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Rage on stage

Rajit Kapoor is brilliant, original, a Benegal favourite, and desperate for good roles



Rajit Kapoor: `People think theatre is about Shakespeare or something abstract, but since it's a medium of communication everybody has to take back some part of the play.' -- Photos: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

HE'S A National Award winner, a Bollywood sometimer as well as a Shyam Benegal favourite. And to the DD loyalists, he's the irreplaceable Byomakesh Bakshi, the desi Sherlock Holmes. But Rajit Kapoor just can't figure out why he isn't getting any good roles. "My friends tell me it's because I appear unapproachable," he says, somewhat ruefully. "What does that mean?"

Perhaps it's a backhanded compliment, suggesting that he's a demanding actor? "Demanding? Well, maybe I demanded to see a script; nowadays that is considered demanding. But I'm demanding of myself as an actor and I need to have confidence in my directors that they will trust me completely. If things are in a disarray, that really puts me in a tizzy."

Rooted in stage

Despite memorable roles in Zubeida and in The Making of the Mahatma, Kapoor's talent in films seems largely untapped. The past year has been barren in terms of challenging film offers, and so cinema's loss has become theatre's gain.

Rajit Kapoor has been travelling madly with two plays from the theatre company he helped to set up: Rage. As the out-of-work film actor in Class of '84, Rajit's caricature of the Bhayander boy who made it big in a detective serial and then failed to find work is startlingly close to life. Old college friends meet after the funeral service of one of their friends and through the play each character reveals itself, shattering appearances and displaying vulnerabilities. There is no lead role, but Rajit brought mannerisms and quirks to his character that had the audience in splits, with his measured acting threatening to completely overshadow the others.

Natural actor

Yet Kapoor has never been to an acting school; his plans to go to NSD were vetoed by his business-running family and he turned instead to a degree in commerce. Theatre was something he had dabbled in right through school however, and the acting bug bit him, he says, as early as age six, "when I played the King of Hearts in a school play".

His ease and flourish on stage comes "from a process of trial and error. I have grown with my mistakes and maybe it has taken me longer to hone my craft as an actor without formal training, but I have always loved being on stage," he emphasises.

After enrolling for an M.A. in Psychology ("I was fascinated by it and wanted to do something different"), it was a need to do more theatre that led to him opting out. He began helping with the family business in exporting garments and his foray into film came with Govind Nihalani's Jazeere.


Impressed by his theatre performances, Shyam Benegal cast him in Sooraj Ka Satwan Ghoda. He became quite a Benegal favourite, going on to star in Mammo, The Making of the Mahatma and Zubeida. "I've been working for 12 years with Benegal," he says, and points out Benegal's early example of shooting a film all in one schedule, the wise economics of which recent directors have only just discovered, and which Rajit obviously appreciates.

Mention Rajit Kapoor and the association is invariably with Byomkesh Bakshi, the detective serial where he played the protagonist. "Isn't that incredible that people still remember it so vividly," he asks. "It's some 12 years old!" While all future roles associations will stem from his somewhat foppish character in Byomkesh Bakshi, Rajit Kapoor is busy exploring theatre.

Rage theatre

Rage, the theatre company which he began along with director Rahul da Cunha and actor Shernaz Patel, has come to be associated with excellence in English language theatre, surely an achievement considering the usual bedroom-humour comedies or dated scripts marking the genre. "Over the last 12 years we've tried to ensure high production values, spending money wisely. No lavish sets but appropriate sets with aesthetic appeal. The audience should feel they are getting their money's worth."

A recent festival for playwriting gave English theatre a fillip, he says; Pune Highway was in fact a result of that workshop which helped "open up audiences to theatre of today," he feels. "People think theatre is about Shakespeare or something abstract, but since it's a medium of communication everybody has to take back some part of the play."

Now Rajit is looking to explore Hindi theatre. "It needs more encouragement," he points out, contrasting it with the vibrant Marathi theatre scene. So the businessman-theatre actor-film star will now work his magic on a whole new canvas and given his talent it could only be hugely successful.

HEMANGINI GUPTA

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