The National, Dubai

The brother and sister act of Sohaila and Shekhar Kapur brings a touch of Bollywood glamour to Ductac – and a few family secrets, too

Shekhar Kapur is so chic. In his dark suit that screamed “stylish label” and those lumpy trainers that are supposed to exercise your calf muscles he ambled into the foyer at Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (Ductac) unannounced and clearly impressed by the buzz of activity.

Mothers collecting their offspring from dance classes and workshops at the centre were picking their way around workmen frantically securing the red carpet for a VIP event before the first night of Mahim Junction, the burlesque-style satire directed by Kapur’s younger sister Sohaila.

In a conspicuous act of brotherly affection, the charismatic director of Academy Award-winning movies such as Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age flew in from Mumbai that morning to support ­Sohaila and to help drum up interest for potential sponsors of Ductac.

“As far as she’s concerned I’m just a marketing tool,” he laughed in his laid-back and self-effacing way. And market he did, skilfully working a room full of sponsors and potential sponsors, shaking hands, having his picture taken and stressing to everyone how important it is for the local community and business people to put their hands in their pockets and fund offbeat and unusual productions that you wouldn’t see in mainstream theatres. “It’s difficult to equate finance with theatre but you have to.

You need financial support if you have ­ambitions for this sort of centre,” he said.
Mahim Junction, written and produced by Sohaila Kapur, is a satirical look at life through the prism of the 1970s Bollywood movies that the brother and sister adored as youngsters. The director, who started his working life as an accountant because his parents wanted him to have a “proper job”, was happy to talk up his little sister at his own expense and told an anecdote about how she took her show to the Edinburgh Fringe around the same time as he was co-producing the musical Bombay Dreams with Andrew Lloyd Webber in London’s West End. “She sent me a review from The Scotsman, a highly respected newspaper, that said, ‘Never mind that awful thing produced by Lloyd Webber, this is the one you should go and see’.

When I saw Andrew at breakfast later that morning the newspaper was on his table and he had noticed the name Kapur and asked me if we were related. Of course I said ‘absolutely not’,” he said to gales of laughter in the packed Centrepoint Theatre.
Kapur, who is eight years older than Sohaila, said their relationship when they were growing up was typical older brother and younger sister. “Older brothers tend to be protective of their sisters and think they know what’s best for them but very quickly she got the measure of me and used to blackmail me, threatening to tell our parents if I was seeing a girl, if I didn’t do what she wanted,” ­Kapur explained.

“She did show me the script of Mahim Junction but I soon realised that a theatrical experience was completely different from a cinema experience and she knows how to do that much better than I do. But I think it was important to her that I saw it. The format is not a bit like the original village folk theatre, called nautanki, with its singers and storytellers. Hindi cinema was based on that and it’s the only form of cinema that fought off Hollywood.”

Sohaila herself just smiled when told of her brother’s recollections of her childhood blackmailing techniques. “It was just the opposite. He used to try to make me give him my pocket money so he could spend it on girlfriends and he would put dolls and my toys on the overhead fan and threaten to scatter them all over the place and break them so I would get into trouble.”

Nevertheless she clearly adores her big brother, of whom she is extremely proud. “I think he has attained what very few people in the world could. His imagination is amazingly fertile. He comes up with the darndest of ideas and he makes them work. He has the courage of his convictions and he has proved himself right.
“I think it’s very sweet of him to come here tonight and I’m truly touched.”