Syed Jamil Ahmed's production of “Macbeth” revealed a fresh approach to presenting Shakespeare for contemporary audiences.
William Shakespeare's “Macbeth” presented in Hindi by the final year students of the National School of Drama, New Delhi, at Sammukh auditorium recently is remarkable for creative collaboration between director and light designer, which produced the right atmosphere to reveal a story of darkness and hideous evil with intense dramatic force.
Another highlight of the production is that the sets are designed by the director himself. There are only structures with no details. There is hardly any stage property. The space in the auditorium is aptly used, including the space on the walls, using a staircase placed vertically to allow performers to ascend and descend. This technique enables dramatic action to flow in a seamless manner. On the flat acting space in some places are small waterholes which can be covered and uncovered effortlessly. In these waterholes, Lady Macbeth in a frenzy tries to wash the blood from her hands but fails. She literally immerses herself into one of these waterholes. Through this innovative device, the director stresses there is no redemption from a bloody deed.
The play is directed by Syed Jamil Ahmed, a professor at the department of theatre and music, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and a graduate of the National School of Drama. He obtained his MA in Theatre Studies from the University of Warwick, U.K., and did his Ph.D. from the University of Dhaka. A widely travelled theatre artiste, his production reflects his fresh approach to presenting Shakespeare for modern audiences.
The play opens outside the auditorium. We hear shrieks, loud voices, evoking a mood of mystery and terror and then the witches climb down from the trees and stare straight into the eyes of the spectators as if reading their fate. As we enter the auditorium we see them confronting Macbeth and Banquo announcing their prophecy about these two great warriors. Shakespeare's witches are “old women, poor and ragged, skinny and hideous.” In this production they are young, in attractive costumes, and frequently confront the hero possessed by evil. Their movements are swift and rhythmic.
Light effects by Bapi Bose, a prominent all-round theatre artiste, are highly innovative. Since most of the murders and action take place either at night or in the dark, Bapi's light effects create the apt ambience. The appearance of the ghost of Banquo at the banquet and Banquo's murder scene are possible to enact in an expressionist atmosphere because of virtuoso lighting. The off stage music and sound effects enable performers to reveal the inner turmoil of their characters and heighten the sense of fear.
The Hindi text is by Amitabh Srivastav. He has ‘reassembled' it from the Hindi translation of “Macbeth” by Harivansh Rai Bachchan and Raghuvir Sahai. A third Hindi translation by Range Raghav is also available. These translations are not able to do justice to the immortal work by an all-time great playwright. However, most scholars feel Sahai's translation, which was staged by B.V. Karanth, is better. The term ‘reassembling' itself is confusing. Amitabh's version is not able to capture the poetry and imagery of the original.
Playing Shakespearean characters is a challengingly complex task. The members of the cast in the production played their roles with sincerity and passion. Sukanto Roy's Macbeth begins as a reluctant murderer of his benefactor King Duncan to acquire power and crown, and his character grows into a cold-blooded murderer, ending in his own slaughter. He imparts to his Macbeth the mad passion of a brutal killer.
Scherazad Kaikobad's Lady Macbeth, initially proud and commanding, goading her husband to murder King Duncan, gradually starts shrinking. Obsessed with a deep gnawing guilt, she becomes pathetic, miserable, empty and lifeless. Rohit Chaudhary as Banquo gives an impressive account of himself.