'Who am I to comment on Shakespeare's language?'

Ambika Shaligram
Monday, 27 August 2018

Actor-director Rajat Kapoor, who brings his Shakespeare Comedy Theatre to Pune, talks about his introduction to the clowning format and how he used it to find the essence of Hamlet and Macbeth

Ten years ago, actor-director, Rajat Kapoor decided to adapt a Shakespearean tragedy into comedy, with a bunch of clowns. The Bard’s English was replaced with gibberish in some places. When asked how would Shakespeare react to this adaptation, Rajat replies, “I am convinced he would have been delighted, he would laugh the loudest at the jokes, and stand up and clap and the loudest at the end of the show.”

With this conviction, Rajat and his friends (Vinay Pathak, Ranvir Shorey, Kalki Koechlin, Neil Bhoopalam and Jim Sarbh) are coming to the city with their Shakespeare Comedy Theatre. Two plays, Hamlet: The Clown Prince and Macbeth: What is done is done, will be performed on September 1 and 2 at Nehru Memorial Hall. 

Over to Rajat..

You have previously said that you begin working on your plays with an idea. So what were the ideas when it came to improvising on Macbeth and Hamlet?
Well, with both Hamlet and Macbeth, the starting point was more than an idea. It was the text of course, that Shakespeare had written 400 years back. So that was the starting point. Then you look at the text and choose what excites you from it. Not all of it. 
I think it’s a folly to do it as it was. That is suicidal, and a bad interpretation as well. One must try and make the text one’s own, find relevance to us.

Most Indians fear Shakespeare because of his language. Conversely, students of literature and even the academics say that his language was of the gutter. What are your thoughts on it? Is that one of the reasons why you chose to present these plays in English and gibberish?
Who am I to comment on Shakespeare’s language? His magic with words is simply astounding — what he is able to achieve with the sound and rhythm of words and create new meanings through their arrangement, has not been done ever since. I am in love with his words now, after having directed four of his plays.
And yet I am cruel to his words. In our plays, we have kept some of the most famous lines as they were written — and some we have rewritten in gibberish and strange clown words. Sacrilege? Perhaps, but also very exciting. I am sure Shakespeare would have approved.

Is it easier to use clowning format because the clowns can get away by saying anything? Tell us about your association with the clowns.
The first time I worked with clowns, was for a play in 1999 called C for Clown. It was just a day in the life of five clowns. While rehearsing for that play, we wondered how the clowns would talk, and in the process discovered gibberish which I thought was a very expressive tool. This was a completely improvised piece, which we started without a text and kind of made it up as we went along the rehearsal process. 
And then I got excited by the idea of doing a classical play with clowns, just to see what would happen if the clowns attempted Shakespeare. Hamlet was the first of these plays.

Can you also share your thoughts on working with your friends and collaborators, Vinay Pathak and Ranvir Shorey? Are other actors in the team equally fond of Shakespeare’s works?
It’s bizarre to realise that so much time has passed, that we have been working together for decades now. It is also very beautiful and gratifying. I often think that you work with friends, so that you create a chance of being with each other, to create new memories together and the bond keeps getting stronger. And those who were not friends before the play, become friends after the show opens, and most of these friendships are for life.

Are the roles of the actors playing clowns interchangeable?
Not interchangeable, but they have stepped into each others’ shoes. Sometime I also step in to fill in for some clown or the other.

First time theatre goers, who have watched Shakespeare Comedy Theatre, have termed it absolutely thrilling. What kind of audience would you like to attend the show? Do you expect them to be Shakespeare-literate?

Well, when we were making these plays, we knew that most of the people would not have read the original text. At best, they would have some vague idea about the play. For example, Ophelia drowns and Hamlet sees his father’s ghost and so on. So I was very sure that we wanted the play to work for somebody, who does not know the text. 

Having said that, if you do know the text, then what you take back from our shows will be heightened to another level, then you’d really be able to see what is being done to the text. So I highly recommend that you read the text — quick now..!

ST Reader Service
The play Hamlet: The Clown Prince will be staged at Nehru Memorial Hall, Camp on September 1, 5 pm and 8 pm and Macbeth: What is done is done, will be performed on September 2, 4.30 pm and 7.30 pm. Booking links: bit.ly/macbethpune; bit.ly/hamletpune

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