On his 450th Birth Anniversary, Shakespeare continues to evoke passion and excitement in Indian theatre

D. Reghuthaman, Abhinaya Theatre, Thiruvananthapuram

Ever heard Prospero conversing in Sanskrit and Malayalam? The spectators at Globe Theatre, England, did as they watched the adaptation of The Tempest, presented by Footsbarn Theatre, Paris. Five of the actors were from India and the rest of the cast were made up of French and English actors, says D. Reguthaman, who played Prospero. “The Tempest was Shakespeare’s last play and the most philosophical one. It reflects Indian themes such as vanaprastha, renouncing material pleasures and concepts of heaven and hell. I interspersed the English lines with Sanskrit shlokas. I also switched between Malayalam, Sanskrit and English. The regional tongue proved effective during angry outbursts of Prospero.” Shakespeare’s plays explore the inner mind’s landscape, he says. “So, even if you pluck him out of his Elizabethan time frame, he still strikes a chord with the modern audience.”

Jalabala Vaidya, Director and actor, Akshara Theatre, New Delhi

“None of us is as good a writer as William Shakespeare. So, why rewrite his lines?” asks Jalabala Vaidya. “I feel there is no need to tweak Shakespeare’s texts. Read those soliloquies and sonnets. The language is so distilled and fine.”

One of Akshara’s most noted adaptations of the bard was that of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Jalabala brought children from Delhi’s privileged schools and its slums on one stage.

“We chose this play because it involved buffoonery. The kids’ uninhibited body language was just perfect for the play,” she recalls.

They employed grand sets, colourful costumes and contemporary and traditional forms of music and dance.

“However, we stayed faithful to the overall spirit of the play.” Next, on her wish list is Julius Caesar.

“In the wake of elections, I can’t think of a better play that resonates well with our times.”

G. Channakeshava, guest faculty, Ninasam Theatre Institute, Karnataka

Shakespeare is always dear to the Kannadigas, says G. Channakeshava. “The legends and myths in his plays are similar to Kannada folk lore. For instance, we believe in marikadu (witch forest) which moves when the mari is angry. It is similar to the forest imagery in Macbeth. Also, witches and bhooth poojas are part of our belief system.” Channakeshava has designed A Midsummer Night’s Dreams, and directed Macbeth with the students of Ninasam. “For Macbeth, we used our voices to create ambience sounds of foot steps. We used the entire space of the auditorium to act.” The play was translated by Kannada poet and writer, Ramachandra Deva. Indian playwrights identify with Shakespeare because he weaves in elements of Greek mythology, which are similar to the Indian legends, says Channakeshava. “Also the way he depicts people from all classes is similar to our ancient Sanskrit plays where the vidushak and the king are given equal importance. Shakespeare caters not just to the elite but the working class, too.”

Atul Kumar, The Company Theatre, Mumbai

Can theatre lovers of Coimbatore forget the face of the heart-broken clown, who was shunned by his daughter? Nothing Like Lear, presented by Cinematograph and TheCompany Theatre, told the story of King Lear, from the eyes of a clown. It was staged at the Metroplus Theatre fest in the city two years ago. Atul, who played the clown, made us laugh and cry. “I have always done more of Shakespeare’s tragedies than his comedies. But we felt that approaching them through the eyes of a clown might help the audience have a better grasp of the character’s world.” Atul’s theatre company has also adapted Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night into Piya Behrupiya. Designed like a musical, it is a Hindi version of the bard’s play, featuring Indian folk traditions. Many did not enjoy the musical part of it, says Atul. “But, many loved it too. And, I do not bother much about the purists. I have always been blasphemous with every book, I have picked up.” Every time he reads a play of Shakespeare, the bard leaves him in awe, says Atul. “The only reason why after so many years so many people still deal with him on and off stage is because of his artistry, grip of understanding human life and its complication, and the joys and sorrows.”

M.U. Praveen, actor and playwright, Calicut

It is marriage of Macbeth, The Tempest and Othello in Shakespeare Restaurant, penned by M.U Praveen. The play is set in a restaurant, which acts as a metaphor for the island, conquered by Prospero.

The main characters of the play are Don the restaurant owner and Martin, the waiter. The three witches of Macbeth appear as three cooks who tell Martin that Don snatched the restaurant away from his mother. Martin slays Don and becomes the owner of the restaurant. The scheming cooks, then, poison his mind with the lie that his wife is unfaithful to him.

This is where Othello comes in. Martin, like Othello, kills his wife. “Finally, the audience finds out that these three cooks have been orchestrating the murders of all the previous hotel owners." says Praveen. The actor-turned-playwright, who has also directed an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “Each of his play is an open book, so malleable to varied interpretations.”