The play directed by Makrand Deshpande (left) is a survival drama about three Indian soldiers stranded in a blizzard on the highest, coldest battlefield on earth
So are ânepo kids' really all that different from us normies?" we ask Zahan Kapoor and Aditya Rawal. "What do you think?" they shoot back at us.
Kapoor, 23, who belongs to the first family of Indian cinema, is son to actor-director Kunal Kapoor and photographer Sheena Sippy. Rawal, 29, is son to actors Paresh Rawal and Swaroop Sampath. The normies, or normal people, are you, the reader, and this writer, who like many other Indians are undoubtedly curious about the inner workings of the cinematic industry and filmi families.
To answer their question - well, they seem quite normal to us, on the surface at least. We meet the two at Juhu's Mithibai College where they are rehearsing for 72Â° East Productions's Siachin, written by Rawal and directed by Makrand Deshpande. The survival drama about three Indian soldiers stranded following a blizzard on the highest, coldest battlefield on earth, stars Kapoor and begins its run at Prithvi Theatre on June 15.
Rawal arrive in an auto and guides us to the college auditorium which has been their rehearsal space for a while. Both are dressed in basic tees and share a familiar vibe. They last shared screen space in last year's hostage drama Faraaz, inspired by a real-life terrorist attack that ravaged a Dhaka cafe. "The medium is different, the roles are different - I, as writer and him as actor - but in the sense of collaboration, it's pretty much the same in spirit," Rawal thinks. Ask Kapoor if being the playwright has made Rawal bossy, and he laughs, "Not at all. I tell him [without hesitation], âNahin, I don't want to do this'." Rawal smiles, "I am a screenwriter also. When I do that, I have no power. As a playwright, I might have more power, but if someone is bringing to the table something that will enrich the play, you'd be a fool to turn it down. I see no value in being fastidious."
If Rawal studied dramatic writing at Tisch School of the Arts in New York and followed it up with a course in theatre at the London International School of Performing Arts, Kapoor has spent his childhood in the corridors of Prithvi, seeing plays take shape, and working as assistant director in the film industry. Both have been on the theatre circuit for a while, and are now dabbling in films. They hold each other in high regard, having watched and observed the other's work while shooting for Faraaz. "My opinion of him as actor has been bolstered by this play - he is fantastic! There is a reason why we are working together again," says Rawal. Kapoor returns the compliment when he speaks about Rawal, the writer. "He is intelligent, of course, and he brings well thought out ideas, understands broad strokes and the nuances, both. He also genuinely listens to other people's opinions, and creates a space where people are heard. He is passion-and output-centric."
For Siachin, Rawal says he made a trip to the glacier - "I went to all the museums there, read up books and accounts about it, and spoke to real people who have been there". It's a punishment posting, this writer tells him, the daughter of an ex-Army man. "Exactly! But some volunteer too. The point was to ask, when you are stranded in the middle of nowhere, what is most important?" Kapoor adds, "We wanted to know what it is that people hold on to?"
The reason theatre is important to both is because they want to recreate an organic feeling of what art and artists are, especially in a world dominated by AI and instant content. " I think there is no greater joy than being part of a collective human experience, and theatre is one of the ways in which we can engage in a story. It helps us get out of this scrolling frenzy. To enjoy a story is to make sense of life, and participate in another being's experience, sharing it with others in real time. As a young artist, I am putting more premium on what is considered old-fashioned," says Kapoor.
Rawal, the more pragmatic of the two doesn't believe in making art for charity. "Everything you do should be economically sustainable. For example, the right medium to present the story of Siachin was theatre, not a 100-crore movie. Also, with the advent of AI, video and sound manipulation, there is a growing desire to watch the pure human experience. That is where theatre comes in."
We circle back to them being privileged, and wonder if they truly always wanted to act and write. "It's more like constant poking for a consistent period of time," says Rawal, who playing football at the national level until he was in college. "Our childhoods were similar. I went to watch my father at rehearsal, my mother and I used to paint every Sunday." Kapoor says things got serious when turned 18. "We grew up in an environment that was passionate about the culture and arts. We talk about reading, new music, we go to museums - it's not a social, networking household; it's a passionate one. And so, when I got to the stage, I explored it organically. And realised, I am interested in it." Rawal sums it up with some plain speak, "It is beneficial [being a star kid], and you get to meet people you may not otherwise meet. You may even get your first break. But after that, your work speaks for itself. The aim is not to go fast, big or strong. But to keep at it as long as possible. If you are getting gainful employment in the arts in the next 35 years, you have had a decent enough career. Honestly, that's all I am hoping for."