Shashi Kapoor passed away Monday. Leaving the theatre fraternity with a strange feeling.
5 minutes to the doors opening.
A Prithvi Theatre usher walks in with a non-descript chair.
He places it in the space near the door, fitting almost perfectly into the grooves on the carpet.
He looks up and says non-chalantly: “Shashiji aa raje hain!”
Suddenly there is a perceptible change in the energy of the room. Backstage workers move faster, the director seems more in charge and the actors begin praying even more feverishly. It’s a mixture of elation and panic in equal measure. This is the ONE audience member we all want to play for.
Shashi Kapoor passed away Monday. Leaving the theatre fraternity with a strange feeling. While his contribution to Indian theatre is unquestionable, he was not a prolific director or actor. He fulfilled that most vital of roles, that of an “enabler”. While I consumed his films (particularly on the Sunday evening feature film on Doordarshan), for me he was always the gent in white, who entered just before the third bell, sat through the play; and then exited quietly. He was never felicitated on stage, and never interfered with the plays on offer. He came to see the play, not as the “proprietor” of India’s most successful theatre, but as a viewer keenly interested in the work on offer. He rarely meddled in the curation of the venue, leaving such decisions to his able children Kunal and Sanjna. His comments were always generic, and more importantly towards the betterment of theatre.
Once he exited a particularly difficult experimental play and quipped, “Aise natak se theatre kaisa chalega?” He was encouraging of performers, and it is his generous personality that is reflected in the DNA of the Prithvi Theatre.
He gave up his beautiful bungalow so that a tower could be built, enabling Prithvi Theatre to build a corpus to survive off.
Last year, at his Dadasaheb Phalke Award ceremony, someone commented that Shashi Kapoor was not a smart producer, but the most generous one. He believed in the films he supported, not for the money that they would make, but for the stories they would tell or the envelopes they would push.
Similarly , his belief in Prithvi Theatre. Although named after his father, and built by his wife Jennifer, but the execution of the dream was his. As a task in the Indian arts scene, it’s akin to Don Quixote tilting at windmills.
Except Shashiji was successful. The building stands as a monument to his love for the form. For his acting roots. For his incredibly spirit.
For the rest of us, we thank him for the building, we thank him for his dream, but we will miss him in that empty chair by the door. Theatre’s number one fan is no more… and this is the biggest loss of all.
Quasar Thakore Padamsee Is a Bombay based theatre-holic. He works primarily as a theatre-director for arts management company QTP, who also manage the youth theatre movement Thespo