Hard act to follow
Sohaila Kapur says she’d love to direct a Bollywood film some day. She has already made a mark in theatre and played character roles under top directors
Sohaila Kapur is a well-known writer, theatre director and actor. Besides, she happens to be late Dev Anand’s niece and sister of famous film-director Shekhar Kapur. She started her career writing articles for newspapers and went on to make documentaries. Her Indian Witch Hunt won the National Geographic best film award in 2004 and has been telecast several times on Discovery.
She is also a playwright. Her maiden venture, a musical called Yeh Hai Mumbai Meri Jaan, premiered at the prestigious Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh in 2002. The play won the Herald Devil award and had favourable reviews in leading newspapers. It was performed at various venues in Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Dubai, Muscat, Kuala Lumpur, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Toronto and Vancouver. Besides her own plays, she has specially written The Monkey Manand and The Great Indian Wedding for her brother, film-maker Shekhar Kapur. She also adapted The Ramayana for the American movie channel, HBO.
Sohaila stepped into Bollywood in 2015 with her role in Kabir Khan’s Phantom, playing a distraught Pakistani widow who loses her son to militants. She is also in Sudhir Mishra’s Aur Devdas and an international project Devbhumi directed by European director Goran Paskaljevic. The word ‘dev’ seems to be a recurring theme, as she plays a role in Sudhir Mishra’s Daas Dev, based on novelist Sarat Chandra Chattopadhayay’s 1917 Bengali novel Devdas. She plays Sushila Devi, leader of a political party.
Tell us about the shoot.
We shot in Lucknow and in Ayodhya. In the latter, we shot in the royal palace, a heritage building with mellowed interiors. This is the first time I play a politician. Sushila Devi is popular but the Opposition targets her and she is attacked during an election speech. The role has some obvious political references and I realise how it feels to be in a contemporary politician’s shoes.
What kind of experience was it working with a talented director like Sudhir Mishra?
I have always wanted to work with him and told him so once. He was kind enough to offer me the part. He said he had seen me in plays and had decided to cast me whenever a suitable role came up. As a director, he is exacting.
So was it difficult to work with him?
Yes, he is also generous in his praise, when he feels it is fit to do so…and also critical if he is not satisfied. In other words, a challenging director to work with, someone who can help you hone your craft further. I am lucky to have been able to work with him and hope to do so in future too.
What kind of a feedback have you got about your work in the film?
So far, positive. Film critics have praised my performance and so have my friends. But for me the greatest moments were when Sudhir called up on the day of the premier and said I was very good in the film. This was the first time he had mentioned this and it thrilled me. The other person whose opinion really mattered was my brother, Shekhar Kapur, who said he liked my performance a lot. In fact, he has been talking about it to his friends in the industry. But I think my role in Phantom has been his favourite (not that I have done many films!)
Any interesting incident during the shooting?
I don’t know about interesting, but once we were shooting till 2 am, and I was so tired that I could not get my dialogue right. Sudhir finally gave up, saying he will have to work something out on the edit table, which he did. I was sure after that he would blacklist me as an actor, but his praise on the day of release swept away that apprehension.
Besides your films, you have directed some interesting plays, can you name some?
Yes, theatre direction is my passion, I love it. My latest is Bebe Ka Chamba, which has an all-woman cast. We have travelled with it in India and the Sangeet Natak Akademi sponsored two shows.
Other memorable ones were Sufi-Bhakti plays. There was Sohbat (on the relationship between the poet Rumi and his mentor Shams), Prem Deewani (the story of Meerabai), What’s in a Name? (A contemporary version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) and Like Mother, Like Daughter, which my company produced. I am always in search of new subjects and ideas. Now, am happy to share that I am part of this play written by Agatha Christie.
What do you think of the theatre scenario in India?
The quality of theatre varies from state to state. You have commercial theatre in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Assam, while Delhi and West Bengal are known for college, street and experimental theatre. Theatre is developing fast in the country. New genres are being explored, mostly by young people. Some of them have been trained abroad. I feel theatre develops as much as its practitioners do. The more educated and socially aware you are, the newer and more relevant your theatre will be.
Which film directors do you like the most?
Stephen Spielberg and Vishal Bhardwaj. They are both great storytellers.
How does it feel when people relate to you as Dev Anand’s niece and Shekhar Kapur’s sister?
I am proud of my uncle, late Dev Anand, and brother Shekhar Kapur. It’s always a pleasure to connect with my brother, he was in Delhi for a week.
Most play directors are shifting to film-making. Have you ever thought of this?
Yes, many times. But you need to have an investor for that. I hope to direct a Bollywood film some day!
Besides direction and writing, what are your other passions?
Reading, writing and script-writing. And I love writing columns for newspapers. Watching movies and television are my favourite hobbies. I’m always busy either doing work or reading scripts for my new play or film. My production company under the name of ‘Katyani’ is trying to show interesting and meaningful theatre to people.