A Thank You Note Remembering Shashi Kapoor From His Daughter
My father has been an enormous pillar of strength to me over the last 30 odd years whilst I worked through my various dreams and ideas at Prithvi Theatre and beyond. He has always been my most faithful and most critical audience.
And so as Junoon enters its fifth year taking our wonderful schools programme, bringing the magical world of theatre and its allied arts to school children across the country through exposure, immersion and expression, I realise that so much of my inspiration came from my father. The influences also inspired my journey with friends to creating our country’s very first theatre management training course, SMART Indian: Strategic Management in the Art of Theatre – which has just launched its second year’s call for applications to professional theatre groups.
Whether it was him watching shows I directed with the children of Happy Home & School for the Blind in the early nineties, or my escapade with TV, hosting the Amul India Show in the late nineties or all the new initiatives at Prithvi Theatre, he was always there. He would always respond, brief comments of how a particular scene worked well with the kids play, or discussed my make-up, how I needed to ‘take the light’, and work on my breathing on the TV show, or how a particular exhibition at the Prithvi Gallery moved him, or one that did not work for him at all.
The biggest support I got from my father over the years was with my children’s workshop initiative, Summertime. Over the 22 years that I conducted this progrmame at Prithvi, he would attend every single workshop’s last day and hand out the certificates to the participants and speak to them for a few moments.
In an age when so many promoters of the arts name their theatres or festivals after themselves, reaching for immortality, Papa never seeked to promote himself through Prithvi Theatre.
On only two occasions would he ever address the audience directly, once on my mother’s birthday, 28th February before Ustad Zakir Hussain would begin his traditional annual concert in memory of my mum, when Papa would welcome the artistes and wish my mother a Happy Birthday! And the only other time would be at the end of each workshop at Summertime. He was the invisible benefactor, who always insisted on buying his theatre ticket.
He was present once at a new workshop we had just introduced with Arvind Gupta on Science Toys, teaching children how to make scientific toys from waste material. Papa looked at me askance and asked what this had to do with theatre! My heart skipped a beat, all I could do was beg him to watch and ask later. I was sure why I had included this workshop at Summertime, in what we now began to call our ‘creative workshops’ for children – moving away from pure theatre – but always staying connected to creative disciplines that feed the larger world of theatre. And I strongly believed this workshop had a great deal that was very relevant to theatre.
After the workshop presentation was over and Papa got to see what the children had made and how they had made these amazing things, he graciously conceded that I had been right!
He too had learnt in theatre how to adapt and use whatever was available, often from waste material like old Dalda tins to make lights etc. And so this workshop that teaches children to use their hands and their scientific temper to create out of waste material, was essential to the world of theatre where scarcity of resources is abundant and such unique skills are dearly needed. Seeing this understanding on Papa’s face was one of my greatest joys!
In fact, it is all the stories I grew up with of his experiences travelling with Prithvi Theatres and Shakespeareana that lead me to instinctively include such workshops in Summertime.
Papa used to tell me of how Rajji (Raj Kapoor), designed the lights for Prithvi Theatres touring company, and once made the stage come alive with the most beautiful light effect of jugnus (fireflies). And all this was achieved with two ends of live wires in and out of a bucket of water! A lack of resources did not keep them from being ingenious and creative and from creating theatrical magic on stage!
So this, and so much more are the stories I grew up with. And Papa as my sounding board, my guide and critical eye is what kept me on track.
It is this contagious passion that today feeds Junoon, our fledgling organisation, co-founded by myself and colleague Sameera Iyengar. Where we aspire to create multiple platforms of access to the performing arts across urban society, and thereby enabling rich engagements for both the artistes and the audience.
I thank my father for living his life close to his passion .… to his junoon!
(This article was first published on 18 March 2016 on the occasion of Shashi Kapoor’s birthday.)
(Sanjna Kapoor is the co-founder of Junoon www.junoontheatre.org)