Shakespeare’s works are classic, yet one theatre director-actor who always manges to adapt and recreate them for the masses is Atul Kumar. Popular in movies due to his role of shrewd lawyer in the film Talvar, and famous in theatre because of his clowning act, the thespian talks about his love-hate relationship with Shakespeare and why he shies away from acting in cinema.
“My adaptations of Shakespeare are a retaliation to the fact that I never understood him,” says Kumar taking the discussion back to his childhood days in Delhi. “I’m a Dilliwallah. I was born and brought up in Dilli 6 and English was far away from me. I came from a Hindi-speaking background and it was very difficult for me to understand Shakespeare and I was partly afraid of him because I didn’t understand the language. So, when I started doing theatre, I thought of adapting Shakespeare while making it meaningful,” says Kumar whose popular play Piya Behrupiya is an adaptation of Twelfth Night.
Recently in the city to present his new direction Khwaab-Sa, which is an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Kumar says the one thing that hasn’t changed is his friendship with actor-director Rajat Kapoor.
“It all started with the theatre group Chingari. I am from Chandni Chowk and Rajat is from Ansari Road (Daryaganj), so we used to hang out together. My father expired when I was 13. Being from a typical Marwari family, I had the pressure and compulsion of joining the family business. But by the age of 15 I had decided what I wanted to do and shifted to France post JNU, to learn and work in theatre.”
Earlier Sanjay (Leela Bhansali) asked me to be part of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and more recently Vishal (Bhardwaj) saw one of my plays and said that I have to be part of his upcoming film Rangoon.
What keeps him away from Hindi cinema? “I see all my friends, including Rajat, making films, and understand that it takes too much from you. I know some people feel that I look down upon films but the fact is I watch more movies than I watch plays. And there are too many of my friends in Bombay (Mumbai), who are in cinema that at times a few of them cajole me to do certain characters. Earlier Sanjay (Leela Bhansali) pulled me to be part of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and more recently Vishal (Bhardwaj) saw one of my plays and said that I have to be part of his upcoming film, which is Rangoon.”
Mention the popularity of his characters in films, and he says, “I know that cinema has a reach, which is much more than that of theatre. Recently I was with my wife in Spain and a woman on the road recognised me as the lawyer from Talvar. But when someone stops me and asks are you the one who plays Hamlet in Prithvi Theatre, the joy that I get is immense.”
What’s next in his creative mind? “I want to create a day-long play where I can make an entire city, like Delhi, my stage. Think what if the audiences can be moved around on cues provided by the director and experience an extraordinary work of theatre? Let’s see how it happens...”