In 1944, the late film actor Prithviraj Kapoor launched Prithvi Theatres as a repertory company (one which performs plays at intervals). Over 16 years, the travelling theatre staged plays in Hindi, across the country. The legendary actor then envisioned a home for the repertory, and leased two plots of land in Juhu in 1962; a theatre was built on one of them. But as Kapoor fell ill, Prithvi Theatres shut.
After his demise in 1972, his son, Shashi Kapoor, formed the Prithviraj Kapoor Memorial Trust & Research Foundation (1975). He bought the land, and Prithvi Theatre was redesigned on the original foundations. The 200-seater theatre was inaugurated on November 5, 1978. The not-for-profit theatre, on an average, hosts 635 shows every year.
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The original idea was to focus on an intimate theatre experience for the audience, as opposed to auditoriums, which were dominant in the ’70s. While the usual process to stage a play involves booking dates and paying rentals in advance, at Prithvi, theproceeds from the ticket sales are kept by the performing groups, who make a contribution to the theatre.
The make-up rooms, located at the back of the theatre, feature artwork that was part of the now-defunct art gallery at Prithvi Theatre.
The first play that was staged for 10 days at a stretch — a phenomenon unheard of in those days — was Oedipus, in 1981. All its 13 shows ran full in advance and, for the first time, entry was restricted once the show started. This created a mini-riot of sorts. Oedipus was directed and produced by Veenapani Chawla (who went on to set up Adishakti Laboratory for Theatre Arts and Research near Auroville, Pondicherry).Architect Ved Segan, who designed Prithvi Theatre, was sent to Germany and England to visit existing open stage theatres. Prithvi was designed keeping the experience of the performers and the audience in mind and with natural acoustics so that no amplification in the theatre would be required.
The café and bookshop at Prithvi Theatre are inspired by the National Theatre in London where, besides the main theatre, spaces like cafés ensured that audiences could spend the entire day. The bookshop/library was originally handled by artist Tyeb Mehta’s wife, Sakina.
The Prithvi House features a collection of posters of the events and festivals that were staged by Prithvi. They encouraged groups to be more professional, market their plays and design and make posters, which are now on display.
The theatre’s director, Kunal Kapoor, takes us backstage
Photos by Vidya Subramanian/HT
VIDEO: Insider’s guide to Prithvi Theatre
(Prithvi Theatre is open from 9am to 11.30pm on all days, except Monday. For more information, visit prithvitheatre.org | Contact no: 2614 9546)