If you look at her body of work today, 25 years since it all began, it is evident that she did not reach this stage without being an ‘all-day and all-night’ person. As an artiste, Sanjna Kapoor has gone way beyond her lineage and surname; they might have given her the privilege that she certainly does not deny, but she is fierce about claiming her passion and zealousness as her own.
Growing up with theatre
She did grew up with theatre all around her though, almost physically so. “I was 10, running around barefoot in our house, when my mother used to hold up blueprints during breakfasts and have long discussions with the architect for the building of Prithvi Theatre,” she narrates.
This was back in 1978 when her star father Shashi Kapoor and his wife Jennifer were building Prithvi because they wanted a place for the kind of theatre that appealed to them — a home for their love and for Sanjna’s grandfather, the legendary Prithviraj Kapoor’s Prithvi Theatres, which was then a travelling company.
Sanjna loves blueprints ever since. “For me, theatre is as much about the physical space as it is about actors, costumes and acting. In fact, I would define theatre as an engagement of actors with spaces — and what this interaction produces.”
Her immersion in theatre and the arts did not end there. Sanjna’s maternal grandparents, Geoffrey Kendal and his wife Laura, were also a well-known theatre couple who had famously toured all over India with their company Shakespeareana, and Sanjna’s bedtime stories were many times straight out of Shakespeare.
In her early teens, she went on a theatre tour with her maternal grandparents all over India and Ireland. Kapoor remembers that experience as an invaluable part of her theatre education. “I began to realise that theatre is as much about the things that happen around the show... the little instances and the big events that come together to create and nurture a show or an artiste... than the actual show itself.” Today, for Sanjna, this cohesion is her biggest and most ‘delicious’ challenge. No longer engaged in performance, Sanjna’s focus has now shifted to understanding and experiencing how the world of theatre can engage with its audience as well as its artistes.
It is this sense of passion and ambition that drove Sanjna to utter dissatisfaction when she was still with Prithvi. “When I say I am ambitious, I am sometimes looked at with suspicion. Ambition is a good word, is it not?”
A sense of jadedness had overtaken her and the ambition that she speaks of had no articulation. “It is my deepest sorrow that the work we did at Prithvi did not inspire people enough to build many Prithvis. In a nation of imitators, we had no one but Ranga Shankara to flatter us. Why, why is it that nobody wants to follow in Prithvi’s footsteps?” she asks in anguish. She has the answer herself to this rather sad question. “Perhaps it needs mad people like me and Arundhati (Nag) to drown prime real estate in a passion that is not a ‘paying proposition’.”
This was one of the primary reasons why she eventually quit Prithvi after working tirelessly for years, and began her own company Junoon along with her collaborator and friend Sameera Iyengar in 2012. Junoon, true to its name, is all about the activities and issues Sanjna is passionate about.
Junoon works majorly with children across schools in several cities, through workshops, school sessions and through collaborations with like-minded companies and people. It is also getting people to talk about theatre through its many outreach programmes such as the ‘Mumbai Local’. “With Mumbai Local, we select a public place such as a bookshop or a museum or a library and engage with the community of the area — there are talks by celebrated artistes where they share their personal experiences and their journey with acting and theatre.” Several well-known artistes including the likes of Naseeruddin Shah have taken part in these sessions. “It is incredible what real stories from real people can do to imaginations and conversations,” says Sanjna.
Driven by excitement
Her excitement is palpable. Recently in Bangalore, Junoon collaborated with Sublime Galleria’s art conference for children, ‘Berserk 2016’, where children between 8-14 years of age were encouraged to explore their artistic inclinations and spend a few days with artistes to understand their creative process.
This leads me to ask Sanjna about her experience of working with children. “It is a transformative process for me — we consider these sessions as an ‘art encounter’ for children where they get a peek into the world of performing arts. They get to meet career artistes and learn what inspires them.” Sanjna rues that our education system still considers art and theatre as a fringe activity.
“We don’t hold creativity at the centre of our education; only if we focus on creativity, imagination and innovation in a scientific and logical manner can we hope to train individuals for the jobs of the future.” Who can predict what jobs will be around in the next decade, she asks. “Did anybody imagine a decade ago that digital graphics and animation technology would be so advanced today? How will children be prepared for such careers if we don’t make them understand the value of the arts?”
A valid question, if there was one. In a bid to tackle this lacunae, a group of six people, including Sanjna Kapoor, have come together to form ‘SMART’, a one-of-its-kind theatre management programme specifically tailored for theatre groups.
“Theatre is such hard work but so rewarding, but even in the arts, it is important to follow the scientific approach.” With SMART, Sanjna hopes to restructure the haphazard and disordered way theatre is run in the country while still allowing for creative freedom and artistic temperaments.
“I do theatre because it matters to me and I believe it matters to all our lives. Theatre is as intimate and personal as it is public and grandiose.” It is this paradigm of theatre that the granddaughter of Prithviraj Kapoor wants to convey to every person she meets. Indeed, quite the perfect tribute to her grandfather’s legacy.
First published in Deccan Herald on 16 October 2016. You can read it here: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/576015/an-act-her-own.html