Three performances, all based on Shakespeare's Macbeth, pictured a cultural translation that was a creative experiment in itself.
It was Macbeth's turn at the fourth edition of Hamara Shakspeare by the Prakriti Foundation. Three evenings at Kalakshetra, the same story was performed, but each time it turned out to be a different experience. We might think that working on a too familiar and celebrated work, a Shakespearean play, could restrain the creative space. But, director A.J. Santhosh disagrees. “It is a story that the audience already knows and you don't have to follow the original narrative. It gives you the freedom to go deep into the elements that interests you more. You could express your experience of reading the play and this re-interpretation could be interesting.”
The opening play “Macbeth” (in Malayalam) by Santhosh, stood out for its visual treatment. The motif of guilt-ridden and doomed souls trying to wash off the blood stains on their hands pervaded throughout. Through surreal video clippings, use of reflections and body movements, it explored the possibilities of the visual narrative. As the director puts it, the play tried to observe the inter-play of fundamental human nature of concerns, desires and greed that don the stage of conscious and sub conscious mind.
“Koodiyattam” by Margi Madhu in all aspects was a cultural translation. The briefing at the beginning and the introduction to basic gestures helped even the first-timers to understand the performance. “Nrupa padha adhirodhim dhushkaram naasthi kinchit/ adhiga bharanambho kashtamevam nrupanam/ (Becoming the king was not at all difficult/ to protect the throne and the kingdom thus gained is the most difficult task) – As the actor enacts these Sanskrit lines, the plight of “Macbeth” slowly unveils before the audience. The plot was transplanted into a Kerala scenario, or rather the inherent cultural elements in the art form stood out. Macbeth's victory was celebrated with pomp, complete with an array of traditional instruments like chenda, maddhalam, edekka and thimila; and King Duncan was served a traditional Kerala feast by his host Macbeth. The parts where Macbeth enjoys the percussion with the rhythmic movement of his body, the expressions of the host assuring the king to enjoy the feast and Macbeth's reaction when he has the vision of a dagger, were commendable.
“Whether we could perform stories other than traditional texts in Koodiyattam is an often asked question. When we tried bringing new texts like ‘Macbeth', they were well received and that gave us the confidence that we could present any story through this art form. The classical nature and the structural strength evolved through the years have given it the flexibility to accommodate creative experiments,” said Madhu who conceptualised and performed “Macbeth”. But, in doing so he strictly adheres to the traditional tenets of the art form.
When asked how it was to bring in a story from a different cultural background, Madhu said, “Conceptualising the performance was not difficult. We could see that Macbeth also goes though the conflicts, fears, and temptations like any other ordinary person. It is a story that anyone can relate to. In ‘Kootiyattam', bhavam is more important, not the story. What matters is how the artist approaches the text. Here, the performance ends when Macbeth faints on seeing the Birmingham woods approach him, we didn't go ahead to show his death. The perplexed and chaotic situation that Macbeth finds himself in is performed at length. Like this, we explore the areas that could be illustrated beautifully.”
Madhu agrees that the complaints about lack of attention to artforms like Koodiyattam is true. “But, Koodiyattam was never an art of the masses. The audience always consisted of a select group who took genuine interest in it. So there is no point in insisting that everybody should watch it.”
‘Crossings' by Vikram Iyengar explores the character of Lady Macbeth and addresses the questions of gender role and sexual identity, while drawing references from figures in Indian Mythology like Shakthi and Putana. “Through ‘Crossings' we were trying to find out how Indian dance responds to different situations in different cultural contexts. Poetry, lyricism, metaphor, imagery and symbolism are the prominent features of Shakespeare's works and Indian classical dance also works with these elements,” Vikram said.
The annual festival is an attempt to understand how Indian individuals, groups, actors and directors chose to interpret Shakespeare. “It was a coincidence that this time all the performances were based on Macbeth. The three performances show how differently we could interpret a story,” said Ranveer Shah, founder, Prakriti Foundation.
“The appreciation and the audience's response have improved through the years. We learn Shakespeare in schools and colleges, but we may not enjoy or appreciate it much then. This is an opportunity to re-visit those works in a new light. We shouldn't see the story as an old or irrelevant one, the story of Macbeth keeps repeating in our times, for example look at the power play in the corporate world today,” Shah added.