Bollywood Enriched by Prithviraj Kapoor’s Theatre: Sanjana Kapoor

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“People tend to forget that Prithviraj Kapoor also had his own theatre company where Raj Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, all learnt the tricks of the trade.”

Sanjana Kapoor remembers her grandfather thus—a thespian.

The Quint caught up with Sanjana Kapoor to know more about the theatre foundations of the first family of Bollywood, the Kapoors. Till 2012, Sanjana ran the iconic Prithvi Theatre of Mumbai which her parents, Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendall had set up as a tribute to Prithviraj Kapoor.

The Kapoors are seen as the scions of Hindi cinema yet you insist on their thespian roots. Tell us a little more about it.

My father and his brothers, they started as actors there (Prithviraj Kapoor’s theatre company), under huge rigour and riyaz. And every morning, getting up and reciting poetry and building your voice and all sorts of things.

How and when did you decide that you wanted to do theatre and not films?

I realised after doing a film with Naseer (Naseeruddin Shah), Hero Hiralal, that I needed training. I was awful in that film. So I went to New York after that and that’s where the penny dropped. I realised theatre is what I love and that rehearsal process, and people coming together in that safe space, taking risks and not worrying if you fall flat on your face. Finally, performing in front of audience made up of strangers that you share so much with. And then you get to travel. A big shock soon came to me that travel theatre companies hardly existed in the world, they were dwindling because the economics didn’t work.

Why did only Shashi Kapoor, your father, choose to take his father’s theatre legacy forwrad?

The reason I’d imagine is that he (Shashi Kapoor) married my mother. None of the siblings married women who were from the world of theatre. He, at the age of 18, met my mother in Calcutta. At that point, he was working with ‘Prithvi Theatres’, Prithvi Raj Kapoor’s theatre company, and then joined ‘Shakespeareana’. When they fell in love, he got a job as an actor there. And he toured with them for two years. So he travelled all over the country performing Shakespeare, which he was terrified of, but managed to crack. He would have continued being a stage actor if the finances and the economics would have allowed it.

You inherited your love for theatre mostly from your maternal side, the Kendalls. Why did the Kapoors not succeed in getting you interested in the Hindi cinema?

I’m not the best person to talk about Hindi cinema because I haven’t grown up seeing huge amounts of it. I grew up watching world cinema. My father, ever since I was 8, 9 10, would get films from Pune archive and we’d watch films in Bombay. I think of my 16-year-old son and he hasn’t even begun to scrape the top of what the world cinema was and is today.

Do you feel theatre in India is dwindling because it’s mostly seen as a vocation of people like you—English-speaking, world-cinema watching elite?

I have a huge quarrel with people who think theatre is elitist, because I come from Maharashtra where theatre is seen by everybody. My greatest joy was 4 years ago when I met this rickshaw driver who was taking me from airport to Prithvi. He wasn’t a Bihari, which was unusual. He was a Maharashtrian and he started talking to me and he realised who I was and that I was going to Prithvi.

He started telling me that this is where Vijay Tendulkar lived, this is where Makrand Deshpande used to play cricket, this is where they used to rehearse, as we were going along. He used to go to the theatre every month. He and three members of his family would go and it wasn’t the expenses that stopped him from going to theatre. He said he doesn’t go to theatre anymore because he’s bored. He’s bored with the comedy. He doesn’t want the snapshot comedy. “Comedy comedy comedy,” he said “I don’t want that”. “I want social drama. I want interesting things that trigger my mind,” he said. And this is a rickshaw driver!

So that’s the state I belong to. And I think that a lot of it happens in the country especially in the south and maybe in the east. It’s just the North that is very different. There are different types of theatre and there’s such a variety. So rich, and I think that’s what we gotta celebrate.

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