It is not the first time I am meeting the trio. As always, the co-found ers of Rage (one of the most celebrated theatre companies in the city) — Rajit Kapur, Shernaz Patel and Rahul DaCunha — bicker and poke fun at each other. I meet them at Sitara Studio, Dadar, where in between rehearsals, they open up about the state of playwriting, changing dynamics of theatre, and more.
Working together for 25 years is no mean feat. But they hate the tag ‘veterans’. Why? Because it’s a constant journey of learning, Patel says.
This year, their initiative to encourage original writing — Writer’s Bloc, in association with Royal Court Theatre and British Council — has reached a milestone of its own; it has completed 15 years. To mark the same, the festival this year included writing workshops at Prithvi Theatre till April 8. The repertoire of the final five plays will head to NCPA this weekend.
Excerpts from an interview:
Q) What does it take for a group to survive the scene for 25 years?
Rajit Kapur: We are three different individuals and we complement each other. Besides, we are quite mad and stubborn.
Rahul DaCunha: I am not stubborn. We are completing 25 years next year, but yes, it’s been 25 years since we opened our bank account. Also, it’s important to note that the company pays for Rajit’s rent (laughs).
Kapur: That’s why we are in a constant state of Rage.
Shernaz Patel: I think we are, most importantly, eternal learners. We have so many of our friends in their twenties, it feels like a constant exchange of ideas with the younger generation. It really bothers us when they call us veterans. We actually keep having really intense arguments. But there’s no personal malice. Above all, it’s our common passion for theatre.
DaCunha: It’s the kind of passion that makes us leave an Indian cricket match and come for rehearsals. You know when we started out we never thought that any of our plays would reach 700 shows. Love Letters did that last year.
Kapur: In fact, four people, in the past month, have asked me to stage it again. If they give us a day at NCPA, we will probably stage it. Our mantra, when we started out, was not to worry about box-office returns. Perhaps, that’s how we survived — without expecting much.
Q) Apart from the rise of new venues, what are the other changes that have taken place in the theatre scene?
Kapur: It’s interesting to see that 20-year-olds today are doing theatre for the sake of theatre.
Patel: And they are doing it all — acting, writing, directing and backstage management.
Kapur: For the first time, groups are complaining that actors are not free. There would always be a line of 50 odd people to choose from.
Patel: In 2007, when The President is Coming premiered at the Prithvi Fest, we sat there and saw a bunch of new faces — Namit Das and Anand Tewari. Today, all of them are prominent theatre stars. It just feels great. It’s the same case with directors. They are all busy, and that is a good sign.
DaCunha: I think there should be a workshop on ‘How to get dates at Prithvi and NCPA with Kunal Kapoor and Deepa Gahlot’ with tips on how to apply and how to make the application interesting (laughs).
Q) Writer’s Bloc started as a series of theatre workshops. How did the concept of staging the plays come into the scene?
Patel: Like most international playwriting workshops, Writer’s Bloc is a set of workshops spaced out over a period of two years, and mentors writers to chisel their work. In the first year, after the workshops, when we were to bid goodbye, we wondered, “What happens now?” That’s when we decided to do a festival of these new plays. We thought of getting our friends on board to produce and direct them. That also helped the writers go through the rehearsal process. A play is a performing art form; it can’t be written and left for readers to be read.
Kapur: Writing in itself is such a solitary process. But over the course of the workshops and staging them at the festival, it helps actors, directors to understand characterisation and analyse texts better.
Q) With Writer’s Bloc workshops and the festival, Rage has championed the cause of original writing. How do you think the writing has evolved over the years?
Patel: Back in the day, most of the plays would be relationship dramas. But the younger generation is now exploring wider themes. We have scripts that tell us more politically charged and socially relevant stories.
Dacunha: Even if we are adapting Western texts, the setting is Indian.
Kapur: Besides, it’s not just about the writing. Along with an increasing number of younger groups, we have a young audience too, that is open to accepting diverse work.
What: Writer’s Bloc will be staged at NCPA from April 13 to 17
Where: Experimental Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point
Visit: ncpamumbai.com to view the festival schedule
Tickets: Rs 100 onward on bookmyshow.com/plays