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Documenting a tradition

Shashi Kapoor is all excited about his new role... as an author of the book, "Prithviwallahs"

Pic. by V.V.Krishnan.

Book time now for Shashi Kapoor.— Pic. by V.V.Krishnan.

THIS IS the Kapoor family's month. While on the one hand, Mughal-e-Azam is stealing the show in which legendary Prithviraj Kapoor has an imposing presence, his labour of love, Prithvi Theatre that he founded in 1944 and worked with 150 people staging eight plays a year all around India for 16 years, is now doing rounds.

The Prithvi Theatre Festival 2004 has it own shades of "uncertainties about the quality of foreign plays," as actor Shashi Kapoor puts it.

"I have no knowledge of foreign plays. The problem is, they send their recorded plays, which makes it a little difficult to judge the original quality. We just keep watching foreign plays to keep track of what is happening in their theatres. But frankly, in 1988, an Italian company came with its play to Mumbai, which I didn't like. Yet, we gave them a chance to stage it in Prithvi Theatre. These days, I do not play an active role when it comes to selection of plays. My daughter Sanjana does it. I do `backseat driving'," says the actor who turned his father Prithviraj's dream into reality by concretising Prithvi Theatre in 1978.

"For 16 years, my father kept on trying to find a permanent premises for Prithvi Theatre, but couldn't. He died in 1972 with his dream unfulfilled. Jennifer and I spearheaded it in 1978 and realised his dream," recalls Shashi.

Quality of theatre

"Theatre samajhne ke liye language bahut zaroori nahi," he thinks as he got a proof of it in Nagercoil in Tami Nadu. "Here 50 years back, we staged Hindi version of Shakespeare's `Merchant of Venice'. People did not understand the language but they continued watching it till it concluded. Later, they came backstage to convey that they loved it. It was overwhelming," he recalls.

Now theatres are a strict no-no for this Kapoor, as "Aree bhai uske liye bahut jaan chahiye." He is all excited when you mention his book, "Prithviwallahs". "The book scans the period from 1929 to 2004. It is a story of how a 23-year-old man called Prithvi came to Mumbai after his B.A and L.L.B, how he landed up in the job as an extra in his first film and as a hero in third film Cinema Girl in 1929, how he joined the only English theatrical company called J. Grant Anderson which remained in India for a year, got trained and played heroine in "Nrachkritka" which I remade as Utsav later. It is also about how the man founded the Prithvi Theatre, how it closed down and how it was brought back to life by Jennifer who sent architects to see how theatres were made in foreign countries and lastly, how it is thriving now," he informs.

The book is narrated to Deepa Gahlot by Shashi and is published by Roli Books.

RANA SIDDIQUI

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