadly the infrastructure is just not there; it is this that Junoon is setting out to contribute to. And it is this that Prithvi has been contributing to over the past 33 years!

Everyone’s keen to know what Junoon is all about…

Sanjna:Junoon is the brainchild of Sameera Iyengar and me. This is a product of our years of work at Prithvi. We realised that there is a huge lacuna that we wish to fill by becoming enablers: enabling theatre to reach its deserved audience and likewise enable audience access good theatre with attention to the overall experience for both the theatrewallah and the audience. Keeping this in mind, there are going to be four main strands: Youth Connect which includes Summertime programme of workshops and plays for children; Touring Theatre across tour circuits in the country; Energising venues in Mumbai engaging with managements of existing theatres; Advisory/Consultancy on new theatre projects.

We are currently in the process of setting up Junoon and its programmes and will be back with more in early March 2012. The challenge is to be innovative and yet connected to reality; not simply be innovative for the sake of something new. So programming (be it vis-à-vis languages, styles or content) always needs to be sensitive to the possibility of an appreciative audience and the audience’s accessibility to the theatre.

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