Several actors have played the iconic Hamlet on screen and on stage. The latest to join the list is popular TV, film and theatre actor Sumeet Raghavan who is playing the title role in the Marathi adaptation of Hamlet, which is being produced by Zee Marathi. The play, which opened to a full house in Mumbai, is set to make its premiere in Pune soon and will be presented by Ashtavinayak and Jigisha. Directed by Chandrakant Kulkarni, the play also stars Tushar Dalvi, Mugdha Godbole, Manva Naik, Bhushan Pradhan, Ranjeet Jog and Sunil Tawde.
Before the conversation begins, Sumeet admits that he hasn’t really read William Shakespeare. “I was never introduced to that kind of literature so whatever knowledge I have of Shakespeare’s work was through solemnity of Hamlet, which I had read a couple of years ago. And whatever I know of Shakespeare’s work, I consider Hamlet as one of the greatest tragedies. Each of his masterpieces are tragedies but have a different aspect,” he says.
“When Chandu (Chandrakant Kulkarni) offered me the play, I asked him, ‘Do you want me to go back and do some research?’. He asked me, ‘Have you read anything and I said no’. He wanted me to approach it with a fresh perspective and interpretation without any extra burden on my shoulders because Hamlet has been done by all major stage productions across the world. I blindly followed Chandu and my instincts too because I have been in the industry for long so I know how not to go over-the-top,” says Sumeet who has watched Vishal Bharadwaj’s screen adaptations of Shakespeare’s tragedies including Maqbool, Omkara and Haider.
He adds that it’s a dream role. “It’s the kind of role every actor would want to do once in their career,” says Sumeet.
Sumeet says that he interpreted the character in his own way, which helped him understand his role better. “Whatever little knowledge I had of Hamlet, I realised that he is passionate and sensitive but doesn’t take action and keeps going back and forth. He talks about everything, from love to relationship, god, dreams... There is also an undercurrent of his interpersonal relationship with his mother, girlfriend and the death of his father, which bothers him. He is also upset with his mother for remarrying his uncle just a month after his father’s death,” explains the actor adding that he wanted to play the character in a realistic manner but Chandu wanted him to keep it natural. “There is a thin line between being realistic and natural. There are several monologues in the play and while enacting them, I was trying to be natural, but in a realistic zone. He just wanted me to say the thoughts aloud,” he says.
But have they localised the play, keeping the Marathi audience in mind? “The language is lyrical and it’s not the way we speak Marathi. Apart from that, we have also retained everything including the title and costume,” he says.
Not letting the character affect him
Considering Hamlet is such an intense and tragic character, did the character affect him and he says ‘no’. “If the character starts bothering you, you are not fit to be an actor. You can’t take it home. You are definitely tired, fatigued at the end of the play. It takes away all your energy because all your senses are so alert while doing the play,” he says, adding, “Having said that, there was this one scene where Ophelia dies and they bring the coffin. I was heartbroken then because I could feel for her (Ophelia) as she was the only character who is so pure and she was made a scapegoat.”
He says that while playing such niche characters the actor has a lot to take away but in case of Hamlet, he was trying to understand the larger meaning the writer (Shakespeare) was trying to convey.
“He has tried to talk about so many things. There is this line in the play where Hamlet tells his mother Gertrude, ‘You need to throw away all the malice from within and whatever little purity or goodness you have, you need to hold on to that. There are going to be momentary attractions, how do you control that? Will the evil take over or will you have control over it?’ There is such deep impact. This was written 400 years back but all these lines and thoughts have great relevance even today,” says Sumeet.
He adds that there is a scene where Shakespeare has also shown the humane side of Claudius, Hamlet’s uncle who has killed his father. “In one of the scenes, he asks for forgiveness from god. He says, ‘Why can’t you stop a man before he commits a sin and if he commits a sin, why can’t you wash away all his sins?’,” Sumeet points out.
Being a part of stage
Sumeet, who has been regularly a part of the regional theatre circuit, says that the stage gives him a lot of liberty and ability to experiment.
“I get to do this every day — work on my character, go more deeper. Sometimes, I stumble on something I might have missed before. I can constantly experiment and try out something new every time I am on stage but within the given frame. I also keep the aesthetics, tone, emotions and the mood of the entire content in tact,” says Sumeet.
He says that an actor should constantly keep searching and dig deep because one might come across something completely new.