Rambling thoughts from Kala Ghoda

[Re-edited to include new information at the end.]

For some very good reason that I do not know, the word 'experiment' has an umbilical cord in people's minds that leads to the word 'scientist'. It's unfair. Folk experiment with food, with styles, with theatre, yet it is the coloured-solution-stirring, white-aproned bloke incapable of aesthetic thought that comes to mind the moment you say 'experiment'. The theatrical experiment - throw in Yakshagana into Hamlet - doesn't seem to fit the bill.

So here goes, after an introduction that was perhaps unnecessary. Two men went to a show of Hamlet at the Kala Ghoda festival. One tom-toms his existence as a scientist; the other's distaste for rationality equally well-known. The players are from Pravah, the languages (as said in the brochure) English.

Shakespeare's English. 'To be or not to be' and all that Jazz. There is this girl in black who mouths those dialogues, playing Hamlet. There is also this guy who is the Hindi hamlet. Androgyny, apprarently.

Play proceeds smoothly as the action unfolds. Suddenly, with apparently no connection, a Yakshagana artiste turns up. Just when Hamlet Senior's ghost is cued to appear. Artistji is stumped. Artistji has anyway been put off by the English. Shakespearean and obsolete. That horrible pidgin, that mishmash of languages doesn't appeal to him anyway.

Well, Hamlet stages a play for his stepfather's entertainment. And also to weed out his hideous secret. Enter Yakshagana artistes. Fat woman romancing pot-bellied king, in elaborate make-up. Pulchritude of Kannada recitative unmatched, and beautiful mudras befiting an Indian performer. King is asleep. Enter villain to poison the king and seize his queen. Bravo to the cameo, as Hamlet resumes.

Three languages, two styles, and an experiment in presentation of a classical drama. A very Indianised Hamlet. As a synthesis of forms, it melds Graecian Tragedy with Indian ballet effortlessly. To use Yakshagana - unmodified - for a theme and treatment essentially alien to it was a masterstroke. Hamlet in Hindi would just be a translation. Hamlet in an Indian theatre-form, now that is some experiment.

Well, these are the views of a self-proclaimed scientist, whose world is supposedly that of the sterile laboratory. The artist, as the self-appointed torchbearer of society's expression, as I saw him, squirmed in his seat. He liked neither the Hindi, nor the English. English is alien to him; but so are Kannada and Yakshagana. He didn't like them blended.

Strange enough, I'd have stayed in my cocoon and missed this new sensory experience were it not for him. He was the one who goaded me into it. What he didn't tell me was that he didn't know Hamlet beforehand. Now a classic like this (quite well-known even in the so-called 'vernaculars'), I suppose, would have been known to the erudite. Atleast the plot. But that is just my opinion, steeped in years of 'convent' education.

Hamlet may be from Shakespeare's quill, but the humans he portrayed would be as at home in India as in Denmark. Again, this is my opinion only. Nevertheless, I find Yakshagana as effective a medium as Greek Theatre to tell the story. And Hindi would do as well as English. I saw a performance long ago of the Geet Ramayana. The medium was the classical Bharathanatyam, and I thought it did justice to the quintessentially Marathi epic-song.

But it leaves me wondering about the nature of expression. Does it have to take shape only in defined forms? Does it not carry its original meaning when forms are blended? Is the 'message' independent of the 'medium', or is the medium part of the message? Are they one, or two?

Independent of all this, I am firmly of the belief that a scientist has as good (or for professional chauvunistic bias, better) a sense of the aesthetic, as those who choose to immerse their souls into it! It has been supported by research, as you can see here. You can test it if you like here, to decide whether you're an aesthetic scientist, or not.


Braveheart said…
Well, very tastefully written. I liked reading it and also, in a way, re-lived my frustration for a bit.

As for the message and medium, well, I think there is no debate there. Let the content choose the form and you are always on the right track. Tell me if it was so here! Experiment doesn't mean playing around with the basics, dear scientist. There is a way to cry, to laugh, to love and to mate - basics 'must' be respected.

Forget the languages bit, the dialogues must be coherent and at the least, audible. The pace of the english dialogues should have been half of what theirs was, not only because the language is obsolete in its own land, also for we have absolutely no connection with it. Language can uplift the effect, but only when you give it the due respect.

Anyway, there is no point going on about something I faintly remember. It's sad that you couldn't come the next day. The play was splendid and Juhi Babbar was a treat to watch. I could go down on my knees for her, had I felt I stood any chance :D

-- Akshaya
Ozymandias said…
It is a matter instinct, not respect. There is a universal way for humans to laugh and cry; if you change it, no one will understand unless told so beforehand. vide the laughing principal in Munnabhai.

I cannot do anything about Jasma Odhan; maybe I'll catch it at Prithvi.

Audibility being a problem would be a technical problem; maybe they didn't keep enough mikes. A compressing a five-hour play into less than half; well, oyu mouth the classical dialogue superfast. If you've been on stage with a lengthy rehearsed, not very unlike once you start, it just comes pouring out at jet-speed!
Braveheart said…
If you've been for lengthy hours on the stage, one of the first things that you must learn is that you should 'not' go out pouring at jet-speed. If the play had to be shortened, they should have done it in a better way, not by trying to rush through it.

You being a scientist, you should know better if it is actually instinct, but I don't believe it. You can shit standing, you can shit on the roads, but you don't. Your upbringing teaches you a few things. And those things are better learnt properly, so that you may be accepted into the society which essentially runs on certain basics. theatre too, I think, respects certain things, which any experimentation cannot take liberty against. Anyway, if you find it fine, then be it...

-- Akshaya
Ozymandias said…
The very reason for experiment is to break barriers, is to take liberties, to define new ways of being! Be it science or theatre, it is by rejecting the old that the new comes into being. No wonder, I but not you could identify with Pravah's hamlet! Now you give me a feeling of brotherhood with Neeraj Kabi!
Braveheart said…
A genius is he who understands his limitations. May God save Science from such pseudo-geniuses. Oh yes, and theatre too!

-- Akshaya
Ozymandias said…
Limitation is by definition an obstacle to creation. Understanding one's limitations is not enough, it takes resolve to break them and open new doors.
suniti said…
I have seen similar play at Prithvi festivl. There were 2 hamlets, male and female. Were suposed to be inner and outer thoughts of Hamlet. Then there were 2 queens. The good one and bd one. All in all, quite confusing till we decided what was what.
I like to see interpretations of known works of Lit. One play which I liked was, Sanjivani The story of Kacha Devayani in Yakshagana style, with a blend of english and kannada.It was cool to see Sukracharya addicted to Cocoacola :)


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