In March, theatre director Rajat Kapoor staged an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. The play opened to a full house. Three months later, Kapoor is now back with another clowning piece based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This is his fourth Shakespearean adaptation after King Lear, As You Like It, and Hamlet. “I have learnt, over the years, that we only understand Shakespeare when the script is performed. One doesn’t understand it while reading it. That’s why I continue to stage his works, to try and understand them better,” says Kapoor. We couldn’t help but notice Shakespeare’s quotes on his shoes — ‘Double, double, toil and trouble’, ‘Too nice and yet too true’ — as we spoke to him in his office in Bandra (W).
While many say that Shakespeare is timeless, Kapoor explains the statement from a different perspective. He says that human beings have not changed much in terms of their core values since Shakespeare’s days. Hence, the ethos stays the same. “Our problems, moods and needs are the same. Emotionally, we have not evolved, we are still where we were centuries ago. Hence, if you think of greed or ambition, there is nothing beyond Macbeth; if you think about jealousy, there’s Othello; for an existential quest, there’s Hamlet; if you think of old age, King Lear is your food for thought. Shakespeare takes each one of these human emotions and goes to the extreme possible depths of each,” says the director.
With Shakespeare’s plays, the audience is often divided into purists, who are not in favour of modern retellings, and those who don’t mind experimentation. Kapoor, however, doesn’t see the point of staging the Bard’s plays in “their traditional form”. “Even if I was doing Oedipus Rex or Shakuntalam, it would still be a reinvention. Shakespeare, when traditionally performed, is the most boring thing in the world. I can’t stand those productions for even five minutes,” he says. Thus, in his new play — which stars Jim Sarbh, Tillotama Shome, Kalki Koechlin, Mansi Multani, Vinay Pathak and Ranvir Shorey — the Scottish king, Macbeth, becomes Macky B in a corporate set-up. “Although the setting has changed, it is still a very political play about greed and guilt,” adds Kapoor.
Kapoor’s forte lies in using clowns to tell stories. He used clowning for the first time in C For Clowns. His earlier play, What’s Done Is Done, employs the use of “dark clowns”. But this time, we will see “scary clowns”, who will also act as outsiders, and give us a third-person’s perspective of the characters. “Clowns are able to comment on the play within the play itself. They can stop and say, ‘Why is Macbeth doing this? Is he mad? Can’t he see, he is going to fall?’ It gives the audience a bit of distance from the play. So, you can be in the play, come out of it, and go back all in the same scene. That is exciting,” he says.
Work in progress
Interestingly, the play does not have a fixed script. The actors are expected to improvise at different stages to develop it, thereby, contributing to the entire process. “There is no script; the play grows every day. It is in development till it reaches 20 shows. Once it is fixed, about 98% of it will remain the same. It is quite a challenge for the actors because they go in blind. We don’t know what the play will finally shape up to be. We don’t know if it will work or whether there will be laughs,” he says.
Ask him about his favourite Shakespearean play, and pat comes the response: “Richard III is thrilling. The play has this mad idea of killing a woman’s husband and then seducing her. Wow, how does somebody manage that?”