After nine years, Mohan Maharishi’s play, “Othello”, is setto be performed in the Capital.
Back in 2005, renowned playwright, director, teacher and actor, Mohan Maharishi, had picked up William Shakespeare’s “Othello”, the concept of “Hanamichi” from traditional Japanese Kabuki performance, and seasoned actors like Shreevardhan Trivedi, Mahendra Mewati, Harwinder Kaur, Hema Bisht, to give us Natwa Theatre Company’s premiere, and highly impressive performance.
Just short of a decade later, Maharishi has once again turned to the same play. “This is a very different performance from the one before. Last time, I had used the concept of Hamamichi, constructing a bridge and splitting the stage in two. For this play, I've used a different device.”
He gestures towards the stage, where the rehearsals carry on in full swing. “The entire backstage is exposed. I am not going to cover it, and the audience will be able to see what is usually not a part of the performance.”
The idea, Maharishi tells me, is to reinforce the idea of theatre. “The raw sight of the backstage makes the fact that you are watching a play even more real.” The last time Maharishi had used this device, though partially, had been for his famous play, Einstein. “I had exposed the lighting equipment, lowering it halfway, momentarily blinding the audience.”
This time, Maharishi is working with second year students from the National School of Drama (NSD). “None of them have had professional public appearances before. They carry those little mannerisms from amateur theatre that were very pronounced when we started, but now, they have all but lost them.” Two groups of students form two casts for the play, and while initially Maharishi performed short scenes with both groups one after the other, the rehearsals are in their final stage now, and Maharishi runs through the entire play with one group, and then repeats it with the other. “I’m working with two groups so that everyone gets a chance to act. Yes, this is a public performance, but it is also an important learning experience for them.”
Watching the veteran director in action is a pleasure, and under his directions, the almost bare, L-shaped stage of NSD’s Abhimanch, comes alive.
He issues comments, compliments and criticisms in equal parts, and each advice adds a little more to the performance.
There is an untiring quality to Maharishi, and he runs through each scene multiple times till it’s perfect.
During a much deserved break, he tells me that while translating the play, he chose to turn to Urdu. “I didn’t use the Harivanshrai Bachchan style of pure Hindi translation. The Urdu words in the dialogues place the play somewhere in the Middle East, lending it the air of a distant land.” While Maharishi has changed neither the setting nor the characters, the play a translation as well as an adaptation.
He accepts that the sheer idea of performing it in India means that it goes through changes.
In a country where theatre from each region is placed in its own cultural context, each play is perceived and performed differently, even thought the script remains the same.
Maharishi also feels it incredibly important to involve the actors in the process of adapting the play. “I sat down with the actors and the characters they played were shaped by them. They have their own take on each character, based on their own inclinations and nature. If they weren’t involved in the process, the performance would be wooden, detached,” he adds.
While the dates are yet to be confirmed, the play is scheduled to open in the first week of April, and promises to be worth a watch.