K. Madavane has directed about 100 plays in English, Hindi, French, and German. His directorial art seen in Delhi marks a departure from the traditional approach to the production of a stage play. His innovative style is very much in evidence in his recent works like Karnad’s Tughlaq and Moliere’s Tartuffe which he did for the Shri Ram Centre. The Mahabharat Women stands out, which he did about three decades ago, for its contemporary interpretation and profound message.
The Delhi theatre lovers gave a warm response to his production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Hindi translation by Amrut Rai. It was presented by SRC Repertory at its auditorium recently. Apart from the ingenious style of presentation, the production projects Saif Ansari as Hamlet who makes an impressive endeavor to create a tragic character who struggles to humanize the world which is like a prison: petty and malicious. It is a prison where true love is not possible to bloom. Imparting energy and emotional power to his portrayal, Ansari creates a profoundly humane, intelligent and sensitive Hamlet out of tune with a cruel world, a world “disjointed and out of frame”. He is torn between two worlds — illusory and real. When he feigns madness, he lives in illusion and when he sees the body of his dearest Ophelia while her grave is being dug, he confronts the stark and cruel reality. His lamentations and heart-rending repentance come from the bottom of his soul. After the encounter of his father’s ghost, asking him to avenge his murder, Hamlet’s whole being undergoes a transformation. He is skeptical about the story of the ghost. He creates a device to expose his uncle who has become the king and married Hamlet’s mother.
Hamlet is the longish play which needs several hours to complete the playing time. It is really a challenge to stage this world classic of all-time on the stage in its entirety. K. Madavane’s production runs for about two hours. Its greatness lies in its universality. Every generation discovers in the play its own contradictions. It is a political play, a family drama, senseless bloodshed to grab state power and ruthless suppression of dissent to retain power. Above all, it is the tragedy of a tormented soul who declares “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty!” In the words of Shakespearean authority Prof. Jan Kott, “Hamlet can be summarized in a number of ways: as a historical chronicle, as a thriller or as a philosophical drama.”
K. Madavane is a widely read and traveled artist. His dilemma is how to discover contemporary elements in the classic without distorting and vulgarizing the original work. He emphasizes on the dialogues, “There is something rotten in the kingdom of Denmark,” “Denmark’s a prison,” “Then is the world one,” “A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ the worst.” These dialogues are the inner chord that reflects contemporary anxiety and sensitivity. The first step to make his production reflect contemporary sensibility is the use of costumes. He has totally discarded the idea of designing period costumes. Hamlet is in jeans and jacket. Then using lighting effects, upstage an ambiance is created in which state spies and secret agents move about surreptitiously in the dark of the night. It creates a kind of suffocating political culture of a fascist state where life has become horrible. K. Madavane’s experimental approach in terms of design has its own challenges.
He has removed wings with a view to enact the play on a bare stage with a vast vista. But the uses of six wooden boxes with a height of six feet placed vertically occupy much empty space. One block is placed horizontally to be used as a throne for the royalty. These blocks are used as exit and entry points and as object to hide spies. The main problem with these blocks is that with every scene they are propelled by the performers to change their space. In this process they have to come out of their characters. The flow of action is also interrupted. If considered essential the number of these blocks should be reduced. If the director intends to use these blocks as a metaphor for prison walls, these should not have been frequently shifted from one space to another.
Another novelty of the production is the use of light design. There are no fade outs and there is no interval. Blue lights near the wings remain on throughout the show. There is no attempt to dazzle the audience to create magic. In fact, the play demands a variety of lighting effects to create “mood” to capture violence, brutality and tormented inner world of the characters and multiple shades of psychological complexity of Hamlet who feigns madness.
Initially, the production tends to be tedious with little life. After half an hour it slowly gets momentum. Some of the scenes like the one where Ophelia’s body lies on the ground to be placed in the grave is witnessed by main dramatis personae is powerfully enacted. Similarly, the scene where drama-within-the drama is staged by artists before the king and queen to enact the treacherous murder of the father of Hamlet to expose the villain is noteworthy. It is presented in a stylized manner which has the gripping power of a ballet. The scene is choreographed by Anjana Rajan with intricacy and lyrical rhythm. The climactic scene deserves special mention for its tragic depth and captivating power. In the sword fight scene Hamlet is no more obsessed with, “To be or not to be”, he fights like a seasoned brave fighter adept in warfare. He inflicts the mortal wound on his adversary — Laertes. There are bodies of Hamlet, Laertes, Claudius and Hamlet’s mother. Horatio, Hamlet’s loyal friend lives to tell the story of Hamlet to “this harsh world.”
Madavane has worked hard with his cast, which has little experience in working Shakespeare’s plays, to make their performances creditable. However, the Hindi accent of the most of the performers is not up to the mark. Saksham Shukla as Polonious, indulges in spying his children and on Hamlet and his conversation with his mother, is killed by Hamlet when he is hiding to listen to what is being talked about by the son and mother. Kunwar Himanshu Tyagi as the son of Polonius and brother of Ophelia and Smita Singh Parihar as Ophelia, who commits suicide after her lover Hamlet refuses to respond to her love, bring their characters to life. (Smita Singh Parihar would have made her Ophelia more convincing if she had imparted tenderness and poetic intensity to her character). Ashutosh Kumar Keshav as King Claudius stands exposed towards the end and gets an ignominious death. Sugandha Shrivastava as Queen Gertrude and mother of Hamlet is endowed with an impressive stage presence.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.