Few structures vie for our attention as we make our way through the narrow bylanes of Breach Candy in southern Mumbai. But none stand out like the royal mansion of the pre-Independence era, now known as Sophia College for Women. The stage at the college is a scene of chaotic precision, the lights get checked one by one and the workers apply finishing touches to the foreground elements. The co-founders of Rage Productions, Rajit Kapur, Shernaz Patel and Rahul da Cunha make time for this interaction with few hours to spare, in the run-up to an evening show of their popular play, The Siddhus of Upper Juhu. Founded in 1992, this Mumbai-based theatre company has entertained audiences in the US, UK, Dubai, Germany, etc. This, while adding productions of plays such as Class of ’84, Pune Highway, 12 Angry Jurors, Flowers, I’m Not Bajirao to their repertoire. Each one of the founding members is a star in their own right. Born to the first family of Parsi theatre, Patel, has carved a niche for herself, on the theatre stage and also in movies like Black, Guzaarish, and many more. Kapur, who won our hearts as Byomkesh Bakshi in the 90’s, has now donned the director’s hat for few productions. Lastly, Rahul da Cunha, is the hidden voice behind the iconic ads of FMCG major — Amul — while he also brings a script alive through his writing. As diverse as these three personalities might be, they are bound by the love for theatre. Read on to know how three strangers, driven by their passion, have now transformed into a family that strives to play an important role in the evolution of Indian theatre.
How did the three of you meet?
Kapur: Well, I knew Shernaz as an actress and a friend. She was already on stage back then. I was in Sydenham College and when I took over the Performing Arts Society at my institute, I found out she’s an actress at Elphinstone College. I thought we could look at various collaborative efforts with other colleges. We had the advantage of having a stage in-house and they had a huge bunch of talented actors who were already doing shows. We did a co-production between Elphinstone and Sydenham of a play called Brides Are Not For Burning. Rahul was one year senior to me in school and I don’t think we ever spoke. He was not into theatre back then.
Patel: When I first met Rahul, he was like, “Theatre? I can’t even go to see a play.” Then slowly he started watching a few shows and we both worked backstage for one of his dad’s productions. That’s how he got interested in theatre.
Da Cunha: My first memory of Rajit was about him doing theatre in school. Dressed like a clown, he was enacting Puck (from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream). Further to the collaboration that these two had in college, Shernaz and I did the same, it was between the Xavier’s Institute of Communication and Elphinstone. It was my first directorial play called Night Out in 1984, which Rajit watched as a spectator. I was about to do my first professional play with Shernaz’s father and we asked Rajit to join us. So we met theatrically in 1984 for the play her father produced called Nuts.
What was your first impression of each other?
Patel: I distinctly remember the day Rajju walked into Elphinstone college. We have these alcoves in our college building where students just sit on the ground, chat, smoke, and discuss intense stuff. And then this man walks in, boy rather, and announces in a business-like tone, “I need to meet the secretary of the Drama Society.” I respond yes, that’s me and we were all just looking at this person, surprised.
Kapur: Not looking, they were all sprawled in the corridor.
Patel: And he’s like, “Why are you sitting here, why are you not attending lectures?” That was my first sighting of Rajit Kapur and he hasn’t changed. He’s still the same guy marching down corridors.
Which are the projects you’ve worked on?
Da Cunha: We did Nuts eight years before we started Rage. We enjoyed it, so we kept collaborating with each other in different combinations. From 1984 to 1991, we worked for other producers. And then 1992 was the great year when we produced our own play on AR Gurney’s Love Letters.
Patel: We were seven of us when Rage started. Now, it’s become three.
Kapur: We opened a bank account in November 1992 by taking Rs.2,000 from each person. And the idea was to do Are There Tigers In The Congo?, which we had seen in Edinburgh International Festival and was about AIDS. We kickstarted the theatre company with that play with Rs.14,000 in hand and lost Rs.16,000 by the end of it.
What is your idea of a great business partner?
Patel: We have this crazy passion for what we do. It’s not financially led. At the same time, it consumes one’s life. So you want to work with people who have that same wild belief in theatre. That’s the synergy I look for in people I work with.
Kapur: All three of us are not insistent about working with just ourselves. We have worked with somebody or the other from every theatre company in Mumbai today.
Da Cunha: For the most part of the past 25 years, we’ll pick a play knowing it will lose money, but we will buttress it in such a way knowing it is passion before profit, for all of us.
What is it like to work with each other?
Kapur: I think we complement each other rather well and we can be very scathing with each other without taking it personally. And I would attribute it to trust and a certain respect for each other’s opinion.
Patel: Given the kind of theatre we want to do, we have similar opinions even when we ideate and that’s a great plus to have. Yes, when we have diverse opinions on things, we do argue sometimes. If any one of us wants to do something, we will wholeheartedly support the other, whether we actually believe 100% in it or not.
Da Cunha: I’m the unhappy one in the group. I’m bullied all the time by these two temperamental Bollywood stars. You know this one is from Byomkesh Bakshi fame and that one is from Khandaan.
Patel: I think he’s frustrated because he is not acting.
How does one separate the personal from the professional? Is there any incident that has tested the balance? How did you deal with it?
