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Interview with Rajat Kapoor - Clowning with Rajat Kapoor

Clowning with Rajat Kapoor

Vasudha Srinivasan | April 12, 2015

Entertainment  Interviews  

If anyone suffers fools gladly, it must be Shakespeare. After all, he is the craftsmen of so many from Touchstone (As you like it ) to “Clown” (Othello) and “the Fool” (King Lear).

So is it any surprise that close to 500 years later, the fools should take the lead in recreating Shakespeare?

That’s precisely what Rajat Kapoor’s Hamlet – the Clown Prince intends when it casts clowns as leads and nudges them into the limelight for one spectacular evening in Singapore.

While Vinay Pathak may be the lead clown, Rajat Kapoor is no shrinking wallflower himself. This actor-director’s resume is littered with National Awards for producing Indie films (pun gleefully intended) in the land of Bollywood. Kindly letting me call him Rajat (or as he moaned, “oh god, not Mr Kapoor, Rajat please”), I spent a charmed few minutes in his company.

Surprisingly philosophical with a wit that delighted, here’s a glimpse of the man behind the adorably punny play.

First things first, tell us all about “Hamlet, the Clown Prince”?
Ohhh, well, well, well. Well. It is Hamlet by Shakespeare but it is not Hamlet at all. That’s the best clue I can give you!

You know,  I didn’t want to do a Hamlet which everyone’s seen, that’s been done ten thousand times.  I wanted to do a 2 hour take on the play and that too, with a group of clowns, who are trying to perform Hamlet and just failing miserably.

They encounter their own problems when they are performing. They each have their own love stories and own ego clashes – all of that becomes part of the play, and thus becomes part of Hamlet as well.

So what you will see are actually two plays :  Hamlet itself and one more, which these clowns are performing.

So, why Shakespeare?
Because it is fascinating and I think, still very relevant. Somewhere, what Shakespeare wrote, resonates. And it’s really only 400 years old. So why Shakespeare? Because there must be some truth that he hit upon unknowingly which resonates with us, even 400 years later. That’s why you keep going back to him.

For me, I’ve realised,  when I read him, it doesn’t work. To understand Shakespeare, you need to watch a play by him; to understand him better? You have to do a play and that’s what I am trying to do – understand Shakespeare.

Well, you sound like a Shakespeare fan?
Now I am! [Before these plays]. I wasn’t into Shakespeare. Of course, everyone knows about Shakespeare and I knew some themes, some texts, enough to get by.

But only when you start doing his plays, start exploring the themes, you think “My God, is there anybody darker, funnier, better at crafting a play, more filled with mirth?”
Probably not.

Listen, if you’re a Shakespeare fan, come to the play and you’ll understand what I mean. And you know what, you’ll love it*

*Might I add, this was a personal invitation but I’m extending it to all of you 😉

Well, we know why Shakespare. So why clowns?

C for Clowns was my first full production with clowns…that was about 12, 13 years back And then I realised I wanted to continue with it. When we decided to readapt King Lear under the title Nothing like Lear, we decided we needed clowns. Of course, that was just one clown, fitting the story of King Lear.

Why clowns? Because!

The clowns performing their interpretation of Hamlet in a scene from Hamlet - The Clown Prince.

Well, clowns look jovial but they are generally either tragic or sinister figures..
Clowns are actually very sad figures…I think we laugh because we realise that sadness. We’re happy while we watch him but he’s not. A clown is a very lonely figure, in everything.

Of course when you watch him, you laugh but you’re right, a clown is a tragic figure.

So far, you’ve seemed to have picked Shakespearean tragedies…
There’s no rule or formula in my head. In fact, the next one I’m intending to do is “As You like It”.

The thing is you discover your tools as you go along. When I talk about the clowns now, I can think back and analyse it. But really, when I am doing the play, I’m just doing the play. And in that doing, I am discovering;  what I am doing, what I feel and how I think. It’s not that you have a thought first and then you make a work based on the thought – No, you act first and then, you analyse it later. You know what I’m saying?

Well, I’m no actress and really only good at asking questions so I’m going to take your word for it…

*laughs* But isn’t that how it is always with directing, art or everything? You don’t say, okay this is the thought, I’m this sort of person and I am going to act like this. You act in a certain way and that defines you.

