The Irish coffee at Juhu’s Prithvi Café may set you back by Rs 65, but it’s a small price to pay for the kind of entertainment that unfurls away from Prithvi’s hallowed stage.
Regulars will tell you that, at Prithvi, coffee is never just that. A bit of the drama and heavy anticipation that hangs over its stage floats across to its bamboo-lined café and the thrill of being part of something theatrical presides over its occupants.
And the goings-on at the café are like an unrehearsed script peopled with recurring characters. While my coffee let off steam I searched for the Aspiring Actor. On most evenings one can spot several of these generally clustered around a large table.
This lot will order no more than a cutting-chai and sip on it until it’s time to leave or until they have been made a promise of exploding stardom, whichever happens first.
This evening the aspiring actors were accompanied by a dodgy looking man sporting gold accessories and a laptop. The milkshake in front of him clearly established the hierarchy of the proceedings. He is The Agent, or a person bearing lofty promises of big breaks in Bollywood.
To the trained eye, the Aspiring Actor is easily distinguishable from the Aspiring Director, who is generally found seated alone, scribbling on serviettes, involved in intense monologues or observing us coffee-drinkers as fodder for his maiden absurdist production.
Oddballs aside, the cafe, literally Prithvi’s front yard, draws to it some of the city’s most creative minds. A greying flautist, conspicuous by his absence this evening, has, over the years, become a venerated figure at Prithvi. He remains anonymous to most and yet his understated music provides the soundtrack for most evenings at this venue. On a day with no music, lively banter or animated rehearsals engage coffee-drinkers.
Prithvi embraces both failure and success. It’s a destination heavily charged with emotions, where people call upon the three sisters of destiny to be favourable to their pet productions. The theatre also peddles hope, which is why Out-of-Work Artists are found here in equal number as celebrities.
It is generally the former who also engage in a game of spot-the-celebrity. For this journalist at work, the celebrity tally for the evening was five: Qasar Thakore Padamsee , veteran theatre director Satyadev Dubey, actors Shernaz Patel, Denzil Smith and Akash Khurana.
Padamsee or Q, as he is known in these circles, huddled with his theatre cronies Nadir Khan, Patel and Toral Shah over lofty textbooks and copious notes bearing promise of another production from the house of QTP.
If seeking an audience with the young director, the first Tuesday and Wednesday of every month are designated Thespo days at Prithvi, and their activities almost always spill into the café. The group’s fervent brainstorming was interrupted when Dubey, wearing shorts and flip-flops, invited himself to their table, finding no one else to regale with his often-tangential tales.
As my coffee quickened towards the dregs, Padamsee’s posse disbanded and he was left lending a polite ear to Dubey’s yarns. A young and raucous bunch, quite possibly future talent at Prithvi, stirred the café to attention as they delighted in a game of Hangman on a nearby table. The topic, not surprisingly, was films as they made public names like Andaz Apna Apna, City of God, Lawrence of Arabia and Ghulam.
When Akarsh Khurana presented himself for a coffee, I was reminded that mine had run out a while ago.
Khurana’s prolific theatre company AK Various was readying for the opening show of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that evening, a show that I hadn’t really intended to attend.
Coffee at Prithvi Café had been event enough.