Bollywood’s golden age hits the Dubai stage this week as Mahim Junction rolls into town. Celebrity director Sohaila Kapur gets nostalgic
If you had to summarise Mahim Junction in one sentence, what would you say? I’d say it’s an affectionate spoof on vintage Bollywood.
It’s been described as showing a world ‘right out of a set of a ’70s Bollywood film’. But how has Bollywood changed over the years? And does that reflect changes in India? Although the themes still run the gamut of love stories with a foil, young directors have now started experimenting with stories that have depth and cutting-edge characters, [which were] missing in the earlier cotton-candy stuff. This reflects the globalised thinking of the new generation. Mahim Junction has also been called a tribute to Mumbai. It’s a tribute to the secular spirit of Mumbai that existed earlier and is under attack today. After the horrific terrorist attacks on the city, regional and communal forces are beginning to disrupt the harmony in which Mumbaikars once lived.
The title refers to a train station near the slum where the hero lives. Why do Mumbai’s slums attract so much dramatic interest? Because portraying life in these slums is a tribute to the human spirit – many have risen from the squalor to lead happy and satisfying lives. The city is replete with stories of slum-dwelling men and women with guts and gumption, who have struggled and emerged as successful business heads or top entertainers.
The musical was first successful in Edinburgh, and recently played in New Delhi. Were the responses from Western and Indian audiences different? Surprisingly, the reactions were very similar. Everybody always enjoys the song and dance numbers. At one show in Edinburgh, a member of the audience had to be dissuaded from joining the group of dancers on stage! In India, the crowd whistles and cheers in exactly the same numbers. In New Delhi, we’ve always had a record crowd and have had to send disappointed [customers] back because the shows have been full.
How easy is it to transfer the vibrancy and flamboyance of Bollywood film to the stage? It’s easy to transfer the song and dance routines and the bright colours, but my biggest difficulty was to convince my young actors to simulate the performances of that era [’70s Bollywood]. They just couldn’t identify with the acting style and the melodrama. My heroine [would] actually watch those films on her laptop before taking to the floor for rehearsal. Most of my actors [only] really understood what I was trying to convey just a week before opening night, in December 2008. Since then, the characters have become an integral part of their personalities, so much so that sometimes they find themselves talking and behaving like their theatrical alter egos. Your brother is Oscar-nominated director Shekhar Kapur (Elizabeth, Elizabeth: The Golden Age).
As a writer/director yourself, do you feel the pressure of comparison? People do compare us, but in reality our work is so different. He only does film and I only do theatre, so comparison does not work here. Besides, film reaches out to people all over the world, whereas theatre is confined to its particular city. A local theatre nomination cannot really compare with the Oscars! But we do discuss our work with each other. I show him my scripts and he sees some of my performances, as I see his films. We’re planning to work together now, on an international theatre project.
As well as being a theatrical actor-writer-director, you also run theatre and creative writing workshops for children. How do you find the time? You forgot about my TV job! It’s like this… TV in the mornings, theatre in the evenings. And weekends for children’s classes. That’s how my week is planned. If you have a passion for something, you find time for it.
Finally, why should we come to see the show? For the same reason I wrote the play – to enjoy the joy of song and dance. And for those who want some substance, there’s the political subtext, which reflects the India of today. I would particularly recommend it for the generation of migrants who left India in the ’70s. They would remember those films and can perhaps share my nostalgia for those simple, yet evocative years. Mahim Junction is on February 18-20 at the Centrepoint Theatre at Ductac, Mall of the Emirates, level 2, 8pm. Dhs150. For tickets, call 800 4669 or see www.timeouttickets.com.