All the Fools’ world

It is not an exception to use the insignificant for higher designs. Shakespeare had done it all with his fools ~ cakes and ale that spoke of buried grief and revenge. Touchstone and Feste, the two famous fools, hold tight to sanity and wisdom when the rest of the characters around them were busy weaving illusions. So, most of the plays of Shakespeare, that were known to comedy, had emphatic undercurrents of love and tragedy as well. The clown, thus, had always been the wisest one.

But director Rajat Kapoor’s says that it is just his fascination with the clowns that drove him to make C for Clown (staged for Odeon 2006, GD Birla Sabhagar) and Hamlet, The Clown Prince (staged for Odeon 2008, GD Birla Sabhagar). No, it is not the Shakespearian fools that have inspired him; instead it is the whole generation of clowns and court jesters to whom the play is a tribute. Rajat says it is mostly Charlie Chaplin that has lead to his clown fixation. Hamlet, the clown Prince pulls it from where it ended with C for Clown. So, is it a sequel to the play? No and Yes. Each play tells a different story so not a sequel. But with Bozo, Soso, Popov and Fifi on stage it could possibly be one, says Rajat.

Jangled, bitter, out of tune, harsh…the turmoil within Hamlet looms large over the stage in more than many ways. The play touches upon various aspects, but none of them does it stick to giving it various dimensions. To exemplify, the play begins with a clown talking about a lot of things in his unending accentuated ‘gibberish’, the language in which the play proceeds further. Unaccustomed ears tune themselves to what he is saying and one could make out, it is the circle of life that the clown goes on about and then he says, “All this and much more can I truly deliver.” He does that indeed.

No, the play was not an adaptation of Shakespeare’s’ Hamlet. It was just a story of six clowns who are tired of playing comedy and happy with the houseful Sabhagar decides to play a tragedy ~ Hamlet. The play then uses the uses the original play as a medium to put on stage everybody’s own preference to which they tilt and stretch the story. And this is how the play progresses with every character’s ambition, joy, sorrow, revenge and much more. They misinterpret the play, deleting and adding phrases from the original play only to discover the plot in its modern context. What makes the play stand out is the wonderful improvisation that strikes a cord with the audience instantly. The clown who comes late and wants to play Hamlet says how he was confused with a theatre in a temple basement. “Theatre or temple? In Bombay, theatre is theatre, temple is temple”
The play eventually see-saws between the reality and illusion, conflicting viewpoints and incidents around us to curdle out what meaning way deeper than what is visible. The circle of life that the clown talks about in the prelude is repeated again and again by another clown and the egg he always keeps with himself. The egg symbolising life is called afin (a fin, in end). When one of the clowns talks of the play as that of blood and guts everywhere, another chips in saying, dirty dancing. The actor coming in late says, “I forgive you (audience) for coming early.” The ghost is an insignificant one who tries to hog light by showing off his dance skills. The line, “frailty thy name this woman” is followed by “Hamlet could have been a woman” and just when the shattered Hamlet says, “can part with nothing else than my life,” Another barges in saying, “Afin hatched!”

And the audience is rebuked by Hamlet: “You breed this?” Earlier, he had said, Kolkata has had enough of tragedies). And then there is the ‘Fatso’ who always gets the bedroom on stage. The play is a perfect amalgamation of various elements. The audience, moved by Ophelia’s condition, is poked to laugh by the dancing clown and then pulled into the trauma that Hamlet is going through. It has been long time since Kolkata last saw of such an experimental and interactive theatre. And why not, Rajat Kapoor has always been known to break away from the stereotype.

Hamlet is the second production of Cinematograph, founded by Rajat Kapoor in Mumbai, in 1999. His association with theatre dates back to 1982. Theater happened by accident when he joined Alliance Francais, Delhi to learn French. Apart from French, he picked nuances of stage craft by working in its theatre group; the director later formed ‘Chingari’ with friends. Even after he graduated from FTII, Pune, and shifted to base to Mumbai he continued working with the group. His film career taking off he took a nine year break from directing plays, though he had found time to act in Blue Mug directed by Atul Kumar. His latest production Hamlet, The Clown Prince, is done in the same style by clowns, in English and gibberish, with long time collaborator Atul Kumar (who branched out to form his own group The Company Theatre). “We have edited the text, turned it around and are hoping to keep the essentials and look for the essence of Hamlet,” says Kapoor.

