There is a tendency in me to return again and again to the classic plays of theatre. How can one meeting ever be enough to know a great character?” asks theatre veteran Mohan Maharishi. After producing Antigone and Oedipus multiple times, and acting and producing Andha Yug thrice, Maharishi is revisiting Othello, one of William Shakespeare’s prominent tragedies that he had adapted for the stage nine years ago. His new production will be staged at Abhimanch from April 7 to 14.
The grim mood of the play sets in even before the lights dim — audience members sit on platforms on the stage (“not in the comfort of the chairs in the auditorium”) in an eye to eye contact with the actors. Suspension of disbelief becomes an active process as actors in rough costumes and swords begin to enact the story of Othello, the moor of Venice, who is in love with the beautiful Desdemona. Nothing will stand in the way of their love, not the least his ugliness and her father’s displeasure. Othello, however, is also the story of Iago, the iconic false friend, whose hatred and lust for revenge destroys all he turns against, especially Othello. “When Iago talks about human body being a garden in which we can sow nettles or lettuce, he is making a very powerful point about our will to be good or evil,” says Maharishi.
The barely embellished stage is stripped further as the two-hour-long play progresses. When the wings are removed, for instance, the audience is exposed to the mechanism of pulleys, wires and lights backstage. “I like to include the audience in the truth of a play; there should be no illusion,” says the director.
Unlike the earlier star cast of professional actors, Maharishi is now working with a crew of greenhorns. The second year students of the National School of Drama (NSD) have not yet lost their amateur mannerisms, and their Hindi dialogues are laced with regional accents. All this, strangely, adds an extra layer to the production -— vulnerability is the first victim in a story of jealous rage, racism, revenge, murder and the darkest human emotions.