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‘I found my clarity in theatre’

Promoting theatre is not rocket science, says Sanjana KapoorPhoto: S. Siva Saravanan  

Sanjna Kapoor’s dream was to join the circus. Her father would take her to the circus on her birthdays. “I wanted to be a trapeze artiste,” says the theatre actor and co-founder of Junoon, a Mumbai-based theatre company. She was also strongly influenced by her grandparents, Geoffrey and Laura Kendal, who were a part of a travelling theatre group called Shakespeareana Company that toured India, performing the plays of the Bard, Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde.

Their plays have fascinated a generation of school children, who are now in their 50s.

“People like Naseeruddin Shah would wait for the Shakespeareana troupe to perform in his school. They would frequent the same school. The people they met, the lives they led, the friendships they struck in trains and small hotels was all very special,” she says.

Junoon tries to revive this tradition by meeting up with school students, local artistes and writers across the country. As a part of their children’s programme, the team was in Coimbatore for a five-day workshop at Delhi Public School. Sanjna hands me a blue booklet, which she says is their official passport to the Republic of Junoon that promises a trip to the theatre, a workshop on stagecraft encounter, a meet-the- artist session and a creative showcase by the children.

“We want this to be a microcosm of all performing arts. We have Bharatanatyam dancer Vandana Alase Hazra, and Keli’s Kathakali troupe to interact with the children. As part of the workshop, children take up the roles of documenters, reviewers and jurists. The teachers are the guides.”

Despite being the daughter of Bollywood star Shashi Kapoor and theatre actress Jennifer Kendal, Sanjna’s childhood home had no film magazines. They were were strictly forbidden, she says. “Instead, I grew up watching Bergman, Kurosawa and other masters. So running around trees was not for me,” she laughs when she recollects her experience as an actress in Ketan Mehta’s Hero Hiralal and Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay.

Realising cinema was not where she belonged, Sanjna packed bags to New York, where she learnt acting. “I found my clarity in theatre. I realised it’s the rehearsals and the process of theatre that I loved. But, it was not just the thrill of stage that drew me to theatre, but also the service part of it.” That’s when she decided to helm Prithvi theatre, which was vibrant in the first 10 to 15 years after it was built, but soon lost its vigour.

Prithvi found a new lease of life under her management when she introduced children’s festivals, art shows, etc. Sanjna hates the artificial art complexes, made with enormous amounts of money and devoid of any soul.

“I happened to visit one in Mumbai and it was the death of my imagination. It was designed by a great Italian architect, but was so sterile. That’s why I love the mess of Mumbai with its chaos and noise .”

Junoon also has a programme called Mumbai Local where it hosts conversations with artistes. This happens in book shops, cafes, galleries, etc.

“The conversation is on an equal plane. The artiste holds his audience with same esteem as he does his art. We have featured Naseeruddin Shah, Arundhathi Subramaniam and Devdutt Pattanaik, who otherwise don’t get a chance to interact with their audience. Unlike regular literary fests, the audience here is mixed and keeps changing. We have had people coming all the way from Amaravati.”

To sustain the budding theatre groups, Junoon has joined hands with Indian Foundation for the Arts as managing partners, for a programme called Strategic Management in the Art of Theatre (SMART), run by Indian Theatre Forum (ITF). “There is no magic wand to bring in the money. We need a ground plan. We hold hands of these theatre groups and take them through an active road map for viable options. The idea is to help them use the resources more intelligently, consolidate their work over a period of time smartly and ask deep questions about their plans. We held a 10-day residential programme, at Fireflies near Bengaluru, where 17 theatre groups from across the country participated.” Every group is given a mentor, who will work with them over six months.

Sanjna says theatre is seeing a surge in the country in the last six or seven years. “Theatre is taken seriously by youngsters, who are making a living out of advertisements and voice-overs and at the same time dedicating time for training themselves.”

There is a lot we can do and that still needs to be done, feels Sanjna. But lack of interest from the government is a dampener.

“A plot in Marine Drive, which was allotted to be used for children’s theatre at the time of Jawaharlal Nehru is still lying untended. There is so much talent in the country and all they need is space. We give priority to some disciplines and ignore the rest. Why can’t we do this across all disciplines? It is not rocket science. All we need is strong political will.”

About Junoon

The school programme is available for children from eight till 17. The capacity of the programme is a maximum of 500 children. Participants include 30 teachers who will be dedicatedly involved in the programme. To join this programme, contact Ramya Nurani, the project manager, at ramya@junoontheatre.org or call 098333-44173.

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 8:09:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/%E2%80%98I-found-my-clarity-in-theatre%E2%80%99/article14593185.ece

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