Othello

August 14, 2006

Yesterday I took my wife to watch Othello, a play in black and white at rangashankara. Recently i have begun a liking to Shakespeare’s plays. I got hold of a copy of all the Shakespeare’s play in its original archaic English. Once you get the hang of the language its actually a good read. Its not really the Shakespeare play as such, but the adaptation of it that i have begun to like. Its quite easy to take the script and present it in its original form (rather difficult to memorize those lines). The first adaptation i saw was Footsbarn’s Perchance to Dream. It was a journey of man from his birth until his death presented in the form of various plays from the bard. The next was Hamlet by neeraj kabi. An amazing mix of hindi/English and Dhrupad/Yakshgana. And now Othello.

The play is about these set of actors who get together to stage Othello. They invite a guest director (Roysten) to direct their play. The actors come to the audition thinking that they will be cast with the roles they have in mind. Bary, the oldest of all and the most experienced believes he is the perfect suit for Othello. He even paints his face black during the audition and enacts the first scene as Othello. Vivek with an air of superiority around him hopes to be casted as Iago. And then there are Dilip and Katherine (was that her name ?) who would take Cassio and Desdemona’s part. But surprise comes in form of Adil. He is not sure what part he will play. He is not quite conversant in English, is quite shy to even speak up. Just talks in whispers and always remains in the sidelines too shy to occupy the center stage. But the director sees something in him, and casts him as the Othello. The director asks him and finds out that he is an NSD graduate and has been learning Kathakalli. An interesting mix (This is where the director describes him as ‘a typical NSD guy’). Bary is made Iago amidst protest that Iago should be someone young and not old. Vivek lands up in multiple roles of Roderigo, Lodovicio. And this is where the theater enters the real life of these actors.

Bary is hurt that the part of Othello that he has been playing all his life has been stripped off him. He becomes Iago in actual life and colludes with Vivek to teach the director a lesson. Vivek, the proud know it all actor is hurt that he has none of the leading roles in the play. Instead he has been degraded to filler roles. He joins up with Bary hoping to dismantle Adil and steal his role of hamletOthello. Here he becomes Lodovicio in real life whose Desdemona (symbolizing the main role in the play) has been stolen by Adil(Othello in the play).

The story of Othello meanwhile flows as the actors rehearse their lines. Adil starts falling in love with Desdemona and grows a bitter animosity with Dilip who is her heartthrob. Practice sessions of Adil become more and more personal as he throws around Bary acting as Iago and passing scathing remarks to dilip. In one of the final rehearsal the anger in adil overcomes him and he actually attempts killing Desdemona. At this time the director asks Adil to leave. But Bary who is the producer of the play resents the move, saying that the final play is in a weeks time and that they cannot afford to lose a main actor. Bary wins his personal battle with the director by showing him the door.

This kind of story telling in which the story invades the lives of the actors is slightly remenisant of Rang De Basanti. But that is where the similarity between them ends. I think Roysten has done an amazing job in conceptualizing and putting the play in this form. After the play i browsed on the Internet searching for Roysten abel. He has shot a film on this theme called In Othello. While browsing the official site of In Othello, i thought that maybe the play presented in Rangashankara was stripped of its set decoration and costumes. In the play the set consisted of only chairs and all the characters were in black dress (A typical NSD play i am sure Roy :-)). It talked a lot of kathakali but there was no costume or the kathakali actually happening in the play (Only towards the end and even that cannot pass of as kathakali).

The actors, each one of them were brilliant. Adil was individually outstanding. The way he was bringing out his love for desdemona in real life, and his animosity against Dilip through the lines of Othello was just too good for words. He was supposedly rehersing the role of Othello, but the pain and the anguish he was going through seemed so real. Bary himself is a vetern at acting, having acted in Gandhi, Shatranj ke Khiladi etc. The way he cunningly plots differences between Adil and the director, and instigates Adil against Dilip was so typical of Iago. He was the one person who did total justice to his role.

The play itself, since it was almost completely delivered in original shakespearan archaic english was not quite easy to follow unless either you knew the language quite well or are aware of the plot. Thanks to Vishal Bharadwaj’s adaptation of Othello as Omkara i had little problem understanding the plot. I have a lot to say about Omkara as well, but i guess i’ll save it for next time.

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