The Bard with a desi twist

With their colour, gaiety and Bollywood touches, the three plays presented by Prakriti Foundation as part of its Hamara Shakespeare festival had a distinctly Indian connect

November 14, 2013 04:35 pm | Updated 05:32 pm IST - chennai:

The Winter's Tale. Photo: M. Karunakaran

The Winter's Tale. Photo: M. Karunakaran

From the time Prakriti Foundation presented its first Hamara Shakespeare theatre festival, it has succeeded in bringing an interesting range of work to audiences in Chennai.

This year the fare was outstanding, each troupe was true to the form in which it presented the play.

The Winter’s Tale

It is a tale of jealousy, guilt, romance and redemption. The blind suspicion of a king weaves a labyrinth, leading characters into the dark corridors of death and suffering. Till youth brings with it light and cheer, love and reconciliation.

The Winter’s Tale is a play that is not staged often. Tadpole and Wide Aisle, two of Delhi’s theatre troupes, presented it for this festival. And what a tale they made of it! The young cast worked in perfect unison and succeeded in pulling off a work filled with vitality. The acting, the setting and the inspired direction brought all the elements together into a cohesive whole. This was a promenade performance. The audience moved with the actors — from the confines of the auditorium to the softly lit canopy of the great banyan tree and then to the lyrical surroundings of the lily pond, in the satin folds of the night.

English and Hindi, speech and song, the tragic and the comic, came seamlessly together in the narrative. The young directors Neel Chaudhuri and Anirudh Nair skilfully stitched action and dialogue in their bilingual, visually arresting production. The shearing festival brings colour, gaiety, acrobatics, clowning and Bollywood type songs, a wonderful medley that makes Shakespeare Bilkul Hamara . The grown-up princess is wooed by her prince, while the pedlar-cheat-trickster makes his way into our hearts.

The pond offers the final moments when the penitent king is reunited with his daughter and son-in-law (who is the son of his wronged friend). And the “statue” comes to life in a magical climax.

The costumes, the lights and the music all effectively contributed to the play’s success .The delivery of the lines in English was good. But some of the actors needed more voice training for they could not throw their voices well, essential in a Shakespearean play.

And why art thou so poorly lit up, Kalakshetra? It was a wonder no member of the audience tripped or fell in the inky darkness as he or she stumbled around.

King Lear

Badshah Pather in Kashmiri was based on King Lear . Directed with sensitivity by M. K. Raina, it was presented in the folk theatre style — bhand pather — which this well-known theatre personality has helped revive in the State.

The story of the king driven out of his mind by the cruelties perpetrated by his children has universal application. Shakespeare’s epic tale of kingly arrogance, blind judgment and a royal fall, with the cruelty unleashed by Nature in tune with the cruelty of man, lent itself eloquently to this folk theatre style thanks to the director’s sensitive approach and the performers’ emotional involvement. The tragedy of two fathers — Lear and Gloucester — was played out in epic proportions with the song and dance of the folk performers coming in at the right moments.

The music of the swarni, the pipe typical of this form, eloquently underlined the mood as did the taals of the dhol. The songs were classical Sufi songs, according to the director’s note, from the 12th to the 15th century. Though bhand pather is traditionally performed in the open air, the play metamorphosed well on the proscenium stage thanks to the fine direction and the costumes, designed by the National School of Drama students which gave the production a formal feel. This is essentially a satirical form of theatre, the director pointed out, but as the language was faintly comprehensible only wherever it had shades of Hindi, one was not able to gather much of this. The jesters endemic to the form made the play a suitable vehicle for bhand pather; the jesters here outdid themselves.

The lead actor made a fine Lear. When his whip, the symbol of authority and oppression, is snatched away from his hands, his disbelieving gaze conveyed all there was about loss of power.

A unique touch here was that the daughters of Lear were replaced by sons as the actors said daughters in Kashmir would never disown their fathers! The play deals with the partition of land which the director explained could be related to by the actors as it expressed their apprehensions. The storm scene was evocative.

Those conversant with the dialogues in Shakespeare’s text would have appreciated the play more than the others. If only one had the facility of translated subtitles as it happens in leading theatre festivals of the world when multilingual productions are presented! That would be fair to both performers and viewers.

Twelfth Night

“If music be the food of love, play on...”

And so they played on in Piya Behrupiya , the Hindi version of Twelfth Night directed by Atul Kumar.

Translated into easy colloquial Hindi by Amitosh Nagpal, this was a riotous comedy that provided a grand finale to the festival. The actors threw themselves with incredible zest into their roles and took the audience along on an evening of glorious fun and entertainment, Mistaken identities, unreciprocated love, love sick dukes and drunken revels — all the elements of the play were intact but touched with the alchemy of a different language and culture with songs, dances and tomfoolery to liven it up. The play lived in every scene and Shakespeare never seemed so Indian and culturally relevant as here, though again those who did not know Hindi would be at a disadvantage. The comedy and farce often tipped into the burlesque and there was little of the serious. This was a play that had decided to provide the maximum fun, not all of it perhaps in keeping with the tone of the original but the audience went along since it was such a merry ride. These were superbly talented actors whose expressions seem to change like quicksilver and they all sang incredibly well — either solo or in chorus. The amazingly gifted woman actor who played Viola in male disguise put in a stunning performance. The artistes who played Duke Orsino, Olivia, Sebastian, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, Maria, Malvolio and Feste were all near perfect. The actors had perfect synergy and the director was in total command. The costumes were colourfully Indian and the musicians played with gusto in this evening of sheer entertainment where comedy ruled. An excellent example of a play in this genre, the production was commissioned for the London Olympics by the Globe Theatre.

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