A Clown's Take on Shakespeare
Photos: Arif Hafiz
The idea of a bunch of clowns trying to bring to life one of the greatest tragedies in the history of English Literature on stage -- what could be more ironic than that? Granted -- for students who had to slave through this tragedy, write essays on the confused prince of Denmark and also analyse the various levels of incestuous relationships popping up on every other page, watching Hamlet on stage would probably not be a weekend priority for young people. On May 18, 2012, however, a theatre troupe from Mumbai, India, practically had many fondly remembering their school days and possibly even thanking their English Literature teachers for having them study this Shakespeare masterpiece.
Organised by Excalibur Entertainment - Jatrik Culturepot, sponsored by Airtel and produced and directed by Rajat Kapoor, a well-known name in the Indian film industry especially when it comes to parallel films and stories, Hamlet: The Clown Prince, a 100-minute-long play took place at the capital's Radisson Blu. To make a long story short, the six characters (Atul Kumar, Sujay Saple, Neil Bhoopalam, Puja Sarup, Kalki Koechlin and Namit Das) depict the idea of having a play within a play, while reflecting on the practical problems and issues that six clowns would have while trying to enact a tragedy for an expectant audience.
Interestingly enough, elements from the cotemporary world would constantly 'clash' with the age-old ones from the play, much to the disappointment of the 'ring master' or the leader of the group, played by Sujay Saple, who portrayed a great deal of energy on stage which. Neil Bhoopalam (Fido the clown playing Claudius) and his short span of attention would have the audience roaring with laughter. Not only was he always trying to show off his disco moves and the MJ moonwalk from time to time, but would also bring up elements from the Disney production Lion King and how he thought both the stories (Hamlet and Lion King) sounded the same to him. "Who're you gonna call? Ghostbusters!" escapes his mouth when he encounters the ghost of the king, Hamlet's slain father.
Theatre may seem to be a very simple medium of expression, but it is indeed very complex. One would have to strike a perfect balance between the technical aspects -- voice modulation, make up, props -- and playing a different character, which sometimes takes years of practice and observation. Students of theatre are constantly lectured on the power of improvisation and how the ability to improvise properly can take a play to a different level. That is what Atul Kumar (Soso the clown playing Hamlet) proved. Right after he is screamed at for coming in 20 minutes late, his improvised excuses had the hall screaming with laughter. In English and Gibberish, the form of 'languages' used in the play, Soso explains his ordeals of reaching Dhaka city in the middle of a strike and then being pushed inside an ambulance. Frightened that he was probably being taken to a mental hospital, he was quite surprised to see himself landing in front of a five-star hotel where he would perform. "In my country we use ambulances for something else," he remarks. Similarly, he was quite surprised as to why a play was being performed in a hotel and not in an actual theatre.
Puja Sarup (Buzo the clown playing Gertrude) had one of the most interesting roles to play where she would get more drunk with every scene and would often let out her feelings of love and frustration for Soso. In fact, she would often lose her character, trying to protest Soso romancing Ophelia, played by Kalki Koechlin, in certain scenes. Her voice modulation techniques were excellently delivered -- introducing different levels of vocal tones whenever necessary. Yet another irony occurred when Polonius's mouth was suddenly taped up by the other members of the cast! Played by Namit Das, his character was ready with the long lectures that the students of English Literature are all too familiar with.
The play was definitely a refreshing take on Shakespeare's Hamlet, at least from a clown's point of view! Productions like this one should have a few campus shows, especially for young students in our country, who crave for an exposure to a world outside theirs and ideas that would help the young minds think outside the box.
The clown's play within the play.