Rajat Kapoor, who directed Hamlet, The Clown Prince is at it again. This time, he’s created a clown version of As You Like It. We’re in conversation with Kapoor and friend Vinay Pathak.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” writes Shakespeare in As You Like It. Perhaps, he doesn’t take into account the directors.
They set the rules for other players, but break them too.
We’re scheduled to meet director Rajat Kapoor at 4.45pm at their rehearsal space in Andheri. Ironically, the play in question is Kapoor’s take on As You Like It (see box). It’s yet another clown version, the approach that worked brilliantly when he presented Hamlet as the ‘Clown Prince’. Naturally, we’re excited.
We’ll get till 5.30, we’ve been warned. After that, it’s time for practice. Forty minutes. Sure, that sounds good.
However, we haven’t accounted for Kapoor’s movie-star-like sense of punctuality. Or his impatience.
Kapoor turns up at 5.15pm, along with his long-time-friend, collaborator and actor Vinay Pathak. The message is clear, though unsaid: we have 15 minutes. A quick 10-minute photo op to go? We must be out of our minds.
Practice can’t wait. Reporters, unfortunately, do.
We comply, like the Bard’s “mere players”.
You two have had a long creative association. Do you remember your first meeting?
Rajat Kapoor: We met six months back at Café Coffee Day (laughs).
Vinay Pathak: I think it was Barista. I don’t go to CCD.
RK: In my memory, it’s CCD. I’m sure it was over coffee somewhere.
VP: I recall the BEST bus stop outside NCPA where I met him the first time.
RK: I remember clearly the first time we met was at Ketan’s (director Ketan Mehta) office. Vinay had just come to Mumbai, and Ketan was one of the first people he met. I was there because I was writing something. That’s where we met; then we went to Café Mondegar.
VP: It was in the December of 1994.
RK: And in January 1995, there was a film festival in Mumbai, and we hung out a lot, watching films together.
VP: We watched Pulp Fiction together, and the Fellini retrospective.
RK: I don’t think there can be a more detailed description of our earliest memories (smiles).
But the two of you didn’t collaborate on plays till 1999.
RK: Yes, C For Clowns opened in 1999. We started rehearsals around October 1998, and the play premiered in February. In a way, it was the first play for me. It was mounted without a script. Until then, Vinay and I hadn’t worked together. We were just friends, and would hang out a lot.
VP: But workwise, as artists – not as actor-director per se – our first project together was when I dubbed for a taxi driver’s character for his film, Private Detective, in 1997.
In all these years, have there been creative differences?
RK: Hasn’t happened till date.
VP: Actually, I don’t tell him, even if there are any (laughs).
RK: But our differences never become conflicts.
VP: Yes, differences do happen, but we find a way to address them.
RK: Or, maybe, not address them. It’s similar to what happens in many marriages. You let the differences go unnoticed.
The Shakespeare obsession seems unrelenting (As You Like It is Kapoor’s fourth Shakespearean adaptation after Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear).
VP: It’s his love of Shakespeare and my fear of it. I’m petrified of Shakespeare.
RK: I had translated Taming of the Shrew in 1994 for Chingari, my theatre group in Delhi. I knew the text well, and I spent three months translating it. But it was only when I watched the performance that I really laughed. I understood that you can only understand Shakespeare when you see it. For me, the only way to decode Shakespeare is to perform it.
VP: In school, I read Charles Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare, and the first Shakespeare play I had read was The Tempest.
RK: But it really doesn’t matter which play we’re doing. The real joy is in working with Vinay. This is our fifth play together, which I’ve directed. Otherwise, we’ve done six plays together in 15 years. It’s a long journey.
VP: And this is the only way we get to hang out for a stretch. Otherwise, we are both busy, and meet about thrice a month. When we’re doing a play, we meet almost every day.
RK: And then we travel with the plays. It’s great fun.
As You Like It is also travelling to Delhi after it’s Mumbai premiere.
RK: Yes, it will.
VP: After that, we’ll go to different continents. We’re even open to the idea of performing at weddings.
RK: Just let us know about your requirements.
How did the idea of mixing clowns and Shakespeare first come about?
RK: Like I said, the first play we did was the C for Clowns. The idea then was to just do a play with clowns. Eventually, we came up with a script as we worked on it. And then, I got fascinated with this idea of clowns. My next play was Hamlet. I thought, let’s try making clowns do Shakespeare. It was a scary proposition. Even the cast was sceptical. But it worked out fine.
Vinay, do you have plans of directing Rajat in the future?
RK: That would be nice actually.
VP: That would be great, but I don’t think it will be in theatre. I still feel like a novice on stage.
I Don’t Like It. As You Like It premieres on March 5 at 7.30pm. You can also watch the play on March 6, at 4pm and 7.30pm at Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.
It stars Vinay Pathak, Cyrus Sahukar, Aadar Malik and Faezah Jalali, among others. It’s about a troupe of clowns trying to pull off a production of As You Like It, and how their own lives and personalities come to influence it.