Sanjna Kapoor: Prithvi Theatre is an oasis in a crazy city (Interview)

(Calcutta Tube) For her, Prithvi Theatre is an oasis in the midst of this crazy city. But Sanjna Kapoor, who has singlehandedly revived its glory, carrying forward the legacy of her parents and grandparents, rues the lack of government support as ‘appalling’.

‘We have managed to create this little oasis out of this gem, an oasis in the midst of this crazy city that allows you to breathe, where you can engage in live performance in an intimate surrounding that is magical,’ Sanjna told IANS in an interview.

‘The sad thing is that any theatre of our kind, anywhere in the world, would ordinarily receive government grants. We, however, do not fall under any government scheme – be it state or central. An appalling state of affairs,’ said the 43-year-old whose Prithvi Theatre holds about 550 shows every year, of which around 100 are children’s shows.

Sanjna, the daughter of Shashi and Jennifer Kapoor, says Prithvi mainly banks on corporate aid.

‘Since we subside our theatre rent to enable theatre groups to sustain their activity, our annual losses have to be covered by sources other than our rent. We have survived all these 32 years chiefly through building long-term relationships through corporate sponsorship and more recently with foundation grants,’ Sanjna told IANS.

‘We are developing more income-generating schemes within our ambit to enable us to be a little more self-sufficient.

‘The government should be offering relief and incentives to corporates that support the arts, but, alas, it does quite the opposite! If tomorrow all corporate sponsorship were to stop, we would face a serious crisis,’ she added.

On the maternal side Sanjna has Geoffrey and Laura Kendal as grandparents and on the paternal side the legendary Prithviraj Kapoor as her grandfather.

‘Prithvi Theatre was built by my father, in memory of his father. When he announced his plan to my mother, she wrote to her sister saying Shashi’s gone mad, he wants to build a theatre! But that’s as far as the extended family connection goes.

‘It is only my direct nuclear family and that too only my father, mother and Kunal who have been involved in the running of Prithvi Theatre. And understandably we had theatre on both sides of the family – whereas it was not the case with my cousins,’ said Sanjna, who bid adieu to movies in 1988 after ‘Salaam Bombay’.

So is she more of a Kapoor or a Kendal?

‘My all-time hero has always been Geoffrey Kendal, my maternal grandfather.

What attracted me to him was his passion for diving into the world of theatre and making it is his life – a life that was filled with travel, risk and adventure. Quite contagious,’ she said.

Theatre is in her blood.

‘Theatre was very much part of our lives always. We grew up with an innate understanding of how things were and how things could be,’ she said.

‘There is an indescribable feeling of passion inside me, perhaps even ambition for what Prithvi Theatre can stand for and can be.’

Prithvi Theatre company was launched by Sanjna’s grandfather Prithviraj Kapoor in 1944. But in 1960, the company was forced to close down due to Prithviraj’s poor health.

In the 1940s, Sanjna’s maternal grandparents Geoffrey and Laura Kendal too came to India with Shakespeare and contemporary English theatre. In fact, Shashi and Jennifer met during a theatre event in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1956.

A few years after Prithviraj Kapoor’s demise, Shashi set up a trust in his father’s memory and bought land to build a theatre to promote the performing arts. Prithvi Theatre was inaugurated in 1978.

‘My childhood was filled with stories of my maternal grandparents Geoffrey and Laura Kendal’s travels and adventures through India with their theatre company Shakespeareana. So, wanting to be part of theatre was natural,’ she said.

Before taking charge of Prithvi Theatre, Sanjna tried her luck in movies with ‘Hero Hiralal’.

‘When I acted in a movie and found I did not know how to work as an actress, I decided to go to Herbert Berghoff (HB) Studio in New York for training and experience. HB Studio gave me technique and also the clarity that it was live performance – that is theatre over film – that was my calling!

‘It was also then that I realised that it was not only theatre but the world of theatre that my grandparents created for themselves – the world of a travelling theatre company – it was this world that I wanted to belong to,’ she said.

(Ruchika Kher can be contacted at

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