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November 02, 2018

The Iconic Prithvi Theatre Turns 40

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena

On the eve of Prithvi Theatre’s landmark eponymous festival, Kunal Kapoor talks about his tryst with theatre

For aficionados of the stage in Mumbai – and even for those who visit the city and spend a little time here – Prithvi Theatre has been since its inception in 1978, one of the earliest go-to places for cultural performances and events. For me, a trek to Juhu, though quite a distance from my residence and workplace, is always worth it. For to me, it means much more than just watching the acts in the darkened theatre; it normally also means relaxing post the shows, catching up with friends at its cosy Prithvi Café.

The iconic theatre is poised to celebrate the completion of 40 years with the 2018 edition of the Prithvi Theatre Festival. This annual feature was launched in 1983 and has since become a fixed event on the calendar that fans look forward to. And this time, to mark the landmark calendar year, the festival which kick-starts on November 3, is spread across three venues – Royal Opera House, G5A and, of course, Prithvi Theatre.

In store for audiences is a mix of the old and the new. For instance, Prithviraj Kapoor’s Deewaris premiering on the legend’s birthday (November 3) at the Royal Opera House – interestingly it was at this very venue in its earlier avatar, that it was first showcased in 1945. And two days later, Prithvi Theatre will see the staging of Motley’s The Truthstarring veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah. The theatre stalwart had along with the late Om Puri featured at the theatre in the first performance of Majma’s Udhwast Dharmshalaon the same date in 1978.

Kunal Kapoor (the grandson of Prithviraj Kapoor, and the son of Jennifer (Kendall) and Shashi Kapoor), trustee, Prithvi Theatre, took charge of the theatre after his younger sister, Sanjna, stepped down in 2012. He points out,  “This year the festival brings to you, theatre productions, a western classical music concert by Symphony Orchestra of India, literary encounters, pure natural acoustics platform performances, and discussions with eminent theatre. Participating groups include names like Motley, Ikigai, Arpana, Harkat Studios, The Phoenix Players, Ansh Theatre Group, Tamaasha Theatre, Utopia Communication, Playtrix, Play On, Rangshila Theatre Group and Manhar Gadhia Production. We are looking forward to an exciting and entertaining festival, especially since this is such an important one for us.”

For Kunal the most exciting part of being born and brought up in the Kapoor home infused with great culture and creativity was “exactly that, one filled with wonderful memories and experiences.” So, just as Prithvi Theatre means a lot to Mumbai’s cultural space and its cognoscenti, it means a great deal to him too. “It is our heritage. It means both our history and the future,” he emphasises.

Looking back, the four decades seem to stretch beyond the pale of one’s imagination. On this historic journey, Kunal says, “It has been exciting but tough and rewarding. And even after 40 years, Prithvi faces the same challenges – not enough days in a month, not enough patronage and not enough support!”

He rewinds to his first memories of the stage, his first exposure to theatre. “It is a story I have heard, not something I consciously remember,” he states. “I am told that my mother was still performing as Desdemona while eight months pregnant, and that I was breastfed in the wings in between scenes when I was six months old. So I don’t have any one moment of ‘revelation’ regarding my tryst with theatre – simply, it’s always been there!”

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