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Entry, stage right

Prithvi’s Kunal Kapoor has big plans to turn the loss-making theatre around.

art and culture Updated: Feb 25, 2012 21:56 IST
Suprateek Chatterjee

Kunal Kapoor, 53, stands outside Prithvi theatre in Juhu’s Janki Kutir, overseeing preparations for Mehfil — a monthly sit-down on Urdu literature and ghazals in its first edition.

“Why haven’t you set this up yet?” asks Kapoor, irritated. A second later, though, he breaks into a grin — one that is reminiscent of his father, Shashi Kapoor, and his uncle Raj Kapoor. The mood lightens immediately.

The camaraderie among everyone who works here reflects the staff’s loyalty, some of whom have been associated with the theatre for years. For instance, Lalit Sathe, a familiar face in Prithvi who used to man the booking office, is the son of Prithviraj Kapoor’s driver and, currently, the theatre’s manager. According to Kunal and everyone else who comes to Prithvi, he is family.

In a way, it’s all come full circle as Kunal, who has been getting back into the groove of running Prithvi after his sister Sanjna decided to move on to another project, was the one who originally took charge after his mother passed away in 1984. He was about 25 years old then, oldest amongst the children.

However, Kunal, a prolific ad-filmmaker, insists that this isn’t so much of a return as it is picking up from where Sanjna, who ran it since the early ‘90s, left off. “The only difference for me is that now I am handling operations on a daily basis.”

His main priority, at the moment, is to carry out repair and maintenance work on the premises. “The building is now nearly 35 years old. We carried out the first phase last year when we repaired the rear wall, water and electrical lines. Now, we plan to do the same to the front side, including the café,” he says.

Even though the theatre sees an average occupancy of 82%, Prithvi cannot support itself, given its philosophy of offering theatre space at subsidised rates. “We run at an average loss of Rs 2.5 lakh a month. The corpus we had has already been spent on the first phase of repairs.” This is one of the reasons Prithvi theatre is looking to raise its rates after more than two years, although Kunal and theatre group owners insist the rise will be extremely reasonable.

He is also open to corporate funding, which it has had twice in the past for a combined period of 16 years, but within limits. “We don’t want to lose our identity in the face of corporate branding. Prithvi should never be renamed to ‘Company name’ Prithvi theatre,” he says with a laugh.

As the starting time for Mehfil nears, Kunal looks approvingly at the progress made by the workers. “Prithvi is about more than plays — it’s about utilising all this space we have for the performing arts. I have plans that I can’t discuss righ tnow, but short of turning this place into a dance bar, I’m open to trying out everything.” He lights up a cigarette and, eyes twinkling, says, “Actually, wait. That may just be the best way to make a profit right now.”