Khwaab-Sa opens with a spotlight on lithe, petite dancer Ronita Mookerji as the iconic spirit Puck. In the background, a musician clad in a unicorn mask assaults our ears with loud electronic music, as Mookerji writhes and vibrates. Grinning madly, she laughs silently before impishly back-flipping across the stage, a moon projection making her lunacy obvious. This is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as you’ve never seen it before.
Following new interpretations of Twelfth Night and King Lear, Khwaab-Sa (the Hindi name for A Midsummer Night’s Dream) is award-winning Indian director Atul Kumar’s latest Shakespearean adaptation. Here, Kumar has done away with most of the bard’s original script, with choice lines occasionally projected onto the gossamer veil hanging from the ceiling. Although still ostensibly a comedy of errors, Khwaab-Sa laces its madcap humour with a sharp edge of violence, bringing out the underlying darkness that lies beneath every drop of desire.
This is achieved through fantastic use of contemporary choreography, as the four lovers Hermia (Sahiba Singh), Lysander (Prashant More), Demetrius (Kumar Priyabrata Panigrahi) and Helena (Diya Naidu) express their intense emotions not through speech but through dance. Push comes to shove as the dancers charge their movements with a sensuality that borders on violence, launching themselves to and from each other as they play increasingly dangerous games of cat and mouse. One might think that something is lost in sacrificing Shakespeare’s words. However, there is an intensity to their performance that makes us feel every look of torment on their faces, unveiling a new dimension to Shakespeare’s romanticism most interpretations choose to ignore.
Aside from the dancers, Khwaab-sa also indulges in its comedic roots by retaining the inept players, now taking on the form of turbaned workers from various trades. Speaking to each other in conversations that border on the absurd, Kumar has retained much of the Bard’s original flavour while infusing it with a uniquely Indian touch, to laugh-out-loud effect in the final, disastrous play-within-a-play they put on.
Khwaab-Sa shines especially bright when its storylines overlap and collide with each other, bridging two seemingly disparate styles. Here, the happy medium is music, using both traditional raga with drum-heavy electro-beats to create a whole new beast of an art form. In fact, we felt an almost electrical surge of emotion as we watched the dancers perform a more erotic, orgiastic number with Hippolyta/Titania (Anamika Tiwari) in the middle singing with gusto. Similarly, Tiwari does a fantastic job of balancing sensual lust with Bajarbattu’s (Abhay Mahajan) comic reactions when she awakens and falls in love with the newly horse-headed player.
At its best, Khwaab-Sa is a heady fever dream, rambunctious and intensely emotional. Atul Kumar’s wild ambition pays off in spades here, shedding the bard’s poetry to metamorphose A Midsummer Night’s Dream into something far more elemental, proving how love itself is a real force of nature. At the start of the play, we’re warned that the players take no responsibility should audience members lose their mind by the end of the performance. They were right – we were left mindblown and completely in awe of this magnificent theatrical experience.
Photos courtesy of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Performance attended 17/11/17
Kalaa Utsavam 2017 takes place from 17th – 26th November at the Esplanade. For the full list of programmes and tickets, visit the Esplanade website here