Still Raging After 25 Years: The Anniversary of Rage Theatre
Shernaz Patel, Rahul daCunha, and Rajit Kapur continue to deftly adapt their outings to match the city’s shifting expectations.
Despite the oft-cited difficulties in keeping afloat a theatre outfit in a cash-strapped arts environment, Rage Theatre has now completed 25 years in the precarious business of stage entertainment. It was in 1992 that the group was founded by lifelong friends Shernaz Patel, Rahul daCunha, and Rajit Kapur. While daCunha hailed from theatre stock, his initiation into showbiz happened only during a propitious stint at St. Xavier’s College, when he directed Patel (who also boasted of a theatre pedigree) in a college production of Harold Pinter’s A Night Out. Kapur had watched one of the shows, and the three had discussed getting together as a group as early as then (in the 1980s).
Between the three, Patel and Kapur are actors who have made judicious forays into the world of cinema. On the other hand, daCunha is the adman who inherited the legacy of the Amul moppet whose topical hoardings have illuminated signposts of the zeitgeist millennia before the hashtag was even conceived. Together they have fronted a theatre outfit that is as much about artistic sensibility, as it is about sustenance. Rage Theatre’s longevity is a testament to its adaptability to the shifting expectations of audiences.
Back To the Start
Extant from those beginnings is their longest-running production, A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, that still plays to packed houses, including earlier this month at Delhi’s Old World Theatre Festival. Patel’s unbridled sincerity and Kapur’s earnestness coalesce to create authentic feel-good entertainment for the soul as the duo play long-distance lovers in an acclaimed epistolary romance. One of Rage’s most significant signposts remains daCunha’s 1995 adaptation of Herb Gardener’s I’m Not Rappaport. Titled I’m Not Bajirao and featuring the redoubtable Boman Irani, this was one of the first plays to embrace an Indian English idiom. It came at a time when urban English theatre was entrenched in the kind of stuffy superciliousness that frowned upon anything local or colloquial.
Similarly, daCunha’s Class of 84, now understandably dated, tapped into the disaffectedness of an entire generation, and has notched up more than a thousand shows. Recent years have seen Kapur take up the mantle of the director with Hindi productions like Naqqaash and Mahua. Both have emerged from successive editions of Writers’ Bloc — the playwriting initiative spearheaded by Rage in association with London’s Royal Court — that has supported original writing for the Indian stage for some 15 years now.
Big Screen Ventures
Kapur’s detective in TV’s Byomkesh Bakshi was a popular turn in the 1990s, but he has also delivered stellar work in offbeat cinema, particularly in collaborations with Shyam Benegal. Either as the impressionable Mohandas in The Making of the Mahatma (1996) which fetched him a National Award, or the reluctant raconteur of Suraj Ka Satvan Ghoda (1992). All his portrayals are marked by the intense conviction that is his hallmark. In 2005, a dramatic part in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black gave Patel’s movie career a second wind, two decades after her winning debut in Mahesh Bhatt’s Janam (1985). It would lead to a string of solid cameos in films like Little Zizou (2008) and Talaash (2012), and a wonderfully comic outing in 2009’s The President Is Coming (from the stage play).
These measured in-roads into cinema have allowed them to carefully craft an unimpeachable presence in urban theatre without creating around themselves a cult of personality, even if their marquee status and enduring (and endearing) on-stage personas contribute immeasurably to the group’s legacy.
All In Good Time
This week, Rage has embarked on an intensive stage adventure with as many as 60 members of the city’s extended theatre community in tow. Under the aegis of 36 Ghante, ten short plays will be created from scratch to stage in that time frame. On Wednesday, ten playwrights received the as-yet-unrevealed theme and handed in their quickly turned-around manuscripts (in Hindi and English) on Thursday. Ten directors then picked their plays randomly and drew lots for a cast of four each. The teams will be on their feet creating the plays today for a mega evening showcase. There are both experienced stagehands and young talent in the mix, as was the case in 2005 when Rage had executed their first (and only previous) installment of 36 Ghante at the Prithvi Festival.
There are, of course, similar exercises that take place around the world, like the 24 Hour Plays On Broadway, for instance, which is even more time-delimited and is exhibited as an extreme live event, from the drawing of straws to the ebbing of the arclights. In Rage’s version, the audience views only the finished pieces. The last iteration ran for a good five hours, and this one is expected to be much more contained. However, it should still serve up the feel of a marathon viewing, not least because of the flickering sensibilities and shifting ideas on offer that call for that elusive brand of “spectating” endurance that theatre aficionados pride themselves on. The curtain call can certainly be expected to go on forever. But most importantly, the event is a benefit whose proceeds have been earmarked for intrepid theatre professionals with a long-standing commitment to the arts.
Coming Up Next
The juggernaut rolls on. At the upcoming Prithvi Theatre Festival, Rage will be opening a new play, Iron, directed by frequent collaborator Arghya Lahiri. Written by the well-regarded Scottish writer Rona Munro, a rehearsed reading of the play was staged at last year’s edition of Writers’ Bloc. It is an intense psychological drama about a young woman seeking out her mother who has been imprisoned for murdering her husband with a kitchen knife. Rage is also reviving their production of Girish Karnad’s Flowers, based on a folktale from the Chitradurga region of Karnataka. Directed by Roysten Abel and performed by Kapur, shows have been lined up for Bengaluru and Mumbai. Flowers is known as one of Lahiri’s most accomplished works as a lighting designer.
In January 2018, Rage will be spearheading an Indian chapter of Class Act, a flagship education project from Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre. The playwriting project is part of the India UK Year of Culture and will involve senior pupils from 14 Mumbai schools. So, 25 years on and counting, Rage’s indelible niche in the city’s theatre has not been dislodged even an inch. Now in their mellowing years, the intrepid trio at its helm continues to rage on unabated.
This article first appeared on The Hindu on October 26, 2017 and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.