Patel: (pointing to Rahul) I don’t know what you’d choose if you had to make a choice between doing Amul and Rage. For me, if I had to make a choice between doing a film and doing something for Rage, I would drop the film.
Da Cunha: Really? Wow!
Kapur: That’s because plays are scheduled much in advance and the film people will insist that the show can be moved. They don’t understand the kind of planning that goes into it and the importance of rehearsals. Film shoots get cancelled at the last minute. We cannot do that with a show. The show must go on, it is sacrosanct.
How often do you spend time together?
Da Cunha: Once in five years.
Kapur: (bursts out laughing) Earlier because all of us were living in the same town, we met every week. But over the past 10 years, because I’ve moved to a place called Marve, which feels like the next state and Shernaz is in Bandra, the traffic and the distance don’t work well. So we’re in touch on the phone daily.
Da Cunha: Whatsapp ki jai ho.
Kapur: Yes, we need to need to stay in touch constantly because we’re not the kind of production company that has just one project a year. Ours is like a 24/7 think-tank and we’re always working like this city.
Can you keep a secret?
Patel: I’m very good at keeping secrets.
Da Cunha: I haven’t really thought about this. There are some things we won’t talk to her about.
Patel: What he’s trying to say is that they have private conversations. You think we don’t do that?
What’s one thing he/she hasn’t stopped pulling your leg about?
Da Cunha: People ask me all the time why I don’t act. If the two of them are around, they just break into laughter.
Patel: He calls us and tells us about how he has been offered a role in a movie. And then he’ll proudly add, “You don’t have a film, but I do”.
Da Cunha: I’m serious. The kind of offers I have been getting in movies, I’ve never got in theatre. I was offered a part in Bang Bang 2.
Kapur: That’s because they didn’t realise it will then become Bang Bang Bang.
Da Cunha: Rajit has no idea about technology. He asks questions like what is the meaning of ‘ping’? He will send messages like “What time are we meeting?” and there will be 87 question marks after that. Everything is urgent for him. And if one asks him why he does so, he’ll say, “It’s technology”.
How do you resolve professional conflicts? How do you come to a common ground or you decide to go with one view?
Patel: When it’s a no, it’s a no.
Kapur: It’s a permutation and combination. Sometimes, if among the three of us, two believe in X, then we’ll go with it because that is unanimous in a sense. I may not agree with something, but if both of them feel it’s the right thing to do then I will go with it.
Da Cunha: All said and done, Shernaz is always right. (mocking her)
Patel: (sheepishly admits) Actually, I’m always wrong.
Kapur: I’m zero at publicity and marketing. Rahul’s your man for that. If you have to put a thought down in a balanced form, there’s nobody better than her to do it.
Patel: And the actual hardcore running of production, nobody better than Rajit does it. (da Cunha nods in agreement)
How have you influenced each other personally/professionally?
Kapur: Hell of a lot. I have to give a lot of credit to these two. They are perhaps more than my family. And if you say nature and nurture, then my nurturing has been these two in 90% of what I am.
Patel: Look at the way life has panned out, I mean we all are single. So, therefore, automatically this has become family. We can have a scrap and bang down the phone and in the next moment, we’re fine. There’s nothing festering.
Da Cunha: You can’t have a great professional relation unless you have a personal one. Unlike them, I’m an only child so for me they are like the siblings I never had.
What’s the one thing you admire the most about him or would want to steal from him/her?
Patel: I wish I could write, I can’t. When I read Rahul’s Sunday columns, I wish I could think like this and write this way. From Rajju, it’s just the crazy energy and ability to multi-task. More than anything, he’s such a people person. If there’s a show out of town, I hate going without him because he is the one person who makes an effort to keep the group together and nobody does it like Rajju.
Da Cunha: What I’d like from Shernaz is perhaps more hair... actually what I’d like from her is the unwavering passion for theatre that she has coupled with an unrelenting desire to give back to the theatre. That’s what I noticed about her in 1979 when we met as kids and almost 40 years later, nothing has changed. With Rajit, what is interesting is that there is complete honesty. There is not a hint of diplomacy in him.
Kapur: I actually haven’t given a thought on what I’d like to steal from them.
Da Cunha: What he’s basically saying is that he doesn’t respect us for anything specific, but that is alright.
What’s the one thing you’d want to change about each other?
Da Cunha: One should not want to change somebody if that person has not changed that quality on their own. For instance, I’m very aggressive sometimes and I’ve lost clients because of that. I have tried to taper it down now.
Kapur: But, then see there’s a plus to it as well. If he’s saying his aggression is negative, then it also acts like a hammer. For instance, if X says it so strongly that it is not working then there must be something wrong with it, so change it.
Patel: There’s enough I want to change about myself so nothing about these two.
Is there any nickname that you have for each other?
(There is a riot of laughter among the three before they begin to answer)
Da Cunha: I call him Bubloo.
Kapur: I call Rahul chuddy because he always wears these tiny shorts. He was always joking about us becoming chuddy-buddies so it stayed. Shernaz is Patel Roadways.
Patel: Rajit is Rajju for me and for the other one, it is Rahul only.