EYE Shakespeare Special: 400 years of the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon

Theatre legends Ratan Thiyam, MK Raina and Roysten Abel speak of the debt they owe to William Shakespeare.

Updated: July 23, 2016 2:26 pm

To mark the 400th death anniversary of the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare, here is an Express EYE special on the playwright’s iconic works that resonated in the Kashmir Valley, Manipur and Delhi. Over the years, Indian theatre — especially Parsi theatre — has owed a debt to Shakespeare — simply for creating a wealth of plot lines, words and phrases and most importantly, a window into human nature. In this issue, we speak to theatre legends MK Raina, Ratan Thiyam and Roysten Abel who have taken King Lear, Macbeth and Othello, respectively, and transported their stories to India.

William Shakespeare, the bard, theatre, playwright, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, Indian theatre, Indian playwrights, Parsi theatre, MK Raina, Ratan Thiyam, Roysten Abel, Kashmir Valley, Manipur, Fringe First, Badshah Pather, NSD, bhaand, play

Dancers in the dark

There’s a disease spreading through the world, whose symptoms are unlimited desire, greed and violence. It is contagious and without cure. It is called Macbeth. To comment on the wrongs of modern society, theatre director Ratan Thiyam has created one of the most powerful plays to emerge from Manipur recently. “William Shakespeare did not die 400 years ago,” says Thiyam, “He is still alive. He is for all time.”

His Shakespearean protagonists are a tribe of warriors who hold spears like totem poles and wear lofty crowns to protect themselves during wars and intrigues. “They are not a tribe from anywhere and I have created rituals, dances and funeral rites that are their own. Macbeth is a powerful play that allowed me to create a community that has nothing to do with Manipur,” says Thiyam. Read more…

William Shakespeare, the bard, theatre, playwright, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, Indian theatre, Indian playwrights, Parsi theatre, MK Raina, Ratan Thiyam, Roysten Abel, Kashmir Valley, Manipur, Fringe First, Badshah Pather, NSD, bhaand, play

Who was Shakespeare but a Bhaand?

A lesser-known casualty of the conflict in Kashmir was Bhaand Pather — a dramatic art form performed for centuries by wandering troupes of actors in villages of the Valley. Acting was “un-Islamic”, said the militants in the Pir Panjal range. And old bhaands were pushed into penury while the younger ones began working as labourers and traders.

It was more than a decade after the last major bhaand show that a new performance was announced in Akingam village, 70 km south of Srinagar. The play was called Badshah Pather, the first bhaand adaptation of King Lear — whose folly in dividing his kingdom left a trail of misfortune and pain. Directed by MK Raina, a Kashmiri who had trained at the National School of Drama in Delhi, Badshah Pather was performed in in 2012 in the open and watched by 3,000 people from the hillsides. As old Lear stumbles and falls, all doors are shut on his face. The erstwhile monarch looks at the dark clouds in the sky and breaks into a classical song in Sufiana kalam, written by an unknown fakir more than 600 years ago. The deep voice of Ali Mohammed Bhagat, the great bhaand — who was playing Lear — rose up from the stage and hung over the hills where no song had played since the beginning of militancy in the region in the 1990s. Read more…

William Shakespeare, the bard, theatre, playwright, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, Indian theatre, Indian playwrights, Parsi theatre, MK Raina, Ratan Thiyam, Roysten Abel, Kashmir Valley, Manipur, Fringe First, Badshah Pather, NSD, bhaand, play

The Rehearsal is at Play

To beat the battle drums in the face of an old order, Roysten Abel chose to adapt the most angst-ridden of William Shakespeare’s plays. 15 years later, his Othello in Black and White — with a Kathakali dancer as Othello — is a landmark production in Indian theatre. It is also the only play from the country to win the Fringe First — an award vied for by the best in the world and given at the Edinburgh Fringe arts festival in Scotland.

Delhi theatre in 1999 was the playing field of senior directors with traditional ideas, in which a crop of new names was trying to leave an imprint. “The old guard held the reins and young directors found it difficult to get funding, acknowledgement or space,” says Abel, “All that angst was channelled into Othello.” Read more…

 

parsi

A time for Natak

Parsi theatre was the first to realise the full commercial potential of Shakespeare’s works. The result was King Lear as comedy and a farce called Hamlet No Omelette. Read more…

 

All the world is a stage: Geoffrey and Laura (in black), Kendal (centre) on a visit to India. (Express archive photo) All the world is a stage: Geoffrey and Laura (in black), Kendal (centre) on a visit to India. (Express archive photo)

My Travels With the Bard

To mark 400 years of Shakespeare’s death, a look at how his work has found new, vigorous life in India. First, Sanjna Kapoor recalls her journeys with her grandparents, Geoffrey and Laura Kendal. Read more…

 

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How to insult like the Bard

Shakespeare enriched the English language with hundreds of new words. But, upon my word, you can also find some of the best put-downs in his writing. Read more…

 

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