Sanjna Kapoor, hailing from an impressive lineage in the performing arts, minces no words, and is a delight to talk to. She ran Prithvi Theatre for a decade, has acted in plays, movies, and television. She works tirelessly for the cause of bringing arts to the forefront with her organization Junoon, and envisions a bright future for India’s cultural climate.
Stage Culture was fortunate enough to have a conversation with her regarding her view on performing art spaces and how she sees the future building itself.
Having managed Prithvi Theatre for the longest time, how do you feel about consecrated spaces which allow the artiste to shine? And the dearth of it in India?’
“It is my greatest sorrow – something I cry or talk about all the time – and I’m always inevitably shocked by people’s similar responses to this. Consecrated spaces for art are so necessary. My sorrow is why are there no more Prithvi Theatres across the country? What is the problem in a country that is so incredible in copying a success? What is it about this particular success in India that isn’t being copied? I don’t know the answer – I can only grasp at straws and guess a couple of answers.
Coming across a place like Lamakaan in Hyderabad was such an inspiration. I was just over the moon when I got to see the space, and meet the wonderful people behind it. We need more and more spaces like Lamakaan, where people are not looking at real estate. They are really just looking at how the culture and the community will be benefitted. It’s wonderful to find people who take that role very, very seriously. This is something that the government should be doing, but sadly they are not.”
How do we, as an arts collective, work around this?
“I think all of us – people who love the arts and are involved in it – we just have to keep talking about it. We just have to keep making a noise, we have to keep saying we matter and in what way we matter. Gone is the time (15-20 years ago) when the theatrewallahs were constantly complaining that they didn’t have facilities. Theatre people today are out there making that difference. They are doing whatever they can do, and I think it’s because we finally realize it’s important. We know that the time is right for us to make a difference.”
And involvement from the government?
“It’s interesting that the government is starting to come around – very very slightly. If you need to identify people, you need to identify them through their culture. China is taking that so seriously.
In India, the government builds theatres for us but often we see our shows being canceled at the last minute to accommodate a political event. Or even worse, we go in and everything is filthy. No one cares about the theatres, no one cares about the artistes. All we ever get met with is apathy. Somehow, I feel we need to have the dignity and self-confidence to say this is not permissible. We create this problem by conforming to it. All of us need to stand up to the powers that abuse the art forms, and treat us like secondary citizens.”
Do you feel optimistic?
“I feel very optimistic. This is the only way forward. We have to build the possibilities of the future. The fact that theatre groups are ready to do a theatre management program instead of shying away from the technicalities of it is such a step forward. It’s fantastic. There is a huge shift in our thinking. Good things are along the way.”
How are things going at Junoon?
“Quite well. I’m in Delhi overlooking Junoon’s school program. We have been developing it over the last four years, and finally it’s coming to a very beautiful stage. The idea is to immerse children in the world of performing arts, to give them exposure and a sense of engagement in this world. Hoping that they would want to have it as a part of their life forever, and see how it can transform their life – even as an audience. It’s all about expanding their mind, and opening up their horizons to the possibilities and opportunities they have lying ahead. We want to make them understand what arts can do, what creativity is all about, we want them to find that fire in their belly.”
And how can we ensure that inculcating arts is a fundamental part of our lives?
“We need to just keep sharing our ideas, and our dreams. The most critical thing, which I think India is finally ready for now, is joining the dots of our various works and various fields across the country. Not necessarily duplicating or replicating, but also sharing and enriching and getting inspired by each other. Sharing what’s going on in other places is really important.”