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India’s best theatre group, Rage, turns 25: celebrates with an exclusive shoot for Brunch at Prithvi Theatre

Rajit Kapur, Shernaz Patel and Rahul da Cunha talk about the evolution or English theatre and their theatre company

brunch Updated: Oct 15, 2017 00:05 IST
Ananya Ghosh
Ananya Ghosh
Hindustan Times
Rage,Rage productions,english theatre
Rajit Kapur, Shernaz Patel and Rahul da Cunha , stalwarts behind the 25-year-old English language theatre group Rage, make an unlikely combination (Make-up and hair by Rashmi Shastri)(Prabhat Shetty)

Rajit Kapur, Shernaz Patel and Rahul da Cunha make an unlikely combination. The stalwarts behind the 25-year-old English language theatre group Rage come from three different stage traditions: Rahul’s father and uncle, Sylvester da Cunha and Gerson da Cunha were into English theatre, Shernaz hails from the first family of Parsi theatre, and Rajit was a well-known name in Punjabi theatre. But it was English theatre that brought them together.

“When Rage began in 1992, the English theatre scene was completely different from the way it is now,” says Rajit. “Productions were literally imported from the West; some were scene-by-scene copies. The characters were called Jane and Andrew and maybe not that easily identifiable to the Indian audience.”

“In fact,” adds Rahul, “We didn’t have a voice of our own.”

That ‘borrowed voice’ showed up in many of Rage’s earlier productions. In a way, this continues even today, says Rahul, since Rage puts up a lot of direct adaptations of English classics. But along the way, just as the English language has evolved, so has the language Rage uses in its productions.

Check out an exclusive photoshoot for the Rage trio done inside the Prithvi Theatre here

Shernaz Patel wears a shirt from Zara and pants from Marks & Spencer; Rajit Kapur wears a outfit designed by himself; Rahul da Cunha wears a shirt stitched from Michele Boutique and trousers from Pull&Bear (Prabhat Shetty)

English vinglish

In 1996, for probably the first time in India, Rage’s English play I’m Not Bajirao had characters break into regional languages like Marathi and Gujarati. “The essence was English, but since the characters were middle-class octogenarians, one Maharashtrian and one Parsi, engaged in a casual chat. It was natural for them to break into their own languages once in a while,” says Rahul. But, the trio had doubt-laden sleepless nights before the premiere.

“We had no idea how the NCPA crowd would respond to two men sitting on a park bench and talking, and not even in the Queen’s English at that,” says Rahul. “It was street-speak at a time when theatre had very clear demarcations: English theatre meant English characters, just as Marathi theatre only had Marathi characters.”

It was only after the audience collapsed in laughter that the trio’s confidence in experiments hardened. Language started to loosen up, and slowly English theatre became more relatable. “After all, English was always considered an elitist language in India,” points out Rajit.

It helps that English is becoming more ‘street’, and this blurs the lines, says Shernaz. “Our recent play, One on One, is a series of monologues,” she explains. “Some are in Hindi, some in English. It is heartening to see both getting equal love.”

“Also, when we started off, the Hindi cinema-going audience was very different from the audience you’d have at an English play. Today the same person who watches Pink watches our plays as well,” says Rajit.

25 years on, the three Ragers still continue to bring the house down with their mirth and they don’t miss any opportunity to pull one another’s leg. “We disagree now more than we did when we started off!” smiles Rajat (Prabhat Shetty)

Future wise

This means that future of English theatre in India is very bright. “Even students are getting involved in large numbers, so many new theatre groups have come up and they are doing interesting work and experimenting with content and theatre spaces,” says Rajit. “Today a play is not just a play but performing arts in a theatrical format. There are so many other components making their way into theatre.”

Theatre is coming out of the proscenium into pubs, cafés and clubs. Rage has even performed at the British Council Library in Delhi.

Odd though it may seem, theatre’s biggest competition is not cinema, but stand-up acts. “These use the venues we use to stage plays, and can perform in small spaces too. So you have them in cafés, pubs, and clubs, everywhere,” says Rahul. But the trio is happy that whether it’s theatre or stand-ups or music, the audience for live performances is growing by the day.

