An actor for all seasons

By virtue of his multi-faceted personality and his outings in films, and, theatre, Rajit Kapur has become a household name, writes Alpana Choudhury

Rajit Kapur

Early in his career, in 1996, actor Rajit Kapur won a national award for playing M K Gandhi in Shyam Benegal’s The Making of the Mahatma. Almost a regular in Benegal’s films, the multi-faceted artiste has also lent heft to other popular, well-made films, the latest being Uri and Raazi.

On television, too, he became a household name with Byomkesh Bakshi. But even before he impressed viewers on the large and small screens, the versatile actor made a mark on stage, in 1993, with Are there Tigers in The Congo?; and followed that up with one entertaining play after another — Love Letters, The Class of 84, A Walk
in the Woods, The Siddhus of Upper Juhu
and many more, sometimes even doffing the director’s cap. Beating, perhaps, his own record, in the last few months Kapur has been seen on stage in three new dramatic roles, playing vastly diverse characters.

Mouthing long dialogues in his powerful voice, he participated in a dramatic reading of Girish Karnad’s Crossing to Talikota, set in 16th century Deccan politics, in which he recreated the graph of a power-hungry Ramaraya meeting a pathetic death at the hands of his opponents; caused goose-bumps at the Aaadyam Theatre initiative’s A Few Good Men, with his rendering of the hubris-ridden, ruthless Col Jessep, defending American interests in the infamous Guantanamo Bay; and a star-struck, Benarasi simpleton in Mosambi Narangi, an adaptation of the much-awarded Irish play, Stones in his Pockets.

Apart from new productions, the veteran actor continues to perform in re-plays of his theatre group Rage’s earlier, popular comedies, like The Siddhus Of Upper Juhu, tweaked to include references to current events. We catch Kapur in the midst of his hectic schedule to do a quick tete-a-tete about his latest outings on stage.

How did you squeeze in ‘Crossing to Talikota’, a tribute to playwright Girish Karnad soon after his passing away, considering you had two, large-scale Aadyam productions coming up in which you play multiple roles?

Time management. Planning needs to be done in advance.

Almost back-to-back, you played two pompous, ruthless characters: the crafty Ramaraya of 16th century Vijaynagar, and Col Jessep controlling his unit at Guantanamo Bay with an iron hand, in the 1980s. Yet, the two come across as different identities. How did you do this?

The reasons for their existence, their desires and their backgrounds differ greatly so the two had distinct identities. Also, the brief of the directors helped me to pitch them differently.

Why would the essentially American dilemma of ‘A Few Good Men’, in which Col Jessep resorts to punishing measures to maintain discipline in his unit at Guantanamo Bay, be relevant to an Indian audience?

The questions A Few Good Men raises are relevant to a universal audience. It makes you introspect about whether the end justifies the means. In order to achieve our goals, where do we draw the line, in terms of human dignity and compassion towards our fellow beings.

Your latest play, ‘Mosambi Narangi’, though an adaptation of an Irish play, ‘Stones in his Pockets’, is set in Benaras. You play Mosambi Prasad, a face in the crowd of a film unit shooting in Benaras. You also play the female role of an Anglicised assistant director as well as Makkhan Mama, the oldest junior artiste. Mainly farcical, satirising the oddities of a Bollywood film in the making, the play also has a touch of pathos. Many of these strains emerge through the characters you play. Can you tell us how you switched in and out of these various roles, with seeming effortlessness?

Rigorous rehearsals. You need to keep repeating the subtleties to make them appear effortless on stage.

You started your acting career while still in school, playing Puck in ‘The Midsummer Night’s Dream’. So many decades down the line, you continue to be uncompromising in your effort. Is theatre still your first love?

Yes, very much so!


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