Cutting across the divide

Theatre exponent Anuradha Kapur talks about her directorial ventures and the need to promote modern theatre

Published - January 08, 2015 08:23 pm IST - MADURAI:

Intense: Anuradha Kapur. Photo: R. Ashok

Intense: Anuradha Kapur. Photo: R. Ashok

“Mein zinda hoon…,” when Kadambini cried, it was like modern theatre crying for attention. Kadambini in Rabindranath Tagore’s Jeevito Mrito brought to life the travails of widows in this country. It could well be the voice of the play’s director Anuradha Kapur trying to convince the audience about the existence of modern theatre as a pure performing art form.

“For a theatre to be alive, one must understand that it has to run around telling people about where we live. If life is terrible with noise pollution and mobile phone, we must talk about it,” she adds.

Anuradha Kapur served in the National School of Drama, Delhi, in various capacities before retiring as Director two years ago. Her illustrious list of students includes Seema Biswas, Irrfan Khan, Rajpal Yadav, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Adil Hussein.

Anuradha brings her rich theatre experience of over three decades into her works. She also believes in integrating different art forms and most of her directorial works have been in association with visual and video artistes and filmmakers including Madhushree Dutta, Nalini Malani, Nilima Sheikh, Arpita Singh, Sumanth Jayakrishnan and Vivan Sundaram.

She developed interest in theatre when she was in school. “I did a lot of theatre in school. Rather I was in a school where a lot of theatre activities happened,” she chuckles. “Some of the finest artistes of that time in contemporary dance, painting and theatre, were my teachers,” she says.

As member of Dishantar theatre group, founded by Om Shivpuri, she acted in several plays. Her parents were liberal minded and encouraged her to pursue her dreams. She went to United Kingdom to do her post graduate degree and then doctorate in drama. She came back and joined NSD as a faculty. “Nobody could have lived purely on drama at that time. Luckily for me I got this job. For me there was not much difference between leisure and work time and that prompted me to become the co-founder of a theatre group Vivadi,” she recalls.

It all started with a workshop on popular imagery of women, where Anuradha met her like-minded friends, painter Neelima Sheik, Anamika, Vidya Rao (singer), Geetanjali Shree (writer) and Madhushree Dutta (documentarian) and they came together to form Vivadi in 1989.

“Our point of discussion was how we figure women on stage, in music, in painting. We staged Umrao Jaan Ada an urdu novel by Mirza Hadi Ruswa and rewrote the ending. It is a conventional courtesan novel but we ended our play on a positive note. Each of my directorial ventures is a collective exercise,” she says.

About Jeevito Mrito , she says that she did not want the play to be conventional. “The look and feel of the play is rationalistic. Since there are hardly any classic soliloquies in Hindi literature, I wanted this play to be a dialogue between a woman and her self. We can’t have conventional form for this kind of play. We found a kind of language that is half real but not real that is why we worked on the set and miniaturised them,” she says.

Anuradha combined action, body and voice in the play and had Seema in mind for the role. “In a more conventional play Seema would not have used both her and hands and legs to move. I made her to rehearse without any text and she discovered all the action.”

Anuradha has also directed the long and detailed production Virasat , a triology by Mahesh Elkunchwar. “It is about movement of feudal Brahmin family losing all its riches. It is a three-hour play which had everything that is done as part of daily life. For instance, the actors cooked on stage. The play was designed in such a way that the audience was never more than two feet away from the action, she says.

Anuradha advocates more repertories and opportunities for the budding actors in order to keep the theatre alertness alive. She also proffers educational institutions to support practical theatre in their premises. “We have seen many obituaries written on theatre but it rises like a phoenix,” says Anuradha.


Besides directing more 50 plays, Anuradha Kapur is the author of Actors, Pilgrims, Kings and Gods: the Ramlila at Ramnagar . She has also devised, co-scripted and directed street plays on feminist issues with Theatre Union, Delhi. In 2004 she was awarded Sangeet Natak Award for Direction in Theatre.

She has attended Workshop Theatre at University of Leeds and acted and directed plays including Hayavadana , Mother Courage and Lower Depths . She was invited by the Black Tent Theatre to direct Kuo Pao Kun's work Lao Jiu: the Ninth Born, (Navlakkha) as part of the Asian Art Festival held at the New National Theatre, Tokyo in October 2000.

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