When I go to Ranga Shankara to see a play, I go with an open mind…as I often say, I go, not knowing if it will be "fair play" or "foul play"! Recently (7th of October) I went to watch the interpretation of Hamlet, staged by the Mumbai troupe, Cinematograph. And I saw one of the best productions I have seen in the recent past.
The cast in one of the scenes. Pic: Author
It’s always a difficult exercise to make a comic interpretation of a tragedy…it could work, or fall so flat that it might become a worse tragedy than the play itself! But I have, in the past, read some comic interpretations of Shakespeare’s plays (cf. "Twisted Tales from Shakespeare", by Richard Armour …a romp through Shakespeare1)….but was not sure what genre of comedy this would be. The play deals with a group of clowns…painted faces, exaggerated costumes, straight out of a circus….who are putting up a show of Hamlet. As the introduction to the play says, they "sometimes misinterpret the text, sometimes find new meanings in it, sometimes try and understand it, very often make a mess of it. They chose to use some phrases from the play and mixed it with gibberish." The order of the pages gets mixed up, too, with hilarious results. Yet, through it all, runs the serious thread ….the tragedy of love, trust, suspicion and loss…the serious thread surfaced at times, through the staging of the play.
The ghost of Hamlet’s father appears. I
t’s not often that one comes across consummate stagecraft, and I certainly saw it this evening. It is a pleasure to watch actors, lights, sound, stage direction, and props all coming together into an efficient, effective production. The cast had the audience in the palms of their hands from the minute they began to spout their gibberish with local references (traffic jams, the confusing addresses) to Bangalore. The gibberish was very French-based, ideal for the kind of light persiflage that was being indulged in.
Closeup of one actor on stage.
The "cast" in the play, proceeded to "stage" Hamlet, with many hilarious, well-played situations, and the audience was in splits. The comic timing was impeccable, and the slapstick comedy went over well with the audience as well as some of the more cerebral, witty dialogues. It was difficult to separate script and improvisation; both were present, I think, in equal measure. Atul Kumar, as Soso/Hamlet (see the photograph below for other cast and crew names) of course, walked away with the honours…but the others made an excellent foil to his talent. Even the use of a spotlight to indicate a ghost was very innovative! The stage setting was minimalistic, but the costumes (Rajat did not tell me who was in charge) were very good indeed. The exaggerated "clown" props: the face paint, the shoes, the red noses, the colours…worked very well in putting over the comic sense. When, however, in the few lines that the play indicated the serious nature of the play’s denouement, the actors had the audience as genuinely moved, as they had them laughing when they were doing the comic treatment. This speaks clearly of the excellence of the actors of Cinematograph. The 105 minutes passed in a flash, and when the final sentence, "…the rest is silence" was intoned, the audience burst into enthusiastic and sustained applause. It was one of the best productions I’ve seen in a while, and it was comedy handled by experts. Cinematograph, take a bow!
Another scene from the play.
However…to move to the other side: When I walked into the foyer of Ranga Shankara, I found Rajat Kapoor, himself, sitting at the ticket counter! I asked him if he had a brochure for the play; there wasn’t one. So, he wrote out the names of the cast and crew for me…and I also asked him to autograph it! How often does one get the director of a play (who’s also a well-known theatre and movie actor) to write out such details for one! Here are the details of the cast and crew, as Rajat wrote it out for me:
The lack of a brochure about the play, and the lack of introductions of the cast and crew after the play, are both minuses in my book. When I have spent over an hour and a half (though the Ranga Shankara website said, 90 minutes, Rajat explained to someone buying a ticket that it would actually last for 105 minutes…"I can shorten it for you, if you like!" he smilingly said to the lady, who did not know what to make of this!) at a play, especially one which I have enjoyed so much, I’d like to spend a few more minutes putting names to the faces on and off the stage. However, these are small nits to pick, and if Cinematograph ever bring any production to Bangalore, I will certainly be at the head of the queue, waiting to get in!⊕
I watched them perform the play in Cochin. Amazing. And id Rajat chose not to “label” the actors or sell the tickets himself, I wouldn’t look at it as a minus, but as part of the same creative strain that made the play possible.
A superb show! I was also impressed with Madona, where the proceeds from the play went towards supporting street children and children in need, through a volunteer and donation run program at the Streisand Foundation Community College. More such artistic representations should be encouraged to promote and uplift the poorer sections of society!