On 28 February, Prithvi Theatre’s current director, Sanjna Kapoor, will present her last official event at the Mumbai institution, the annual memorial concert on mother Jennifer Kendal’s birth anniversary.
Late last week, theatre watchers in Mumbai were taken aback by news that Kapoor was leaving her post to form a new venture called Junoon. With this company, which will begin work in 2012, Kapoor and the current festival director at Prithvi, Sameera Iyengar, will work with travelling groups to take theatre to smaller venues across India which have less access to the performing arts than traditional hot spots in big cities.
The announcement prompted much speculation about what Prithvi would look like without one of its guiding forces and best-known representatives. But “there’s no masala”, as Kapoor said to newspapers when the news broke, and with it, questions about what prompted the move. She sees Junoon as the next step of her work at Prithvi, and not a departure from the traditions of the 33-year-old entity.
Time to travel: Sanjna Kapoor’s new project takes theatre on the road. Photo by Chandan Gomes/Mint.
She is clear about the separation of powers. “We needed to make it (the company) known now, as there must be no confusion in people’s minds about the two entities.” But it also seems that Junoon is a development in keeping with Prithvi’s own philosophies, and remains connected with the theatre in important ways.
Prithvi was built as a place where professional theatre in Indian languages, especially Hindi, would flourish, and where aspiring artistes and technicians could find a voice. The year-round bustle in its compact, tree-lined space is proof of its success, but even an avowedly democratic venue has its limitations, especially in a city where theatre groups are in constant search of spaces to work and put on shows.
“Junoon will not have a theatre company producing its own plays,” Kapoor says. “We will present plays by other groups in our tour circuits— we will create the infrastructure to enable a superb experience for the group as well as the audience.”
Junoon will be a public charitable trust, looking for support from partners and allied organizations, and will start off with a small team of five or seven workers and professionals who will lend it their time and effort pro bono.
Many of its plans are still in the making. “It would be fabulous if in the process of setting this up we also connect to schools and colleges that my grandparents toured to— bringing back to life the ritual of an annual play by professionals in an educational institute,” Kapoor says (her grandfather Prithviraj Kapoor, as well as maternal grandparents Laura Liddell and Geoffrey Kendal, travelled through India with their respective theatre companies).
Evidently, Junoon intends to pay serious attention to young people, but Prithvi is also a young person’s space. What sort of divide is the new company trying to address?
Kapoor explains: “The summertime programme (an annual schedule of workshops and theatre programming for children) that has been running at Prithvi over the past 21 years will now be run by Junoon,” she says. “It will spread across the city, and through the year, with deeper engagements with schools, bringing professional theatre to their neighbourhood.”
So what of Prithvi? Kapoor’s role will be taken over by her brother Kunal, currently trustee at the Shri Prithviraj Kapoor Memorial Trust, of which the theatre is a subsidiary. “(Kunal) has always been involved, as has my father, in the big ideas and new plans at the Prithvi,” she says. “He will now need to engage more on day-to-day details, as he did do after my mother passed away in 1984.” Kunal Kapoor, who ran the theatre from 1984-90, says his new role means taking the time to build a new team, and to improve on the current quality of performances and audience experience. “The first and most important (thing) is the repair and renovation of the theatre and its compound, in several phases.” says Kunal.
Sanjna Kapoor herself lives in Delhi and shuttles between work and home. On the travel schedule, she says, Junoon’s performers will hit “some of the big cities, but more focus will be given to tier II cities or big towns”.
But Junoon’s base will continue to be Mumbai. “Bombay has the spaces and the software,” she says. “It has innumerable theatre groups longing to perform. All it needs is the connect—and the sensibility to think through the finances to make it a viable proposition for the theatre groups, the auditoria management and the audience.”
In an ideal world, she says, the government would ensure “a cultural centre for every ward in the city. But that’s asking for the moon”.
As she goes about trying to bring the moon home, “Prithvi will continue doing what it’s meant to, and does”, says Kunal Kapoor. “No changes because Sanjna is working on Junoon,” he adds drily. “Except maybe a little less of the loud laughs and screams. She’s a noisy woman.”