Monday, November 16, 2009

A masterpiece in clownery

KOCHI: The comedy in tragedy and the tragedy in comedy came alive through the heights of clownery at the Fine Arts Hall on Sunday evening. ‘Hamlet the Clown Prince’ would even have had Shakespeare holding his sides with laughter. ‘Hamlet’ turned into an incredible comedy in the hands of Bollywood actor Rajat Kapoor and his team.

Rajat Kapoor’s Hamlet twists and turns the Bard’s words and squeezes out the essence of his works in comic tones. The play has a group of clowns choosing the play Hamlet for their show and thus ‘Hamlet’ unfolds through their thoughts and perspective, full of wit and humour. It turns out to be a spoof of the original with crisp dialogue in English and gibberish layered with meaning and double meaning.

The way the characters introduce themselves and the play had everyone in throes of laughter, so was the way they chose the cast. Who’ll play Hamlet? A clown who knows the least about the play opts for it. “In Hamlet everybody dies,” he says which is contradicted by the rest. He pokes fun at Elizabethan English, Shakespeare’s use of the words thy, thou...which are replaced by modern words. The team has written and devised the play very cleverly. The names of the characters adds a dose of fun - Hamee for Hamlet.

King Claudius and his newlywed queen (who happens to be prince Hamee’s mother and the dead King’s wife), Polonius, Laeartes, Ophelia, the ghost and all the other characters were superb in the guise of the six clowns. The original dialogues and the poking fun of at the original was fantastic, the digressions awesome.

The appearance of the ghost, his dumb charades to communicate the truth behind his murder, the way Hamlet figures it out makes one wonder how the serious ‘Hamlet’ can be made so funny.

The question who killed the king has Claudius replying that ‘god did it’. Just as any father, his father and his father’s father will die and the life cycle goes on.

The play is like death’s head on the table, reminding one of the transience of life, how death is a leveller and nobody can escape it. Hamlet says you will die sometime, and addresses one from the audience and says ‘you might even die today.’ What’s your ‘to be or not to be’, ‘to do or not to do’? the audience is asked, and Hamlet’s weakness, procrastination, comes to the fore. Each comic aspect is laced with meaning in the modern context.

The actors form a level of intimacy with the audience by interacting with them. “Words, words, words.” Even Ophelia tells a member of the audience not to trust a beloved to show what Hamlet has done to her.

Local elements too have been introduced, playing on words like Kochi and Ernakulam which confuses a stranger’s ear, and the Malayalam word ‘illa, illa’ The songs from Lion King and the dance steps, a tribute to Michael Jackson, and many other references are contemporary. The play delves into every aspect of modern life and makes it socially relevant and contemporary through intercultural exchanges and new modes of expression. Rajat and his team have written and devised the play in such a way that the Elizabethan play finds relevance today with the introduction of many anachronisms like the ringing of a mobile phone. Even the unemotional and detached way in which Hamlet speaks to his father’s ghost, his uncle and Ophelia, speak of a modern era - down to earth and not so contemplative like the real Hamlet. The soliloquies, asides and play within a play through clownery were mind-boggling.

Everyone dies in the duel, and as Hamlet ends his monologue, -this and more I can deliver, you feel the words in ‘As You Like It’, ‘All the world’s a stage and all men and women players.....’ ringing in your ears.

Atul Kumar, Puja Sarup, Sujay Saple, Namit Das, Rachel D’souza and Neil Bhoopalam with their flawless dialogue delivery, spontaneous acting won the hearts of the audience. The simple setting, props, stunning lighting by Gulshan Deviah, superb sound by Asmit Pathare, the back stage support from Sumit Kohli and Tanya Ghaavri’s costumes took one to an out-of-joint-time in the state of Denmark where something’s wrong.

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