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All about the Junoon

Sanjna Kapoor believes in not just talking but walking the talk as well. From steering a theatre programme that is growing into a pan Indian movement to striving to open up minds to the arts, she has her plate full, but is loving every moment of it

Towards the end of our 45-minute conversation, we asked Sanjna Kapoor how she switches off in the city. "I do not want to switch off when I am in Bombay — it is my high-energy fix once a month, and I love it! Remember, I live in Delhi…!" she chuckled. Her reply didn't surprise us entirely. In fact, it was a fitting sign-off, post the buzz of activity that we had experienced — and the passion —that she and co-founder Sameera Iyengar infuse and strive to create, which is to make Junoon a pan-Indian theatre movement.

Sanjna Kapoor
Sanjna Kapoor

Theatre call
Earlier, as we settled into our chat with Kapoor at the Junoon office in Versova, a few factors were quite obvious to the visitor. Commitment is king. Time is precious. Personal input is sacrosanct. We jog Kapoor's memory a bit to the previous week, when 17 theatre professionals graduated from SMART India's first batch. "It was a delightful feeling, not one of sadness. India does not have theatre managers; theatre groups lack training, so this was a big step for all of us.

SMART India’s first batch of graduates at their graduation ceremony that was held in Mumbai last week. Pic/Tushar Satam
SMART India's first batch of graduates at their graduation ceremony that was held in Mumbai last week. Pic/Tushar Satam

Sameera held it all together, plus we had experts like Arundhati Ghosh, Sunil Shanbhag, Swati Apte and Sudhanva Deshpande who helped make this happen," she reminisces, glowing with pride. "The idea of bringing together individuals and groups as diverse as a 60-year-old from Tamil Nadu and a young group from Pune or Nashik gave us immense satisfaction," she adds, in between sips of chai from a mug with 'Junoon' printed on it.

Soon, Kapoor and Iyengar will dive into preparations for the next batch of managers. "The call goes out in January 2016," she informs us. "Besides, we intend to have a conclave every alternate year. Ten years ago, if I mentioned words like 'corporate' or 'management' in sync with theatre, it was looked down upon. Today, we need to incorporate these skills, to empower theatre people. It's about serving the arts," she asserts. Kapoor fills us in on how she hopes to develop the faculty for next year and beyond, where SMART India alum can pitch in as well. By now, even we have gotten used to the continuous whir of the office. It's organic, and possibly integral to a space that thrives on theatre.

Sameera Iyengar and Sanjna Kapoor are in splits in the middle of a busy day at the office. Pics/Rane Ashish
Sameera Iyengar and Sanjna Kapoor are in splits in the middle of a busy day at the office. Pics/Rane Ashish

NSD calling
There's more for Junoon to cheer about. "We have been invited by CCRT (Centre for Cultural Resources and Training) to take this short course for National School of Drama graduates," Iyengar tells us. Junoon was approached after the work at SMART India programme reached CCRT. "While NSD students are equipped with the creative training process, this five-day course, slated to begin in October, is to introduce them to other aspects of theatre, in the form of workshops, she adds. This will include half-day modules, the legal side to theatre, setting up their own theatres," she tells us, as we gauge the palpable excitement.

Junoon so far...
"I always knew that Junoon would be powered by our passion — to create a world that values the arts, and where society can have easy access to it. There needs to be a realisation that the arts are meant for everyone," Kapoor tells us, retracing the journey since 2012. "In our rapidly urbanising country, where is the chance to engage in richness of our arts? We need festivals, and a constant engagement at the local level," she reiterates. Iyengar echoes her thoughts, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if people could step out of their homes to walk into a play, right in their neighbourhood? Junoon's path has been impulsive and intuitive, with loads of fun. While we were unsure of the form, I think, Sanjna and I were pretty clear about the kind of experiences we wanted to create, when we started," she elaborates. At this point, Kapoor makes an interesting observation, "For this to happen, (theatre) owners have to be committed to theatre. After all, this is a developing society, and the idea of arts is still new to many." Almost as if reading our mind, she turns the clock back, recalling her parents,
Shashi Kapoor and Jennifer Kendal's influence on theatre. "Shakespearana was all that Junoon is hoping to embody. It gives me inspiration on how to create a programme based on rich experiences around India," Kapoor believes.

Start from school
The school contact programme is another area where Junoon has made inroads, not just in Mumbai but in cities like Patna and Ludhiana. "It's a tough proposition, and is loaded with hurdles. Getting into Tier II cities is always a challenge, but from Day One, we've met with a spirit of openness, which is terrific," Kapoor says, rattling off a few enthusiastic encounters in these cities.

Making it better
Our fixed question to people from the arts is why can't Mumbai have more. To this, Kapoor offers a logical solution, "We need to make friends with people in the government so it becomes easier to explain our situation. It's also crucial to educate ourselves about governance systems, thereby empowering ourselves. Most importantly, we should build lasting systems that support each other," She admits that being in theatre is easier, "With Valmik's (Thapar, her husband, environmentalist) field, it's tougher." It's nearing 11 am, and Sanjna Kapoor needs to take our leave for a team meeting. But not before telling us that children's theatre is looking promising in India. We have every reason to believe her.

What mumbai needs

More theatre in public spaces: Our public gardens can become a great platform to spread the arts.

Introduce children and the youth to theatre: It makes such a difference if they are exposed to the arts.

- Sanjna Kapoor & Sameera Iyengar

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