Show us the money

Did you know?
  • When Rage started in 1992, the group consisted of seven members: Rahul Bose, Fali Unwalla, Kunal Vijaykar, Radhika Mittal, Rahul da Cunha, Shernaz Patel and Rajit Kapur. Of these, only the last three are still “Ragers”. And it was Rahul Bose who came up with the name RAGE!
  • In 1993, when they opened their first play Are There Tigers In The Congo, each member put in Rs 2,000 each, and lost their money. The play was meant to open in December ’92, but was pushed to January ’93 on account of the Mumbai blasts. They had to wait for people’s fear of going to public places to die down.
  • For I’m Not Bajirao, tickets were sold in black, almost unheard of in the world of theatre!

All said and done though, theatre is still not profitable. “Yes, the audience has grown, but so have the costs. Auditoriums have become five times more expensive,” points out Shernaz.

Also, unlike regional theatre, English theatre is not performed daily, but mostly has shows on weekends. Nor does it enjoy the kind of dedicated fan following Marathi or Gujarati theatre does.

“Theatre is engrained in the Marathi culture. The ticket prices are nominal and these groups travel the length and breadth of Maharashtra with their plays. We don’t have their reach,” says Shernaz.

That’s why English theatre is increasingly becoming more about pure entertainment than content. “To fill an 800-seater hall weekend after weekend, the play has to be entertaining. That’s what the major chunk of the audience wants. Masses will always go for entertainment,” says Shernaz.

Rajit wears a tailored shirt, trousers from Zara and shoes from Pavers; Shernaz Patel wears a kurta from Cottons and slippers from Linking Road, Mumbai; Rahul da Cunha wears a shirt stitched from Michele Boutique, trousers from Pull&Bear and slippers from Zara (Prabhat Shetty)

The Raging Rapidfire

If you were to think of another name for Rage, it would be...?

Shernaz: I’d call it Sage. Just so it begins with an S and not an R. I feel Rajit and Rahul have cornered the things beginning with R market.

Rajit: ‘Raagey’ Cause that’s how most people pronounce it.

Rahul: Considering we are 25 years old as as a theatre company, the other new name should be Age!

If Rage was an acronym, what would it stand for?

Rajit: Relentless Ageless Gracious Effortless

Rahul: Don’t have an acronym but our astrologer says it should be RRRAGGE for luck!

English theatre in India stands for…

Shernaz: I don’t believe in differentiating plays based on language. I think that concept is archaic. Theatre is theatre regardless of language.

Rajit: Weekend Theatre!

Rahul: Struggle before success

The best play I’ve ever watched is…

Shernaz: I’ve been affected by small, intimate, realistic work and massive Westend musicals. I love folk plays and baudy farces. But as an actress, I think Fiona Shaw playing Richard II had the biggest impact on me. She was so compelling as Richard that I forgot I was watching a woman on stage.

Rahul: I’m Not Rappaport by Herb Gardner, which I adapted to I’m Not Bajirao.

One all-time favourite line from a play…

Shernaz: “No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – from Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Rajit: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart” –the last line of The Diary of Anne Frank by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett.

Rahul: The first one that comes to mind is from I’m Not Rappaport/I’m Not Bajirao – ‘Nostalgia is the worst disease of old people. Kills more of us than heart failure’

My biggest boo-boo on stage has been…

Shernaz: Once the zip of my gown snapped mid show. I had to act in a stationary position till my exit.

Rajit: Not zipping up my fly...and people from the audience thought that ‘that was part of the Act’

Rahul: Playing Mahatma Gandhi in the third standard, I forgot to say ‘Hey Ram’ when I’m shot by the kid playing Godse. So I died, but woke up to say my lines in the funeral scene!

One key difference between English and Gujarati theatre is…

Shernaz: Gujarati theatre has a much bigger audience and, on the commercial circuit, more money

Rajit: It has huge money invested as compared to English theatre.

Rahul: One’s in English and the other in Gujarati!

Theatre actors are supremely superior performers because…

Shernaz: They work purely for the passion of the craft. They also understand rigour.

Rajit: They are more accepting, more patient and are more often than not – team players.

Rahul: They can act

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From HT Brunch, October 15, 2017

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