A misunderstood actor

Rajat Kapoor leads a happy life with his two mistresses ~ films and theatre, writes Soma Basu

Any study of neurology remains incomplete without coming across the word “deficit”, denoting an impairment or incapacity of neurological function ~ loss of speech, loss of language, memory, vision, dexterity, identity and other losses of specific functions (or faculties).
~ Oliver Sacks’ A Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat

Rajat Kapoor’s character in The Blue Mug talks of depravity veiled behind frothy humour. We see Rajat as he is in the play musing about his childhood, his past, his days in Delhi and the regret of having lost them all. Kolkata has seen the best of him on stage. He has frequented the city with his plays during Odeon Theatre Festivals, has acted in a Bengali movie, Anuranan, and is working in another, Iti Mrinalini. The Blue Mug, inspired by Oliver Sacks’ A Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, is about of memories and memory loss.
It is not the first time Kapoor is dealing with neurology. In the autistic-teenager drama Apna Asmaan he played a neurologist who manages a near-impossible feat, that of not reducing the audience to fits of giggles upon lines that go something like this: “There’s a distinct aura that permeates into the neurocortex and the hypothalamus.”
His cinematic sensibilities are European. Not his first few films ~like the National Award-winning short Tarana or Private Detective that depicted a huge Kumar Shahani influence but then he made a short film called Hypnothesis and did a play, C for Clown, and with these he started discovering his voice. Rajat Kapoor has recently directed Fatso in the charming tradition of Raghu Romeo, Mixed Doubles and Mithya.
So when he revisits the city for a play, directed by his close associate Atul Kumar (The Company Theatre), one cannot help but expect an excellent performance. Rajat Kapoor talks about The Blue Mug and beyond.

Oliver Sacks’ book, from which the play is adapted, is a compilation of essays or rather case studies. How did it begin?
The idea is not new. Atul had read the book and conceptualised the idea of turning it into a play in 2002. It cannot be called an adaptation since it’s a devised play. It has been improvised a lot. There is no script for the play. But the spontaneity comes through practice, rehearsals. Nothing is spontaneous…you have to practice it. It is an act that you achieve only after you rehearse for long hours. Spontaneity, improvisations start after that. It has undergone several changes with time. As you will see we are playing ourselves on stage. Rajat is Rajat, Vinay is Vinay and similar with Sheeba and Munish. It’s our memories. Ballentine arranged a seven-city tour for The Blue Mug.

You experiment a lot when it comes to theatre. For example, use of gibberish in C For Clown and Hamlet, The Prince of Clown. Memories in this play. What next?
Well, I just do what I like. Yes, I definitely like experimenting. If you don’t experiment you won’t know what can be done and what you can do. For ages people have been watching trash and continue to do so, believing there is nothing new. We have also been giving them trash. Why do we do that? Because we are mediocre people. We don’t want to work, we just want to make money. And that’s why we present trash and we force people to watch it. But for how long? How would you know what they want unless you give them something new? By the way, I would like to do another Shakespeare play.
What do you have to say about the phrase “thinking man’s actor” that is very often used to describe you?
I do not know its meaning. It’s quite absurd why people say that. I am everybody’s actor. How can a person not think and stay alive? Now, it may have a parallel with intellectualism but theatre cannot be tagged like that. Theatre has been everywhere, in towns and villages, there have been jatras and nukkad nataks for the common man. So, there is nothing like a thinking man’s play or actor or actresses. Theatre is for everyone…be it the so-called common people or the elite class; but in different forms. But yes, the kind theatre we do…the Proscenium theatre…that of course, only a certain section of society can afford to come and watch. It’s all about the habit of going to theatre; not necessarily the elite.
If you have, for example, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi coming to perform, probably you would go, people of your class would go… I will go…perhaps a ‘common man’ will not go. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand Bhimsen Joshi; because when he listens to that he responds. In a Kerala village, however, when there is a Kathakali performance common people will probably respond to the performance more than you and I because for them it is part of their ritual and life.

You are seen juggling with movies and theatre…
Movies are my first love but the pleasure that I get from theatre is beyond comparison. Both of them can be called my mistresses ~ theatre being the hot-blooded passionate one. We do not have to perform in case of movies since the camera is there to take care of where the audience should look. But on stage an actor has to perform. It’s such a great joy to be on stage, to direct a play and to see it happen. Acting for both mediums is different. Unfortunately, these days, some actors perform in front of the camera.

You will be seen in Aparna Sen’s Iti Mrinalini?
Yes. I am the playing the role of a film director there. My name is Siddhartha or is it Shiddhartho? Working with Aparna Sen will obviously be interesting and enriching. Konkona is also there. However, this is not the first Bangla film I will be seen in. This is the second after Anuranan.

Can we expect to see you in any Bangla play?
I don’t think so. Had I known the language I would have certainly tried. I can’t speak Bengali. In case of movies it’s easy since I do not have to be on stage to perform. And also for short scenes I can memorise lines and pull it off. But a full-fledged Bengali play….

Tell us something about your movie, Fatso.
This film is a romantic comedy directed by me. It features Gul Panag, Ranvir Shourey and Purab Kohli in the lead. Fatso has been invited for the 8th Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.

Rajat Kapoor is seen as an uncompromising actor…
I’ve been very lucky that nobody has asked me to change even one frame in any of my films. I’ve had complete creative independence in whatever I’ve done. That is what I value most ~ multiplexes or no multiplexes, money or no money.

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