“The So-Called Independent Cinema In This Country Is A Façade” – Rajit Kapoor
Rajit Kapur is a name to reckon with in the country’s theatre industry, having been at the helm of one of the most successful and longest-surviving theatre production companies, Rage Productions, along with Shernaz Patel and Rahul D’Cunha. Kapur has been active in theatre and cinema, dabbling in independent projects and commercial blockbusters. He was recently seen in the laugh riot Bang Baaja Baarat, the popular web series by Y films. In theatre, he has written, acted and directed quite a few acclaimed projects in the last couple of years, his plays opening to packed houses during Aadyam, the annual theatre festival by the Aditya Birla Group, and he has also successfully mentored young writers and directors at the Writer’s Bloc.
Over these years, has your approach to the process of acting changed?
I don’t believe in any fixed way of approaching a role. What I try to do, and that holds true for a lot of other people too, is that you always find a starting point within your character. The starting point will be usually given by the text, the script and the director will aid you with those inputs. It could be external or internal. It could be the thought process of the character or a physical anomaly. You look for things in the script and read between the lines. I always sit down with the director and also my colleagues, to discuss the script to understand the character better and also the graph that is linking the character into the story. All of these “processes” put you at ease, not necessarily making the process of acting “easy”. This also throws light on the fact that the rehearsal is most important. I don’t believe that “Oh, if we rehearse, we lose spontaneity”. For me, that’s crap. As an actor, it is your job to rehearse and put in the effort to make that performance effortless. You have to create that spontaneity.
How do you approach acting as a process differently for television, theatre and film?
The basic approach to acting is the same. I believe acting is acting from head to toe. Unfortunately, in Indian television, it is close-up oriented, or what I call “acting above the waist”. In spite of that, the basic approach is the same. In theatre, you have to be aware of the stage space in terms of your voice projection and marks for your lights. Similarly when you are facing the camera, you have to understand and be aware of the camera, but not be conscious of it. That is something you acquire with experience and cannot necessarily teach someone. You have to practice it, which can happen at an acting school or with work experience.
Do you believe acting schools add any value?
I am not so sure whether most of the acting schools really help students to act. They are more about acquiring skills like dancing and fighting and yoga, which can be acquired elsewhere. Or we have this great misconception of the word “improvisation”. Everybody who comes from acting schools say they can improvise. A stand up comedian might be fine improvising on stage, but when you are working with a text-based script and you decide to ramble and make up your own lines, then Tennessee Williams will be rolling in his grave. An acting school has to teach you to explore yourself. Every individual is different from the other, so I can’t impose the same processes on everyone. How to explore oneself is what should be taught, not how to say a line. When people come and tell me how classes are conducted, I shudder.
How do you react to the common practice among actors of treating theatre as a stepping stone for film?
(Laughs) That has always been the case. Theatre is seen as a training ground. See, because theatre does not give you enough money to sustain yourself, it will always remain the stepping stone. The difference is that the supply is now ten times more than the demand. Earlier, if you said you wanted to become an actor, you were looked down upon. Today, parents come with their children and say “Mere bachhe ko actor bana do”. Every person with a cute face thinks they can become an actor. That is scary.
Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda
What do you feel about the theatre scene in the country at present?
It is a very good time for theatre in Mumbai. We have never had so many young groups. The last few years have seen so many new spaces, new forms, new writing, young people are so heavily involved, and I think that is a damn good thing.
Is there a play you really want to do and haven’t done yet?
A full-fledged Shakespeare production. I am too old for Hamlet, so something like Richard the Third, I guess.
Do you think we actually have independent cinema in this country, or is it just a façade?
The so-called “independent cinema” in this country is a façade, because ultimately we are governed by marketing and publicity. Earlier, it was difficult to raise money to make a film, but getting it released wasn’t tough. Now it is the other way round. It is really tough to get films to release and be distributed these days, and marketing budgets are twice the production cost. Also, earlier, a film running for 25 weeks was a big thing – now, 9 to 10 days calls for a celebration, because it is the first 3 or 4 days that decide the fate of the film financially. Therefore, films hardly have any shelf life. I don’t think the 20-year-old wants to go to the cinema. I want to be sucked in by the larger than life experience of the big screen, but the younger generation would rather watch a film on their phones or on Youtube.
From your body of work, which are your three favourite performances?
For me, to do something that I feel I can’t do is what encourages me. Love Letters, yes, because we have been doing it for 25 years and even now both of us are nervous as hell before going up on stage. Also, Flowers, which was a solo performance. On film, The Making of the Mahatma, because of the kind of pressure and responsibility that was put on me. I was very uncertain whether I would be able to do any kind of justice to it.
What was the last film you saw and did not like?
I thought the first half of Udta Punjab was fantastic,but the second just didn’t work for me. The Punjabi was all wrong. Because the first half built up so well, the second half seemed to fall apart.