In this version, there’s plenty of improvisation thrown in.  Is the structure of the play based on the original?
No no, not all. Who the hell wants to see that Hamlet man! *laughs*

So how did you match the improvisation with script?
We don’t improvise during the the play, rather the play emerged from improvisation. Everyday, during the rehearsals, we would improvise. We would select what we liked and then, the next day we would build on the improvised version with more improvisation!

Once the process is over, 99% of play is quite fixed.  But there’s still a 1% where they are allowed to do anything.

Have you thought about acting in your own plays?
It is impossible to act and direct. You need to be outside the play when you’re a director, not inside, which is where you are as an actor.

But in C for Clowns, I did jump in once, after about 50 shows or so. I could do that in Singapore, say if one of the actors was to get injured, but only because I know the play now.

So, we heard that all was not well during C for Clowns…like how you lost a whole film reel of the final scene?

Ohhh man! I had shot a film for about 6  min which was supposed to be  the last scene of the play. I was taking those negatives to the rehearsal and I just left those bloody negatives in the rickshaw. And we were all very poor at that time so 50,000 rupees, the cost of those negatives, was huge, HUGE. I could have killed myself. We did make a police complaint, and of course, we didn’t find it.

Well, so we shot the film again!

Soo, did something similar happen for Hamlet?
Well, once in Delhi, Atul completely lost his voice. Nothing, no-thing was coming out of his mouth AND he had all the bloody lines in the play! We had a house full – 500 people, waitng outside the gate. 3 hours before the show, somebody said that there was a doctor who could give him a steroid injection so his voice could come back. Atul went to take the injection and when he came back to the theatre, they didn’t let him through because he didn’t have a ticket!

Atul was like “Hello, its Hamlet!!!”

Any heart attack moments with Vinay?
Not yet, not yet. Please, don’t ask for it.

Vinay Pathak is a talented film actor and also a popular theatre actor.

Vinay’s a friend – does working with him feel any different?
Actually, with Atul, I’ve worked longer. We go way back to 1985 while my first play with Vinay was only in 1999. With friends, there’s a lot of trust; you don’t have to explain everything. When you trust each other, and that’s the main thing whether in film or plays, you can push boundaries a little more. You’re not ashamed of making an ass of yourself; you’re confident that no one is going to laugh at you – it’s a safety net and that’s where friendship comes in.

Vinay the stage actor or Vinay the film actor?
Its very rare there’s an actor who’s so good in both places but Vinay does it.

Come on, that’s a pretty politically correct answer…!
Not at all! Because he is one of the few! There are wonderful film actors who are not so good on stage.  Vinay is exceptional in both but on stage he’s got extra magic.

Yourself?
I’m a good  film actor *pauses* I think. Theatre, I’m alright but I think my strength is more film.

Rajat Kapoor worked as both actor and director for the indepent film - Aankhon Dekhi.
How about as director – film or stage?
They are different kind of joys. Directing a film is very hard work: it takes two or three years to do a film but two or three  months to do a play. In theatre, you have an immediate response from an audience which can be fantastic.

But a play will eventually die,  a film will live on.

You once likened choosing between film and stage as choosing between ras malai and
Exactly! Don’t make me choose between ras malai, rasa gula or gulab jamun or anything!  Man, I want them all!

Your film accolades are wide and varied but that’s a story in itself. So I’m taking a shortcut : tell us your favourite film you’ve acted or directed in
Akhon Dekhi

(And he doesn’t skip a beat!)

You also run a show on NDTV known as Lounge. If you were a guest on your own show, what would you ask about Hamlet?
What question would I ask about Hamlet to myself? *laughs* I can’t answer that question

Because…. I’ll ask the question back at you?
That’s right! 

Catch Hamlet – The Clown Prince on 25 April at the School Of The Arts (SOTA). Due to an overwhelming response, a new ticket category priced at $55 has just been opened up – get them before they’re sold out.

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Vasudha Srinivasan

The Indian Ahlian (sometimes known as Vasudha Srinivasan) is 99.99 % Indian with a pinch of something else. She sketches because she is much better at doodling her thoughts than speaking her mind. Find out more about her at here or tweet her @indianahlian. Other articles by this author

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