The three plays comprising Prakriti Foundation's ‘Hamara Shakespeare' presented the Bard with a strongly Indian and contemporary flavour
Five centuries later and his influence continues to bear its imprint on stages across the globe — in a world of uncertainties, one thing you can be sure of is we're not going to stop performing, watching and quoting Shakespeare. At least, not any time soon.
Interpretations of Shakespeare's works have been vast and varied, and Prakriti Foundation's ‘Hamara Shakespeare' was no different, combining the old with the new to bring the bard to Kalakshetra's stage with a strongly Indian, postmodern sort of flavour. Operating on a level of references, mixing high and lowbrow culture, and dabbling in a little pastiche and metafiction, the three plays swung from exploit to innovative exploit, fusing English with Tamil and blank verse with modern profanity.
Narrative and art
Inspired by the themes of abandonment and oppression explored in ‘A Midsummer Night's Dream' and ‘The Winter's Tale', the festival opened with Vayu Naidu's ‘4 Seasons of Shakespeare'. Combining modern lives from London and Chennai with the magic of its sources, Naidu's play explored the significance of narrative and the role of art in facilitating a wider understanding of humanity. Bringing together the seemingly opposite personalities of a wartime correspondent, a dentist and a performer over the common denominator of being human, the play underscored the universality and timelessness of the human condition.
Koumarane Valavane's ‘Alfonsina' by Pondicherry's Indianostrum Théâtre was very much a play about plays, and like ‘4 Seasons', a probing examination of art and the artist. Charting the physical as well as psychological trajectory of the artist, Rahul, the play explored the lines that separate illusion from reality, and madness from sanity. ‘Alfonsina's multi-layered references and allusions included the Mahabharata as well as Shakespeare, its colourful re-enactment of the disrobing of Draupadi being played to perfection. Vasan Selvan, in the role of Dussasana, leapt fiendishly about the stage, quivering with lustful glee — with a “mad blood stirring” reminiscent of Tarquin's desire for Lucrece in Shakespeare's narrative poem ‘The Rape of Lucrece'. Drawing numerous Shakespearan parallels and revelling in a simultaneously mischievous and sombre questioning of the role and fate of the artist, the play featured all round excellent, exciting performances by S. Avinash, Cordis Paldano, Emelyne Leibhan, Senthil Kumar as well as displaying stylish finesse in terms of its simple yet powerful mise-en-scène.
Directed by V. Balakrishnan ‘The Secret Love Life of Ophelia' by Theatre Nisha drew the festival to a quiet, meditative close. Based on a script by English playwright Steven Berkoff and displaying bawdiness worthy of the Bard himself, the entire play took an epistolary format, comprising a correspondence between Hamlet and Ophelia. A creative interpretation of what the lovers might have been whispering behind the curtains of state intrigue and regicide, their words roamed from the anguished to the downright racy. Ranging from the obvious quibbles on quills being dipped into inkpots to more creative similes likening one's, er, love to a “magic trough that the more thy tongue laps, the more it fills”, the delay in the consummation of their love runs parallel to Hamlet's own delay in the completion of his revenge. Both lovers melt in silent agonies of passion, framed by the melancholy strum of a sitar on a stage divided by a solitary dancer, whose body contorted with every word spoken to express the physical longings and sufferings the couple's letters are only able to gesture at.
Having allowed the accumulated centuries of Shakespeare to percolate through their veins, the plays ran rampant with their many influences, culminating in a series of thoroughly interesting, thoroughly enjoyable performances that spanned the vast shores of time and human experience to speak, dance, cry and kill their way across the dark and dusky stage at Kalakshetra.