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Mood indigo Sanjna Kapoor

Mood indigo Sanjna Kapoor   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: S. SUBRAManium



Sanjna Kapoor says she does not consider Prithvi Theatre a burdensome legacy

Sanjna Kapoor never watched television before or after the “Amul India Show”. In Bangalore recently to attend the Culture Asia Conference — Connecting Asian Cultural Actors organised by HIVOS, OSI and CSCS, the Director of Prithvi Theatre, says: “My father was switching channels when I saw this interesting programme. So when I auditioned, I knew what the show was about. I was glad I was chosen, and I had a fantastic time hosting the show for three years in the mid ’90s.”

Things changed

She states that the programme followed the format of a cultural magazine and that she had to “just sit and look pretty and interview people. Towards the end, things started changing in STAR, with emphasis on TRPs, fashion and cricket spoken in Hinglish. That is when I decided to walk out.”

In 1989, Sanjna attended a six-month workshop at the Herbert Berghoff School in New York. “When I opened the doors, it smelt like Prithvi with memories and sensations when I stepped in as a 16-year-old in 1983. It was a unique place with a husband-wife team and a socialist set-up for mid-career actors.”

The tall and graceful Sanjna who has been living in Delhi for the last six years says: “Earlier, it was not easy to manage Prithvi. I was forced to organise systems, but now I have a good team.”

Satyadev Dubey was honoured at the thirtieth Prithvi Festival this year. “It was fascinating, as it was the first time one person was celebrated. Little-known facets of the most loved and hated man of modern Hindi Theatre were discovered. His contribution went far beyond to Modern Indian Theatre, as Girish Karnad and Shyam Benegal discovered in the body of work showcased. The festival, which comprised two of Dubey’s own plays and eight others which he had chosen, represented what he stood for. Dubey’s passion from the exhibition to platform performances was felt by the younger generation as well.”

Sanjna feels that over the years there has been a renewed push for quality plays at Prithvi, which was set up as a subsidiary of the 1975-established Shri Prithviraj Kapoor Memorial Trust and Research Foundation. “Though the festival plays have been varied in style and form, they are never theme-based, and since 1992 it was centred around a playwright. We always curate and invite productions. They might not be good, and we might miss out on showcasing good work as it is not theme-based. But, we have given a platform for wonderful work.”

In its 26th year, stalwart Habib Tanvir’s “Naya Theatre” performed eight productions and 17 scripts that no one has seen. “It was about bringing to the younger generation, the troupe, through readings of Habib’s autobiography and performance-built relationships and also introducing Habib to the great British director and actor Simon McBurney.”

Sanjna is not too happy about the National School of Drama’s theatre studies syllabus for NCERT from Class II to XII. “The idea is fine. However, looking at the frivolous state and treatment for music and art in school, I don’t know about a successful execution. It is a challenging ambition, and schools do enough theatre anyway. Though I haven’t seen the curriculum, I attended the first meeting of the NSD, and found the level of language used abysmal.”

Sanjna feels that now, with a smaller group involved, the syllabus should be reliable. “The education of teachers is important, and just like mathematics and the sciences, the arts should be looked at as adding to the overall system in the development of children, and not in isolation.”

Eighteen years after coming on board at Prithvi Theatre, Sanjna notes that her real aim was to create an audience that is more demanding. She also worked towards filling in the missing facets “from a children’s summer camp which has not been functioning for the last four years, an art gallery, to the café. I still have to revive the library as most of the books stored were destroyed in the Bombay floods of 2005”.

The India Theatre Forum, an alliance of theatre practitioners was initiated by Sanjna two-and-a-half years ago to address the needs of arts management with meetings in Bombay, Hubli, Neenasam in Heggodu, Delhi and Chennai with Vijay Padaki of Bangalore Little Theatre and K.V. Akshara of Neenasam. “The ITF is looking at a functioning network to break the isolation, and find inspiration as nobody is going to do it for us — we have to do it for ourselves.”

A passion

Sanjna never looks at Prithvi Theatre as a legacy passed down to her. “It just so happened that I was passionate about theatre, and I have been fortunate and lucky to be a part of it. I put structures in place and found a core management team to develop a strong enough base for Prithvi. Whoever the director might be, the personality of the individual will only add to the life of the theatre. It is important that Prithvi has a life beyond the family.” Her eco streak sprouted when she anchored Discovery Channel’s “Beat the Heat” and co-authored publications “The Ultimate Guide to Ranthambhore National Park” and “Bridge of God” on the Masai Mara Park Reserve in Kenya with husband, natural historian and wildlife expert Valmik Thapar.

Sanjana, who always holds her grandfather Prithviraj Kapoor as her hero, feels blessed to have a good team at Prithvi. “I scuba dive when I am fatigued,” she concludes with a smile in her grey-brown eyes.

AYESHA MATTHAN

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