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Eternal questions


It is time we gave culture and theatre a chance to ensure peaceful co-existence between different cultures and political ideologies Neeraj Kabi



IMAAGINATIVE A scene from Neeraj Kabi's production, "Hamlet"

`The idea to produce Shakespeare's Hamlet came while I was conducting a training programme for my new batch of students. Gradually the dramatic splendour of the play, its complexity, richness and subtlety of characterisation and its power to reflect our own sensibility and concerns are revealed,' says director-actor Neeraj Kabi of Mumbai, who brought his production of "Hamlet" to the just ended Theatre Utsav of the National School of Drama in Delhi. At the festival his production was received as a remarkable experimental piece of theatrical art.

A self-taught young theatre practitioner, Neeraj is influenced by various international theatre personalities: Andre Kurti, Artor Rebeiro and Andrew Tsubaki, apart from his wide experience in Yuga and different Indian traditional and classical art forms. He considers it essential for the contemporary Indian theatre persons to know about their own tradition, which is rich and varied. What makes his production so distinctly Indian in colour and sensitivity is his highly imaginative use of Yakshagana and Dhrupad. All these elements are homogeneously coalesced into the modern technique of stage presentation to form an artistic whole.

Produced with the assistance of the British Council, Mumbai, the production was premiered at Prithvi theatre in 2005 and had 11 performances evoking tremendous response from the discerning audience. He has not only experimented at the level of form but also at the level of characterisation and interpretation. "I have taken a lot of liberty with the Hindi script which is based on Harivansh Rai Bachchan's Hindi translation. I have also included verses in English from the original. If Hamlet is staged in its entirety it may take more than five hours. The playing time of our production is one hour and 45 minutes."

Selecting and knowing

Jan Kott has says in his book "Shakespeare Our Contemporary" that there are many subjects in "Hamlet". "There is everything you want, including deep psychological analysis, a blood story, a duel and general slaughter. One can select at will. But one must know what one selects, and why." Though Neeraj seems not to have read Jan Kott, he knows pretty well what he is selecting and why.

According to him, his "Hamlet" is about the philosophy of death, about the cause and effect of the criminal neglect of children by parents and the inability of communication between humans, which results in violence. To him Hamlet is not a character. "It is the state of being, a tragic phenomenon. Wherever Hamlet appears there will be destruction, unhappiness. I have used two performers - one male and another female - to project this concept, which is beyond gender. Similarly, two performers portray the character of Queen Gertrude of Denmark to give insights into her split psyche."

About the style of acting, he says he has resorted to soliloquies. The performers tend to talk to themselves rather than address one another. The traditional performers and the modern actors work together in his theatre.

"There are sequences in the play where two scenes in different spaces happen at the same time."To him Dhrupad is expressive enough to take the form of subtext of the play.

"The design of the movements of the actor is to me a physical representation of Dhrupad. They move and speak within the bandish of the four-beat rhythm making `Denmark a prison'. The traditional and classical artistes are very keen to preserve the purity of their forms, so I treat them with great respect and never try to distort their arts."

As a theatre artist Neeraj is aware of his social responsibility. Obsessed with the anxiety of the modern man living in a violent and intolerant world, he comments, "The politicians have not been able to create a peaceful world despite so many conferences, meetings and agreements over the centuries. The mutual distrust and hostility between communities and nations continue to grow.

Now it is time we should give culture and theatre a chance to ensure peaceful co-existence between different cultures and political ideologies."

DIWAN SINGH BAJELI

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