The 36th edition of the festival is all set to bring together iconic plays, musical performances and literary encounters, under one roof.
In 1978, when Jennifer Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor opened Prithvi Theatre to pay ode to her father Prithviraj Kapoor’s dream of having a home for his theatre company, little did they know that they would leave behind one of the most iconic theatre stages in the country. The Prithvi community is at its busiest lately with its annual Prithvi Festival, scheduled to take place from November 1 to 11. The festival will comprise more than 60 shows and performances at three different venues: Prithvi Theatre, Royal Opera House and G5A.
Talking about what is new this year, trustee Kunal Kapoor says, “All the productions are new this year. We have a session called Stage Talk @ Prithvi where eminent theatre personalities will talk about their work, journeys and ambitions. There are many other things which we are including this year.”
The festival has evolved in many ways over the years, and Kapoor reveals that keeping up with the status of the festival has been a constant struggle. This year, from a grand opening night with a performance by singer and actor Gurudas Maan to five premier productions by Naseeruddin Shah, Piyush Mishra, Makrand Deshpande, Danish Hussain and Faezeh Jalali, the eleven-day extravaganza of plays comprises literary encounters, as well as music and dance performances by veteran artists on one platform. “There is always an element of risk and surprise with premiere productions. But what is more important is to keep the excitement of the theatre alive, and to inspire both the theatre fraternity and the audience,” the trustee says.
However, Naseeruddin Shah, who is bringing Manto’s three stories Chhod Do, Nanhe Munne and Toba Tek Singh as a part of a reading session at the festival, observes that the festival has become smaller over the years. “It is unfortunate but it has become smaller with the lack of sponsors,” rues the actor, who has been a part of Prithvi Theatre since its inception and was the first actor to perform on the Prithvi stage along with Om Puri and Benjamin Gilani in a play titled Udhwastha Dharmashala.
Being the first one to apply the ‘no latecomers’ rule at Prithvi, which still prevails, Shah looks back at the flak that the team had to face. “Jennifer (Kapoor) insisted on the ‘no latecomers’ rule. We were the first to apply it and faced lots of flak from latecomers. Once a couple of girls who’d been denied entry marched backstage and started berating me while I was waiting to enter. But Benjamin handled it with aplomb and got rid of them,” he recalls.
Meanwhile, Danish Hussain, who has been part of the festival since the past three years, recalls being invited by Shah’s theatre company Motley to perform Dastangoi — a form of Urdu storytelling — in 2006 for the first time. “It was a big thing for me to perform on this iconic stage. I was hoping I could get to perform here more often, and here I am. Prithvi has its charm and I try to open all my performances here,” shares the actor, who will be opening Annie Zaidi’s award-winning play Untitled at this festival. “I was waiting for the play to have a strong platform and it couldn’t get a bigger stage than this festival,” expresses Hussain.
Apart from the usual theatre mavens, this year will also mark a comeback on theatre for actor, writer, and singer Piyush Mishra after two decades. The actor is excited to bring out a play he wrote 25 years ago, Gagan Damama Bajyo, that was directed by veteran theatre trainer and director N.K. Sharma.
“It’s a good feeling and I am confident. I feel like i am going back to the roots. All these years I worked in films and earned money, and I am able to take care of the people around me, but there was something missing. I realised that it was theatre that I missed the most,” shares the actor, adding that this play is very close to his heart, and he wants to bring out the actual essence of the text through his direction. “This is one of the most staged plays, especially on March 23 and September 28, that marks the death and birth anniversary of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. I have witnessed several performances by many directors, but the gist is missing. I think, being a writer, I can very well bring that out,” Mishra concludes.