Friday, December 01, 2006

Sanjna Kapoor

In the happy jumble that's her office, amidst telephone calls, cash vouchers and work on the website, Sanjna Kapoor got talking about Prithvi Theatre. She was between two theatre festivals - The Prithvi Theatre Festival in Mumbai has just ended the day before and she leaves for Delhi where she's organizing the festival there.

Sanjna is part of the Kapoor family, considered by many as the first family of Indian cinema with actors such as Prithviraj Kapoor, his sons Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor (Sanjna's father) and their children.

Sanjna's grandfather, Prithviraj Kapoor started Prithvi as a theatre group. When the touring theatre company of the Kendals, Shakespearana came to India, Prithviraj Kapoor's son, Shashi Kapoor met, fell in love with and married the Kendals' daughter, Jennifer. Herself an accomplished stage actress, Jennifer was to spearhead Prithvi Theatre's revival as a venue when Prithviraj Kapoor passed away. Sanjna was five at that time.

The Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai was instituted to nurture the development of theatre in India. It is primarily a theatre venue, but goes beyond the function of a mere venue by supporting projects aimed at growth of theatre in India. Currently, Prithvi hosts over 400 performances a year by over 50 theatre groups. It boasts an average audience of 80% of capacity, which is approximately 65000 people per year. Since 1993, the organization has been involved in developing alternate performance venues with the objective of taking theatre to the audience.

Sanjna has memories of having class picnics at the theatre, and playing 'chor-police' (cops & robbers). "At the age of nine, I was running around barefoot with my Lhasa Apso in the plot where the Prithvi Theatre as we know it now, was being constructed. I remember looking at the architectural plans and seeing it all come together like a jigsaw puzzle. I was on the periphery of the actual building of the theatre." She says.

Later, when the venue opened its doors to theatre groups, she remembers going for late night shows with her parents and falling asleep on the seats at the back, surrounded by the reassuring sounds of a play in production.

In the first festival in 1983, Sanjna was fifteen and actively participated as a volunteer and recounts it as a fantastic experience. Sanjna went on to act in a few Hindi movies, has been involved in the creation of two books, one on the Ranthambore National Park and the other on Masai Mara in Kenya. She has also helped compile the photographs for her father's book, Prithviwallahs, published in 2004, co-authored with Deepa Gehlot.

While she's been involved with Prithvi for a long time, she officially came on board as a Director of the organization in 1990.

She counts as her inspiration, her maternal grandfather, Geoffrey Kendal, who had his own theatre company. She recounts, "He was clearly my inspiration, he was my hero. He traveled around the country, and told me stories of his experiences. He had the ability to make the most mundane hamburger sound like the most exotic meal. It's these stories that completely whetted my appetite for wanting to be part of theatre, sadly, wanting to be part of a traveling theatre company. I say sadly because it doesn't really exist in reality. My dream was always to have a bus filled with actors and props and costumes, drive around the country and perform wherever we can. That may not be possible just for the economics of things."

Sanjna now lives in Delhi and visits Mumbai to manage the theatre, spending more time whenever there's a big event like the Prithvi Theatre Festival to organize.
Sanjna admits to having many ideas to move Prithvi forward. "One is eternally exhausted. Sometimes, we're overburdening ourselves with too many activities, but there's never a dull day!"
(An edited version appeared in the December 2006 issue of 'At A Glance'. Photographs by author.)

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