Gibberish in which the play is makes it even more unique. And truly, no other language could have done justice to the play better than this. But why play with nobody and no language? Is it an idea from the American Absurds, the notion of ‘nobody’ to represent ‘everybody’? Especially, when he had earlier worked on Albee. Rajat says if the play is taken that deep, it may be but it is simply a stylization that he used. “This kind of stylization allows you greater freedom; you are not bound by anything. Also, this will work what various levels; those who know the text will understand and enjoy it, those who don’t will enjoy it at a different level.” Kapoor and his actors ~ Atul Kumar, Neel Bhopalam, Puja Swarup, Sujay Saple, Namit Ghosh and Rachel D’Souza improvised with him and what appears is a funny and intelligent take on Shakespeare’s play about the prince of Denmark whose uncle murdered his father and married his mother, sending Hamlet on a complicated quest for revenge.
So, how is it performing in Kolkata, where the people are known to be theatre lovers and intellectuals? Does Kolkata live up to the hype? “I don’t know yaar,” says Rajat. “We had around 200 shows of the play in Mumbai which means there is quite a good crowd in Mumbai as well.”
But the clowns in the play say that the Kolkata people are intellectuals and they should be given a finer performance….. “They are fools. Don’t believe them,” retorts Rajat. “They have been saying this to every city.”
‘And the rest is silence.’


One thought on “All the Fools’ world

  1. Your take on ‘Hamlet, The Clown Prince’ arouses the desire to write something, perhaps (as) gibberish. Actually, as someone related hopelessly to the theatre practices of Kolkata, Rajat Kapoor’s play, after a v-e-r-y long time, offered me some hope to sit through the whole of it. It entertained my senses; but this enjoyment was disturbing, once I came out of the auditorium, or, the temple. Because I couldn’t explain, even to myself, what was in it that overwhelmed me. Was it the intelligent distortion of the story? Playing around with the well-known (at least, to the intended audience) text? Use of language, gibberish and gibber-English that made the audience pay more attention to the language of theatre? And, as a consequence of which, the audience grabbed the few opportunities to understand verbal language? Maybe all these; but there was something more to it. Perhaps it was not there, it was inside us, who formed the audience. I am not talking about the ‘interactive’ part; it was obviously superficial; it could not compel many of us to interact. Then what was it?
    I agree with your interpretation of the performance as a series of misinterpretations of the original. But I won’t like to look at ‘the original play only to discover the plat [plot? Play?] in its modern context’. It is not contemporaneous to me, at least not spatially. Kapoor and his clowns harp on the mere existence of the original only as a pre-text to the performance. And does it really ‘see-saw between the reality and illusion’? Here comes the much-misunderstood notion of the absurd.
    Absurd is not about illusion and unreal; it explores our realities for meanings through their incongruities. In that sense, this Hamlet may be called absurd. But not for the use of gibberish; spoken language can hamper the theatrical at times, and this play is simply trying to overcome that through this ‘stylization’. I am more for the insignificant, and the everyday in it. If chapliensque is what Kapoor is after, then it seems more appropriate. The tired comedians are trying to enact the tragic, and this attempt itself, being opaque, in a reversal, turns their enactment into a meta-comedy. I believe ‘nobody’ in the audience is identifying with anyone on the stage representing ‘everybody’. On the contrary, everybody shrinks away, looking at their aberrations, excesses. The performance being untranslatable, literally, in a verbal language, seeks mandatory seeing, not looking, at the stage. There being no coherent story, on top of it, makes it impossible for the audience to understand and reduce the performance to a climaxing plot; negates most of our attempts to discern meanings in languages we are accustomed to. Like an Old Comedy, it celebrates, and simultaneously incites a complete critique in us. About the play, and through it, about ourselves. I feel that is one of the reasons why I enjoyed it all, and got disturbed. And thanks to your post, tried to translate these elusive glimpses into a more non-theatrical tongue.


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