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Passion apart, what makes you continue to run a loss making Prithvi Theatre for the past 35 years?
It’s a philosophy and a way of thinking that both Sanjana and I inherited from our parents. Running the theatre gives us happiness, regardless of whether we make money out of it or not. Naseeruddin Shah, who also performed at the first Prithvi festival in 1977, recently said that in between, he had a little scrap with us due to which he moved away. Then, when we made up, he said it was like coming back home. He kept using that word ‘coming back home’ and I love that because the love we get from all our theatre groups and our audience makes the loss worthwhile. Last year, we combined the men and ladies loos to make the ladies’ loo a little larger and shifted the men’s loo to the opposite side. Out of habit, the men automatically used to walk into the ladies’ loo as they were used to the men’s loo being there, so we had to post security to ensure they wouldn’t do so. We are happy that even after 35 years, we are here promoting commercial theatre, have an audience, do 550 shows a year and still don’t rent it out commercially.
How did your parents get into theatre?
Our whole family — both my father’s and my mother’s family — have their roots in and have a passion for theatre. My father (Shashi Kapoor) joined his father’s theatre c o m p a ny Prithvi Raj Kapoor theatre, after school. It used to travel across India to p e r fo r m . During once such tour to Calcutta, my father was performing and my mother was also coincidentally touring and performing with her father’s theatre company when my grandfather had invited them to come and see my father’s show. My father was a teenager at that time and was peeping out of the curtains where he spotted my mother in the audience. Shortly afterwards, my father joined my mother’s father’s company Shakespeareana for a few years till they got married when my mother joined Prithvi Theatre. My mother was acting even when she was eight months pregnant and used to hide her stomach with a pillow. I’ve heard stories of me being breast-fed backstage.
Your mother was an inspiration for Prithvi. Do you and your father miss her presence?
My mother was a lot of fun and she was a source of inspiration, had a great balance and was always positive. It’s been 28 years since she died but I don’t think dad ever completely recovered after her death. She died when she was 50 and he was 46. He could have remarried but for him that was not an option. They were soulmates. Every relationship has its share of problems but their connection was rare and unusually strong.
People usually convert trusts into private property. Your father converted his private property into a trust just for the love of theatre. It’s rare?
Prithviraj Kapoor had a passion for theatre and he supported theatre by acting in films. He used to travel with his theatre company and had a dream to have a home for his theatre group. In 1962, he leased out two plots for ten years from the Bajaj group. On one of the plots, he built the theatre and converted one of the plots to a building opposite which is where we live. It was illogical to build property on a land leased out just for ten years but he insisted that he needed it only for that time. Exactly ten years later, in 1972, he died. By the time he built the theatre, he had lost his voice and his theatre company had shut down. It is only after he died that my dad bought these properties from the Bajaj family and rebuilt the theatre to fulfil his father’s wish. He not only bought it with his own money but also converted it into a trust to ensure it would always remain a theatre even in the future.
Do you get along with your sister Sanjana Kapoor?
What we have in our family is that we are all fiercely independent and have strong personalities. No one ever interferes with each other’s work but we are all there for each other and no one judges the other. Sanjana started by assisting me on making TV commercials and realised it did not interest her. While she was initially reluctant to run Prithvi, I encouraged her and then she grew and took up more and more responsibility. She is a lot more attractive than I am and is great fun. She worked hard and put her soul into running this theatre.
Your father has not been well for a couple of years. How is he now?
He is a recluse and warms up only when he sees his family and grandkids. He has difficulty speaking and so, does not talk much.
Has your father seen Kareena’s or Ranbir’s films?
After a decade, I took my dad in his wheelchair, along with the entire Prithvi staff to see Ranbir’s Rockstar last year. He had known Ranbir as a kid but had not registered him as a young man till then, even though he comes home every Christmas. My father usually does not speak much, but after seeing his film he said vociferously, ‘This boy is very good’.
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