Shakespeare for the masses, Bollywood style

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KUALA LUMPUR: Shakespeare enthusiasts are in for an interesting treat this week with Shakespeare Goes Bollywood, a Hindustani twist on the Bard’s works presented by The Actors Studio (TAS).

Written and directed by long-time collaborators Matthew Koh and Fa Abdul, the play weaves several of Shakespeare’s most famous works together, including Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and King Lear.

“I love alternative theatre and multiculturalism,” Koh explained to FMT when asked on the rationale for a Bollywood-flavoured take on Shakespeare.

“Besides, Shakespeare has been rather overdone in traditional theatre. It would be more than a little interesting to see it done in other cultural contexts.”

Koh acknowledged that the play would possibly offend Shakespeare purists, but said that the play was “Shakespeare for the masses”.

“There’s a tussle between its authenticity and the artistry, certainly. We take quite a number of artistic liberties with this. We also don’t want to be too linguistically pretentious with this,” Koh said.

“That said, this is Shakespeare for the masses.”

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Actor and industry veteran Chacko Vadaketh, who plays narrator Chachaji, agreed, calling the play a “pre-incarnation of Shakespeare’s works”.

“It’s like a treasure hunt for enthusiasts to see how we work Shakespeare throughout the play,” Chacko said.

“It was jarring for me at first to see Shakespeare done like this, but it works.

“If you’re coming to hear Shakespeare’s exact words, you won’t get it. Overall, though, it’s really a fun foray into his work.”

The plot is largely moved along by Chacko’s stellar narration, as well as classic Bollywood-style music/dance numbers.

The play runs the gamut of Shakespeare’s classic plotlines, from an ill-fated love affair to the “revenge-driven saga of an orphaned son” and the conniving of two unattractive sisters to manipulate their father.

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Besides Chacko, the cast also includes Mithran Balakrishnan, Sangheetaa Phary, Lavinya Kalai Chelvan, Narinder Kaur, Bob Morshidi and many others.

Most of the cast, Chacko noted, come from klpac’s long-time participation in the international Short+Sweet play festival, which encourages new talents to enter the theatrical scene.

“It’s a really nice testimony to Short+Sweet, that they’re nurturing new talent,” Chacko said.

“It also gives me hope for the country’s young talents, and its multicultural directors coming together to produce something like this.”

Shakespeare Goes Bollywood will run from Sept 15-18 at Pentas 1, The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (klpac). The show starts at 8.30pm every night except for Sept 18, which only has a matinee at 3pm.

Tickets are on sale at RM45 each, with a special rate of RM35 for senior citizens and the disabled, as well as TAS cardmembers and students. Get more details at www.klpac.com.