No fear Shakespeare!

Updated on Apr 16, 2016 08:23 PM IST

If a person has never read Shakespeare this is the gang to come to, or so claims Rajat Kapoor and Vinay Pathak, who are funning up the works of the Bard of Avon for the uninitiated

Vinay Pathak (L) and Rajat Kapoor (R) calls their adaptations of Shakespeare, the revenge of the fools (Alok Soni)
Vinay Pathak (L) and Rajat Kapoor (R) calls their adaptations of Shakespeare, the revenge of the fools (Alok Soni)

Hamlet the Clown Prince. Nothing Like Lear. What is Done is Done (based on Macbeth). For the last eight years, director/actor Rajat Kapoor, and his long-time partner in crime, Vinay Pathak, have been ODing on Shakespeare, reworking his tragedies for the Indian stage in innovative ways. Now they’re back with I Don’t Like It As You Like It, their first attempt at a Shakespearean comedy. The play will be staged under the Aadyam banner at Delhi’s Kamani Auditorium next weekend .

“We are planning to stage all the plays back-to-back soon in Bangalore. It will be quite an experience. Vinay might go mad though, as he is acting in all four!” laughs Kapoor.

“Yes, and that is why I wanted to do Kalidas’s Meghdootam instead. It is perfect for clowning. And also it is an adult play,” winks Pathak.

Why so serious?

Hamlet was supposed to be a one-off experiment by the group. “Fifteen years ago, we did C for Clown. The idea was to just experiment with clowning. We had no script. Abhi toh phir bhi Shakespeare saab ka sahara hai!” says Kapoor.

In 2008, Kapoor decided to try a classical text through clowning and see what it yields. Though most of the cast were frequent collaborators, the idea of turning the tragic story of the Prince of Denmark into a clowning act met with tough resistance.

“I doubt I would have gone ahead with such an idea, if it wasn’t Rajat’s play,” says Pathak. “The fact that we knew each other so well and worked together for so long certainly helped me take that decision.”

Again, there was no written script. The play evolved during the rehearsals. “We started with the Shakespeare text but wanted to build something out of that,” says Kapoor.

He decided to intersperse Shakespearean dialogues with gibberish, something that become one of the most endearing aspects of these plays. But the play’s real essence is never compromised. “We move characters around, we swap speeches, and so on. But it still remains the same play,” says Kapoor.

Then came Kapoor’s take on King Lear. This was difficult because while C Is For Clown had become the motherboard of all his plays, Kapoor didn’t want his Lear to seem like an extension of his Hamlet. “The text of Lear was our biggest departure from the original,” says Kapoor. “We made it into a solo. It was the most difficult of our plays.”

In contrast, Kapoor’s version of Macbeth was close to the original text. In What is Done is Done, even the clowns are scary. “Again, as in the previous two, we took the meat and left the gravy out,” says Kapoor. “In Macbeth, the first two acts are great, but the third, fourth and fifth acts are like a sappy soap opera. So we removed them.”

Given these tragedies, you’d have thought Kapoor’s fifth play based on Shakespeare would be something like Othello or Romeo and Juliet, but no. It’s a comedy instead, As You Like It. Kapoor was intrigued by the play’s almost non-stop gender-benders.

“Rosalind dresses up as a guy and become Ganymede, but in Shakespearean times this Rosalind would be played by a guy,” explains Kapoor. “So a guy plays a girl who is playing a guy… what a mindboggling thing!”

Everyone is a fool, but the Fool

The cast of I Don’t Like It As You Like It comprises Vinay Pathak, Joy Fernandes, Cyrus Sahukar, Rytasha Rathore, Aadar Malik, Shruti Vyas and Faezah Jalali (Pic Courtesy: Aadyam)
The cast of I Don’t Like It As You Like It comprises Vinay Pathak, Joy Fernandes, Cyrus Sahukar, Rytasha Rathore, Aadar Malik, Shruti Vyas and Faezah Jalali (Pic Courtesy: Aadyam)

The Fool is a character usually associated with crude amusement. But in Shakespearean plays, he is often the character who takes the story forward with his unbiased perspective.

“For the first seven days of Hamlet, that was our discussion: Are our clowns Shakespearean fools or not?” says Kapoor. “The clowns, just like Shakespeare’s fools, can call you names and then say ‘oh, I was just joking’. They are not bound by norms of social decorum and not obligated to make politically correct statements.”

Clowning, in the broad sense of the term, was always an integral part of the Shakespearean world, adds Pathak. “But though the fool plays such an important part, the poor guy never gets to play the hero,” he says.

That’s why every character in Kapoor’s Shakespeare adaptations wears a red nose. “The nose brings with it a certain liberty to do and say things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to,” says Pathak. “You can call our adaptations the revenge of the fools!”

Shakespeare for dummies

Neither Kapoor nor Pathak is a Shakespeare fan. “I was scared of Shakespeare in school,” says Kapoor. “I still can’t sit through conventionally staged Shakespearean plays for more than five minutes.”

But it’s precisely that lack of adulation that helped him turn these plays on their head. “It is important for an artiste to be irreverent, to do justice to his own creativity,” he explains. “We wanted people who have not read Shakespeare to be able to understand the play, and those who have read it to be doubly happy with how we have approached the story and edited it.”

Pathak says their Shakespeare plays are an antibiotic for those who get a fever at the thought of reading the originals! “If you don’t understand Shakespeare, these plays are a must for you. This is the real No Fear Shakespeare!” Pathak laughs. “But seriously, no matter how often you read Shakespeare, you understand it only when you perform it. Shakespeare was meant to be staged, not read in classrooms. Though that doesn’t mean I am advocating the removal of The Merchant of Venice from your school syllabus!”

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From HT Brunch, April 17, 2016

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    Ananya Ghosh is an assistant editor with Hindustan Times Brunch. She has 10 years of experience as a journalist having worked as a copy editor/feature writer in various publications.

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