‘Hamlet — The Clown Prince’ is Shakespeare with a funny twist

Cinematograph (Mumbai)

The problem with clever, sweeping, intricate prose is that it can sometimes be distracting. Unravelling Shakespeare and simultaneously plunging into the very heart of his stories can be difficult for contemporary audiences who get intimidated by too much thou and thee.

Rajat Kapoor and his cast have come up with an unusual solution: Bringing in the clowns. It’s a novel solution, not to mention an extremely entertaining one. Working on different levels, ‘Hamlet — The Clown Prince’ caters to everyone from Shakespeare aficionados to comedy lovers.

Tragic drama and slapstick humour rarely share theatre space. However, since clowns get away with twisting logic in ways regular actors can’t dream of, Cinematograph manages to play with the text continuously and unabashedly. Suspension of disbelief is so much easier when you’re dealing with a ridiculously cheerful clown nose, after all.

Hence, this version of ‘Hamlet’ is fearlessly edited and re-edited in a process that never seems to end. If the play seems remarkably spontaneous, it’s simply because it’s been known to evolve right up onstage, in front of audiences.

After all, not only are a bunch of clowns trying hard to interpret the drama-tragedy-and-angst-filled original text (sometimes misinterpreting it, sometimes excitedly dreaming up meanings that never crossed Shakespeare’s mind, often hopelessly entangling everything) but they also choose to tell their story in gibberish, sprinkled with key phrases from the original play.

Unlike traditional Shakespearean theatre, you don’t need to know the play to enjoy this production. If you do, be prepared for plenty of surprises. The biggest might be the fact that in spite of all the goofing about, the actors are sincere about finding the essence of ‘Hamlet’. Even without using the original, much celebrated, oft-quoted language? In a way, that’s exactly what makes it even more endearing. Because, once the words are removed, all that’s left is pure emotion.

‘Hamlet, the Clown Prince’ swept this year’s META, winning in five categories, including Best Director (Rajat Kapoor), Best Play and Best Costume Design (Tanya Ghavri).

Director’s cut: Rajat Kapoor

Clowns seem to have become a leitmotif in your theatre work. Why choose them as a medium to tell stories?

You are right — clowns have been figuring in my theatre work for a long, long time. And, they have appeared in a modified way in my films as well. I think the very origin of my fascination with clowns would be the silent American comedies of the early 20th Century — films of Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

Now, of course, I look at clowns as a way of stylisation. This is my way of gaining a distance from the text, to be able to comment on it even as we tackle the emotions simultaneously. Also, through clowning, we felt, we might be able to gain a new insight into the play ‘Hamlet’, which has been done more than 10,000 times. .

‘Hamlet — The Clown Prince’ swept last year’s META. Do you think it is a better play than ‘C for Clowns’, which used a similar theatrical language?

Better play? I don’t know; I am not sure. I am very fond of ‘C for Clown’. But, it is nice to believe that your latest work is your best work — that would generally mean that you are moving, growing and that there is hope that you would grow further.

But, for me it would be very difficult to choose between the two. They are also different in the sense that ‘C for Clown’ was completely improvised, whereas in the case of ‘Hamlet’, we started with a text...so, the challenges were different in each case. I don’t know which one is easier. But, there are no easy plays, no easy scripts to write, no easy film to make, no easy song to compose. Each new venture sets up a new paradigm, and one must find solutions within those parameters and that is the challenge every time.

Theatre or cinema? You have been successful in both fields. But, if you had to choose, which one would it be?

Choose? Oh God! I hope I never have to choose! Would you choose between a rasmalai and a gelato? Why? Why? Why choose when you can have both? Really, I hope I don’t have to choose.

See, both are very different from each other — and they both bring very different kinds of joy. One is an instantaneous gratification, while the other has a pretence towards immortality. One dies with the moment, while the other one will have a life beyond mine. One gives you the joy of working with actors; the other needs many, many other collaborators. The similarity between the two — well, they both need some kind of people management skills, and I hope I will be able to continue in both fields for the next 30 to 40 years.