When clowns met Kalidasa

Updated: May 06, 2019, 07:38 IST | Snigdha Hasan

An experimental theatre piece takes a relook at Shakuntalam to adapt it to current times, all using clowning techniques

When clowns met Kalidasa
(From left) Sagar Bhoir, Ankita Nikrad and Ram Chaudha

Three clowns clad in striped attires, with their red noses on and a mere table in the backdrop may be somewhat difficult to imagine as Shakuntala, Dushyant and Kanva going through extraordinary situations of life in a forest, and later in a royal court. But that's the power of theatre that Rupesh Tillu aims to evoke in Theatreact's new play, Shakuntalam: Agar Pura Kar Paye Toh, which premieres this Thursday.

"Cinema is a director's medium, but theatre belongs to an actor. And I like to put actors at the centre of a production," Tillu tells us. "Visually, our eyes are exposed to so much these days, thanks to films and series like Bahubali, Endgame and Game of Thrones. But theatre sparks people's imagination," he adds, referring to the minimalist set, and a clear departure from the way Shakuntalam, one of India's oldest plays, has been traditionally staged as a costume drama, the idea being to recreate the era in which it is set.

First conceived during a clowning residency in Matheran earlier this year, the experimental piece has been developed into an hour-long production, in Sanskrit and gibberish. "Language is important in written literature, but in performative literature, it is the actors through which a book gets translated. And clowns speak the language of emotions, one that is understood by all," Tillu, who holds an MFA in Physical Comedy from The National School of Dramatic Arts, Sweden, elaborates.

Rupesh Tillu
Rupesh Tillu

And to master the language of emotions, one needs to first meet one's clown. "We all have a clown residing within us. My job as a director is to help actors channel their inner clown. Putting that red nose on unmasks you. For, a clown's job is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. The clown is not there to make people laugh; he's there to give people a heightened emotional experience," he says, adding how apart from being trained in miming and physical movement, the actors — Ankita Nikrad, Sagar Bhoir and Ram Chaudhari — were given an exercise to be in their character for six to seven hours on end.

About his choice of play, Tillu tells us that he chose the classic by Kalidasa because Indian stories need to be told. "It is easy to pick up a Shakespearean play. But if you want a story to survive, you have to engage with it and reinterpret it," he believes. And the play, as he defines it in a nutshell, is a reinterpretation of the classic through humour. "While it is amazing in the way it has been written with a heavy use of the Sringar rasa, I feel that the character of Shakuntala is weak. Kalidasa hasn't really given her many options, and she is driven by the men around her. In our version, she makes her own choices," he says.

And what's the story behind the play's title? "It's a clowns' play. And clowns live in the moment, where each show is unique to the time and space it is performed in," Tillu shares. "You don't know what will happen next!"

On: May 9, 7.30 pm and 9.30 pm
At: Prithvi Theatre, 20, Janki Kutir, Juhu Church Road, Juhu.
Log on to: bookmyshow.com
Cost: Rs 350

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