A DREAM FULFILLED
Prithviraj Kapoor's youngest son Shashi Kapoor, who
had trained as an actor in the Prithvi Theatres, married Jennifer Kendal,
daughter of Laura and Geoffrey Kendal, and the leading actress of their
theatre company, Shakespearana. Both Shashi and Jennifer shared a deep passion
for the theatre, and a great respect for Prithviraj's dream for Indian theatre.
A few years after his demise, when the lease of the
land in Juhu ran out, they decided to buy the land and set up a Trust in
Shri Prithviraj's memory with the intention of building a theatre to promote
the performing arts. After studying the situation of theatre in the country,
a need was felt for a unique theatre space - a space where the intimate
and compelling actor / audience relationship, not unlike that of traditional
Indian folk theatre, could be rediscovered. Attached to the theatre would
be a cafe which would be a meeting place for artists and art lovers.
Shashi and Jennifer worked dedicatedly towards realising
Prithviraj's dream, and on the 5th of November, 1978 the Prithvi Theatre,
Bombay was inaugurated.
The Theatre's initial years were by no means easy. Until
then Bombay had no auditorium which catered to Hindi theatre alone - Prithvi
was the first of its kind. Furthermore, due to the growth and popularity
of Hindi cinema there were few that appreciated Hindi theatre - audiences
had to be wooed and cajoled to Prithvi, where amateurs strove to provide
a healthy form of live entertainment. For its part, the Theatre sold tickets
at a rate the audience could afford. At the same time, it provided professional
assistance and up-to date technical facilities to performing companies,
charging a rent of only Rs. 1 per ticket sold. In this way it managed to
nurture and promote a number of theatre companies and an audience that benefited
from a commitment to ensure access to all (except late comers!!).
The year 1983 was a turning point in the history of
Prithvi Theatre - the Theatre had become a household NAME in Bombay and
people assured us that the existence of "this little theatre"
had played an important part in the development of dramatic talent and entertainment
in the city. There were high expectations of the Prithvi Theatre to continue
its support to theatre of the highest quality and shoulder the growth of
a serious theatre movement.
But sustaining the Theatre financially was becoming
more and more difficult; the combination of low rent and controlled ticket
pricing were difficult to continue. The Trustees began looking for corporate
patrons for the Theatre. They sought a relationship which was long term,
and which did not infringe on Prithvi Theatre's unique identity as a small
but independent Theatre. Fortunately, the Vazir Sultan Tobacco Co. showed
a keen interest to tie-up with the Theatre, and recognising the role the
Theatre had assumed in the world of entertainment; "Prithvi Theatre
in association with VST", came into being. For equal billing with the
Theatre, the company would subsidise the Theatre's running expenses and
sponsor the annual Prithvi Theatre Festivals. This was an unique relationship
where corporate patronage was intimately woven into and identified with
the growth of a dynamic theatre movement.
Seventeen years after its inception, the Prithvi Theatre
has attained the reputation of being a leading Theatre and cultural organisation,
both in the country and abroad. Also, the Shri. Prithviraj Kapoor Memorial
Trust and Research Foundation's activities have expanded in the last five
years to include the following : the founding of the Prithvi Players, Prithvi's
production company, a concentration of theatre activities for children,
the founding of the Little Prithvi Players, a production company for children's
theatre; establishing the Prithvi Gallery; a unique exhibition space for
the contemporary art, seeking to generate a wider awareness and appreciation
for the fine arts.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE: Setting up an studio, a centre
for the `riaz' (practice) of
actors and directors, working towards the resident repertory
company under the auspices of the Prithvi Players, a centre for playwright's
workshops, a theatre library and resource centre (print/video/film/audio),
a larger gallery with more facilities, especially for larger works, a theatre
in education scheme To Prithvi Theatre Internet India Home Page.
After the sad demise of Jennifer, the Prithvi
is today maintained by Shashi's daughter, Sanjana Kapoor