This weekend saw a lot of drama, albeit of the best possible kind. The annual Prithvi Theatre Festival, which is back after a 2-year pandemic-induced hiatus, saw the city’s theatre community spring back into action. The 11-day event, which is on its 37th chapter, is held to commemorate the birth anniversary of Prithviraj Kapoor as well as the opening day of the theatre on November 5, 1978.
The inauguration saw the who’s who of the fraternity and the mood was set by an enthralling concert by young Sufi singer, Pooja Gaitonde. Puducherry’s Adishakti Laboratory For Theatre Art Research staged one of its most popular recent productions on Saturday. It is an English re-imagination of Sara Joseph’s Malayalam play Bhoomirakshasam. With performances by Nimmy Raphel, Vinay Kumar, and their powerhouse team, the 85-minute-long poignant play is a commentary on violence against women and the need to reclaim the narrative of quashing the patriarchy. Sunday was all about song and dance and a celebration of the matriarchal community of the traditional Lavani dancers. Lavanike Rang by Bhushan Korgaonkar’s B Spot Production saw stunning performances by Pushpa Satarkar, Gauri Jadhav, Shraddha Nagarkar, Latabai Waikar, and the doyenne of lavani, Sangeet Natak Academy Awardee Shakuntala Nagarkar.
But it was Makarand Deshpande’s (Ansh Theatre Group) Dhat Teri Yeh Grihasthi that kickstarted the plays on Friday. “According to the Hindu dharma, there are four stages in a person’s life: Brahmacharya-Ashrama, Grihastha Ashrama, Vanaprastha Ashrama, and Sannyasa Ashrama. It is in the second ashram that a person creates a family, takes up responsibilities for it, and leads a married life. The question I am posing in my play is if s/he is ready for this stage, ready for married life. The play has a couple who are in different stages of their relationships and it also has a brahmachari.”
“I love to write plays about life’s confusing, chaotic, inevitable, but unavoidable situations. And marriage is one of those. In a festival like this, I wanted to have a fun play that also has a message. And what better than doing a comedy based on real-life situations?” says Makarand adding, “Opening the play at this festival is an honor and we intend to travel with the play to various other parts of the country as well.”
Apart from twin shows of each of the plays, Stage Talk at the Prithvi House saw artists like Adil Hussain, Shefali Shah, Jim Sarbh, Ali Fazal, Piyush Mishra, Radhika Apte, and Neena Kulkarni, among others reminisces about their theatre days apart from sharing insights on their crafts.
Theatre in India is still not a money-making venture and organizing a festival of such magnitude, especially post the pandemic, wasn’t easy. A lot has changed but Kunal Kapoor, the current owner of Prithvi Theatre, is not a man to let such challenges dampen his spirit. “A lot has happened and strangely at the same time not enough! My favorite big tree that towered over the Theatre was blown down in the cyclone Tauktae damaging some of the property. But we have re-built and repaired and rearing to go – which we have been doing all this year,” he says as we catch up with him during the festival. However, he admits that “the main challenge is always the finance one. Again we struggle without any sponsorship of financial support.” But the show must go on and he has self-funded the event this time.
Among the other premiere productions, this year are Aakarsh Khurana’s (AKVarious Productions) The Verdict, Vikram Kapadia’s (Water Lily) The Greatest Show on Earth, and Abhishek Majumdar’s (Tibet Theatre & Tipa) Pah-Lak.
“I’ve always found Prithvi, and the festival, to be a great opportunity to pursue passion projects. It helps that Kunal Kapoor is very supportive of our creative pursuits. But above all, it’s a good story I really wanted to tell” says Aakarsh. Talking about his new play, which is scheduled to be staged on November 10, he explains: “I’ve always been a huge fan of courtroom dramas. Also, underdog stories. I loved the film version of The Verdict and toyed with the idea of adapting it to the stage for years. But it never happened. Then I chanced upon a stage version (based on the book the film was based on) by Margaret May Hobbs, and that made life a lot easier. Once we procured performance and adaptation rights, I only needed to reinterpret and contextualize it for Indian audiences.” And he is hopeful that the play, post its Prithvi run, will travel to other parts of the country as well. “ We have a few shows lined up at Prithvi itself, but I think a good underdog story cum courtroom drama will always have legs. I am pretty hopeful for a long and successful run, across cities,” he says.
For Vikram Kapadia, whose play The Greatest Show On Earth will be staged on Nov 8, it was a classic case of things aligning perfectly at the right time. “I was ready to start out with this play when Prithvi’s invitation came along. There was no other option,” he quips. “About 10 years ago, I got introduced to Frank Capra’s classic, Meet John Doe, by my theatre friend Naushil Mehta. I was so enamored by the concept that I used it as the germ for the idea of writing this musical. I would write a few scenes and then put them on the shelf. After a few years, I had to get it out of my system and planned to stage it a few years ago but as soon as I had cast it, we suffered the lockdown,” adds the actor, playwright, and director. He has more shows of the play scheduled at Prithvi in the third week of November followed by a few at NCPA. “We are looking at other venues in the city and hope to travel next year to cities like Pune, Delhi, and Bangalore among others,” he says.
The festival also includes theatre groups like Motley, TIFR, Katha Kathan, Naya theatre, Afsana theatre, Aditi Bhagwat, Storia Senza Storia, Theatre Unit, and D for Drama among others. The festival schedule also has performances by noted Odissi dancer Bijayini Satpathy, dhrupad vocalist Pelva Naik, and Louiz Banks’ Jazz@Prithvi show along with performances of upcoming talent hosted on the Platform@Prithvi stage. The highlight of the festival will however be a poetry reading session on November 13 by Naseeruddin Shah.