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Review: Hamlet, The Clown Prince

Director Rajat Kapoor’s Shakespeare-inspired play charms but fails to hit the spot

  • By Manjari Saxena, Deputy Editor, The 
Weekend tabloid!
  • Published: 12:58 November 10, 2012
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  • Image Credit: Swani Gulshan / Rex Features
  • Mandatory Credit: Photo by Swani Gulshan / Rex Features (1757634ay) Kalki Koechlin International Indian Film Awards, IIFA 2012, Singapore - 08 Jun 2012
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A play within a play, Hamlet, The Clown Prince, is a farcical take on the revered Shakespearean tragedy. A bunch of clowns decide to do something different by staging a tragedy, creating humour and pathos through antics that come naturally to them, while trying to be serious about the whole thing.

The play begins with clowns scurrying on the stage plying a solitary unmoving figure under the spotlight with props, reminding you of a scene from Bollywood legend Raj Kapoor’s 1970 epic Mera Naam Joker (My Name is Joker). Soso (Atul Kumar), the unmoving figure, delivers a gibberish soliloquy in operatic style before explaining what to expect in the next 90 minutes.

The clowns put together the show, fighting over who would play what character and creating hilarious misinterpretations of Shakespeare’s carefully worded “thou, thee and thy” dialogues. They not just edit text but decide to delete important scenes and make a hash of the narrative’s order, switching back and forth through the tragedy and the comedy of their lives.

Fido’s (Neel Bhoopalam) “Circle of Life” interpretations, breaking into Michael Jackson’s breakdance at every phrase and his miming of Hamlet Senior’s death stole the show. Nemo’s (Namit Das) gagging with duct tape and dumb charades had the audience in splits too. And through all this tomfoolery and the underlying romantic and jealousy subplots, the characters try to bring out issues which are relevant in today’s age too, issues of love and betrayal, jealousy, loneliness, revenge and forgiveness.

Kalki Koechlin as Fifi doesn’t really create the thunder and the hype generated around her being part of the play was meant to do. But that’s possibly more because of her smaller role rather than acting skills. Her only major scene is Ophelia’s plucking flowers out of air and drowning scene. Kumar as Soso, Puja Sarup as Popo Coco – who plays Queen Gertrude in the play in the play and Soso’s betrayed lover – and Sujay Saple as Bouzo support ably.

Despite the good performances, the audience could have done with 20 minutes less of the show. The play seemed to lose some steam after an hour as the dialogue got repetitive with Fido’s Ghostbusters and Lion King references and the characters’ improvisations during dialogue with members of the audience. It, however, did pick up pace again after Ophelia’s death scene.

This is the second outing of director Rajat Kapoor’s fascination with clowns. For him Hamlet “reflects the confusion of the human soul” where he says the torn emotions are “the reason why this piece is so universal and timeless.” Though a brilliant actor, Kapoor is known to prefer direction. The event organised by Scream Events did have its moments of confusion. Not only did the play start 20 minutes late, our seat numbers had been duplicated, even though there were a lot of empty seats both in the orchestra and balcony. We were finally accommodated, just minutes before the play started, on the second last row in the theatre, which provided us a bird’s eye view of the stage — not really the right place to review a play from.

While the play has received standing ovations at other venues, it didn’t seem to hit the spot with audiences here. The disappointment was quite evident on the director’s face as he made a sullen appearance on stage at the end before walking off after a wave.

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