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.