Actor Shernaz Patel greets me with a warm smile as I enter her apartment at Pali Hill in Bandra, looking relaxed in a dark peach kurta and khaki pants. Dressed in a slate grey shirt and black jeans, adman Rahul da Cunha gives me a wide grin from the other end of the room. Soon, Rajit Kapur walks in, dressed in a floral white and blue shirt balancing a couple of bags in his hands.
Even as they settle down, I notice that the three pals, co-founders of Rage, a popular theatre company that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, share a warm camaraderie. Over the next two hours, they regale me with their ‘theatrical’ journey, how they complement each other and what keeps them going.
Rahul da Cunha (RDC): Shernaz, Rajit and I first worked together in 1992 in Love Letters. It was a huge success.
Shernaz Patel (SP): Around the same time, we, along with our friends Radhika Mittal, Rahul Bose, Kunal Vijayakar and Fali Unwalla, wanted to set up a group.
Rajit Kapur (RK): So we came up with obvious names like curtain, stage and players. Then Rahul (Bose) suggested Rage. It was a popular word in those days just like ‘awesome’ is today. Of course, over a period of time, people have called us Ragey, Reggae and Range…(laughs)
RDC: In March 1993, we staged our first production, Are There Tigers in the Congo. Rahul and I had seen the play in Edinburgh festival and got its rights. All of us put in Rs 2,000 and lost the money. The play won critical acclaim but didn’t do wellcommercially.
SP: In 1994, we followed it up with a Neil Simon comedy, I Ought To Be In Pictures. It was an instant success.
RDC: We had been in business for two years and were financially stronger. Then we staged I’m Not Bajirao that went on to be one of the longest running English plays in India. Later, our four friends and we drifted apart but there is no animosity.
Giving back to theatre
RDC: Writers’ Bloc, an initiative to discover, train and introduce exciting new playwrights to Indian audiences, started by chance in 2003. The Royal Theatre Court of Britain and the British Council (BCL) had organised a workshop in Bangalore. When I asked the BCL why they didn’t have the workshop in Mumbai, they said they wanted a theatre company to host them. So I met them at their hotel and suggested we host the programme in Mumbai.
SP: It was originally meant to be a training programme but when we started reading some of the entries, we decided to turn it into a full-blown programme wherein after two rounds of workshops, nine productions would premiere.
RK: Today, it has gained momentum because the audiences are craving to see new writing.
RDC: There are three sections in our work: first, where we had a ready script and only had to cast actors; second, when we did adaptations and third, when we started doing original plays.
SP: We have been extremely professional and have never taken the audience for granted.
RK: We have always infused new blood in our productions. Even 20 years later, theatre is still a lot of fun for us. We don’t feel jaded. It has been a fulfilling journey.
The three musketeers
RDC: We trust each other implicitly. Though I wish, we were a three men company.
SP: (Cuts in)..Let me tell you, you wouldn’t have lasted...
RDC: On a serious note, Rajit is driven and Shernaz is passionate about her work. And they will say that I’m a genius (laughs out aloud). My good looks pisses them off (guffaws).
SP: On a personal note, Rahul is very witty and Rajjo (Rajit) is funny. He can’t sit still and has a fetish for packing.
RK: We are a three-sided see saw. Shernaz and Rahul are my support system.