Prithvi Theatre Is A Patron Of The Arts You Must Visit

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PRITHVI THEATRE IS A PATRON OF THE ARTS YOU MUST VISIT

WORDS BY MILI SEMLANI AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY SURUCHI MAIRA

The legendary Prithvi Theatre has a thriving reputation for celebrating people.

Shashi Kapoor sits quietly in his wheelchair, sipping tea from the cutting-chai glass in his hand, ponderous at the Prithvi Café on Sunday. You get the feeling he’s breathing in the hopes, dreams and passion of the cinema and theatre folk who throng Prithvi Theatre. He seems to ignore the bustle of the hipster Juhu locals, the children screaming for nachos, the low hum of the conversations of struggling writers and actors, the pushy culture junkies trying to bag the best seat. Shashi Kapoor is at home.

He’s spent his life living, breathing, thinking cinema – a career that in some ways is inextricably linked to Prithvi, a theatre he built in memory of his brilliant father, the legendary thespian Prithviraj Kapoor, as a hub, a home for the repertory theatre company, Prithvi Theatres, he started in the early 1940s. Managed by the family since 1978, today Sanjana Kapoor and Kunal Kapoor breathe life and continue the legacy of Prithvi’s values – an affordable platform for new genres, actors and storytellers, a place for performances in languages other than just English and a way to create new audiences.

But this space, crammed with chatty people is a microcosm of the City of Dreams’s true nature, accommodating newcomers with a certain warmth, especially if they’re willing to admit their deep love for film.

These days, you’re more likely to see the aloo parathas, chocolate waffles and sultry sangrias of Prithvi Café posted on social media, but Prithvi still has a thriving reputation for celebrating art, culture, cinema, theatre and, of course, people.

To get to the theatre you must dodge rickshaws and party people on their way to the watering hole next door. Tucked away is Janki Kutir, home to Prithvi. You’ll hear the hum first and then you’ll see the long queue. It shouldn’t surprise you. Prithvi doesn’t sell you a seat number and there is no online check-in, so the best spots within the theatre have to be earned. The early bird catches the worm.

I’d already missed the best seats so I headed to the café, eschewing Prithvi’s “famous Irish coffee” for a cutting chai and a cheese croissant. Typical of any weekend, finding an empty table was like finding parking in Juhu. But this space, crammed with chatty people is a microcosm of the City of Dreams’s true nature, accommodating newcomers with a certain warmth, especially if they’re willing to admit their deep love for film.

You can catch sparkles of the glitz of Bollywood even here. I eavesdrop on a conversation that is nothing short of a verbal tour of the residences of Bollywood’s glitterati that live in the vicinity. Now and then, you’ll catch a glimpse of a very famous actor or actress. This is, after all, the mecca of the performing arts and Juhu is the Bollywood district of the yesteryears.

The bell rings to let us know it’s show time. You walk in and try and find the best spot in what’s left of the free spaces in the four concentric semi-circles of seating as they look down at the wooden stage and the deep red curtains. It is simple and perfect and has played gracious host to a variety of performances: Zakir Hussain performs every year on February 28, which is Shashi Kapoor’s wife, Jennifer Kendal’s birthday. You can watch plays in English, Hindi, regional languages, musicals, experimental theatre, open mic nights. Last year, a bunch of international jugglers and balancing acts from a travelling circus enthralled children on this tiny stage from which budding artists, actors, writers, directors and musicians have found their calling, some propelled to stardom.

My luck turns after the play. I bag the perfect table for two by the big tree inside the theatre café. I call for the special sangria to celebrate. I can’t see him now, but I raise my glass to Shashi Kapoor.

Prithvi Theatre, 20, Juhu Church Road, Janki Kutir, Juhu, Mumbai 400 049. Phone: 022 2614 9546
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