With lines in Hindi and performed as therukoothu, the National School of Drama’s play Macbeth was a fascinatingly seamless transition

Ttherukoothu Julius Caesarhe second year students of National School of Drama, Delhi, enacted Macbeth in Hindi as a therukoothu workshop production recently at the Museum Theatre, Egmore. The workshop was conducted by Guru Sambanda Tambiran, recipient of Sangeet Natak Academy Award this year.

A dark tragedy

Macbeth is the shortest and the most intense of all Shakespearean tragedies. It is described as ‘a dark tragedy’, literally also, wherein, most of the action happen at night or in the twilight hours, and at dark places. There are characters who speak in conspiratorial whispers that creates an atmosphere of scare, suspense and gloom.

Orson Welles, one of the most cerebral among American movie and stage directors, presented Macbeth in voodoo style during the 1930s, choosing an all Afro-American cast, inspired as he was by the presence of the weird sisters in the play. The play was staged in an isle near the Caribbean Islands close to Haiti. This totally different style of presentation received great response.

I had my own apprehension before watching the play — whether therukoothu, an open, somewhat loud and uninhibited folk form from the Tamil region, with stylised dialogue, native music, dance and acting could integrate smoothly with a serious and complex play such as Macbeth, belonging to a totally different cultural genre.

It is a feather in the caps of both the director of the play Rajendran and Guru Sambandan for achieving what seemed impossible. The thematic content of the tragedy and the folk form of presentation at no stage suffered alienation from each other, and, in fact, blended so well to give the spectators a wholesome aesthetic experience.

The actors from Delhi had just one month of intensive training in koothu, a form with which they were not familiar. And it is amazing to see that they had assimilated so much in such a short time. Keeping perfect time to the beat of drums with their fluent dancing feet in consonance with the therukoothu style, they also smoothly exhibited their natural histrionic talents, needed for such scenes as dramatic confrontation. There was perfect coordination between the two styles, merging as one harmonious whole.

Appropriate verses in Tamil, rendered in a stylised manner constitute an intrinsic aspect of koothu, and in this play, those Tamil verses were translated elegantly into Hindi (by Raghuvir Sahay) and sung in the same way without sounding discordant.

Ajay Kumar, the music director, had done a great job in this regard. The brilliant abstract design in strong colours for the set and costumes by Natesh brought the theme of the play into proper focus, suggesting violence and ambition.

Shakespeare could not have exactly anticipated his work being performed by the National School of Drama in Hindi and in therukoothu style.

But, he was, for sure, confident about the longevity and universal appeal of his own creations, as he had prophesied through Cassius in Julius Caesar:

‘How many ages hence

Shall this our lofty scene be acted over

In States unborn and accents yet unknown!’

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