The Prithvi Theatre, one of India’s oldest theaters, is located on Juhu Street, in Mumbai. The theater was opened by Shashi Kapoor to commemorate his father, the great actor, Prithviraj Kapoor. The theater was a dream project of Prithviraj Kapoor who belongs to one of the renowned actor/director families in India, the Kapoor family. The traveling theater company, the Prithvi Theatres was established by Prthviraj Kapoor in the year of 1944 and he managed it for 16 years. Jennifer Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor’s wife supervised all the phases of the construction of the theater, when the designing and architectural works were managed by the famous architect Ved Segan.
After the construction, the running of the theater was managed by Jennifer Kapoor (Trustee) till 1984, when she died. When the theater was opened in the Juhu Street in Mumbai, in the year of 1978, Shashi Kapoor was managing the trustee and Kunal Kapoor was the person holding the responsibilities of the daily affairs of the theater.
History of the Prithvi Theater in Mumbai
Prithviraj Kapoor founded the Prithvi Theatres in the year of 1942. It was a traveling troupe of one fifty members during the initial stages of the theater and they have conducted shows all over India. Kalidasa’s classic “Shakuntala” was the maiden performance of this traveling troupe. In the next years the troupe conducted around 2,662 plays in India, including the renowned plays such as “Aahuthi” (Offering), “Kalaakar” (Artist), “Deewar” (Wall), “Paisa” (Money), “Kisaan” (Farmer), “Pathan” (a community comprising Hindus and Muslims of North India), and “Ghaddar” (Traitor).
The talented Prithviraj Kapoor played lead in the major role in most of the plays conducted during this time. The main source of funding for the activities of the theater was Prithviraj Kapoors income from the Bollywood film industry. Shashi Kapoor, Prithviraj Kapoor’s youngest son, was trained as an actor and a director in the Prithvi Theatres, opened the Prithvi Theater in Juhu, in Mumbai. Shashi Kapoor was married to Jennifer Kendal, the daughter of Laura and Geoffrey Kendal who owned the theatre company, Shakespearana. The Prithvi Theatre, Juhu was a result of the combined efforts of Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kapoor.
Reemergence of the Prithvi Theatre
When the Prithvi Theater was founded in 1942, it didn’t have a permanent play house. It was working as a traveling troupe. Prithviraj Kapoor dreamed about having a permanent space for his theater company. In the year of 1962 Prithviraj Kapoor took a plot in Juhu, on the lease basis to reemerge as the Prithvi Theatre, on its own land. But his health issues and death in 1972 delayed the reemergence.
Shashi Kapoor and his wife Jennifer decided to buy the land on which Prithviraj Kapoor was planning to start the theater. For the sake of promotion of performing arts they established the Shri Prithviraj Kapoor Memorial Trust & Research Foundation. As a result of their efforts the theater was inaugurated on November 5th 1978.
Udhwastha Dharmashala was the first play staged in the Prithvi Theatre and Om Puri, Naseeruddin Shah and Benjamin Gilani performed in the play on lead roles. “Bakri”, a political satire, directed by M. S. Sathyu, was the play staged in the theater following the “Udhwastha Dharmashala”. Amateur English theatre of South Mumbai, Gujarati farce and low key Marathi theatre in Dadar were the leading theaters of that time and Hindi theaters were not dominant in Mumbai during that time. But the Prithvi Theatre provided a budget platform to the Hindi theaters and helped in developing, new styles and artists in Hindi.
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