Toil and Trouble

Toil and Trouble

Fire burns and cauldron bubbles as theatre director K Madavane takes up his second Shakespearean work, Macbeth.

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K Madavane (Express photo by Amit Mehra)

In a hall where shadows dance on a maze of curtains, masked actors are raising the spirit of Macbeth’s witches. Contorted and distorted, the evil sisters are constantly present on stage — in a departure from William Shakespeare’s text — as metaphors for the murderous ambition they have unleashed. K Madavane, who staged Hamlet two years ago as a tragedy of characters who came in all shades of grey, takes on his second Shakespearean production with Tamasha Entertainment, an amateur group in Delhi. Madavane, in his seventies, has retired after teaching English Literature for 40 years at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, his subject being the literature of the Indian Ocean. Excerpts from an interview:

Why Macbeth?

When you choose a play, you never know why you are really choosing it. Macbeth is a classic play and, since I was in the Shakespeare mode after Hamlet, I wanted to test myself. What are the new things I could bring to a classic that everybody knows. If we don’t bring something new, what’s the point of doing a play?

What new elements do we see in Macbeth?

Any script has to read between the lines. Acting the lines is cliched. In Macbeth, we show, among other things, the changing relationship between Macbeth and the others by the way Banquo behaves. In the beginning, his body language shows his respect and affection for Macbeth. In a scene following the murder of King Duncan, Macbeth goes to Banquo and puts his hand on his shoulders, and Banqo moves away. It shows people separating themselves and creating the distance between themselves and Macbeth.

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Actors rehearse for the play. (Express photo by Amit Mehra)

Your play is a Hindi translation of Shakespeare’s text? Why didn’t you try to modernise the dialogues?


Personally, I don’t believe in modernising although I admire people doing this kind of work. I feel that, whatever message you want to bring out when you modernise it, is there already. When you modernise, you have the tendency to think that people will not understand the original. I have a very strong confidence in my audience. They will understand, even if it is not at the time of the performance. I want my plays to have a time bomb effect, we never know when it will blow up.

You have been making plays for 40 years. Why did you come into Shakespeare so late?

Somewhere, I felt a kind of hesitation. I did a lot of Jean Genet plays, such as Deathwatch, The Balcony and The Maid. I have no hesitation in saying that Jean Genet is my guru. I have grown up understanding theatre through the works and theories of Jean Genet. I have also done many plays of Moliere. Tartuffe, for instance, was based on speed, in which everybody is running. I thought that Moliere wanted us to think of running as a symbol of something going wrong in the family. In Tartuffe, the conflict is that a new element has come to disturb the peace of the family.

What are your abiding influences in theatre?

My father was in the police in the colonial period but, in the evening, he was involved with theatre. I watched his performances, where he played Krishna or as Mohini, the female form of Krishna. I loved it. It is in my mind all the time. After my graduation and post-graduation in English Literature, I went to France for post-graduation in Political Science. All afternoons for three years in France, I worked under many famous directors. I returned to India in 1978 and used these influences when I set up a theatre group, Pocket Theatre, and then, Chingari, whose first play was Tughlaq.

In your production of Tughlaq with the Shri Ram Centre Repertory, you have actors painted in white spread across the stage in poses like statues. Why?

The ‘white people’ are our poor people, who bear the brunt of the madness of the mad king. We think they are dirty and don’t want to look at them. When they are white and beautifully sculpted, you want to see them. But, the truth is that they are beautiful and all the time in front of us.

Tell us about the ideas that come to you at night?

I think about the play all the time. Around 3.30 in the morning, invariably, I wake and, sometimes, eyes closed, I talk, eyes closed, I see things. Sometimes, it happens that I see visions and so many things are solved.