For Indian theatre lovers, The Company Theatre’s Atul Kumar is synonymous with Shakespeare. And rightly so, for he has not only captured the essence of the bard’s plays, he has given them an Indian flavour (for instance, Piya Behrupiya based on Twelfth Night, and Khwaab-Sa, based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Aside from these, he’s worked on several other productions and is familiar with the nuances of Indian theatre.
In a chat with Indibeat, Atul Kumar gets candid about his journey as an actor-director and the state of arts in India.
IB: You seem to have perfected the art of not only adapting, but also Indianising Shakespeare. Have you always been a fan?
Rather than a fan, actually I was always very averse to Shakespeare. Although I went to an English medium school, English was not my language, and Shakespeare was a terror for a very long time.
It was only in performance that I discovered Shakespeare and realised what a fantastic artist he is. When I actually tried to discover him within myself, within my own culture and upbringing, that is when I could relate to many things that he talks about in his plays.
That’s how it is with him in translation – in so many different cultures and countries like Japan, China, Spain and France. People are making him their own, and thereby making him come alive.
IB: Tell us what it takes to be a successful theatre actor/director in India.
The trick for youngsters is to just keep at it and not give up hope. Try and negotiate working and creating art with whatever resources that are available, even if there are none.
We are a country full of artists who are entrepreneurs, and we have always made it work, inspite of no real support or education in arts (unlike many other countries, where the state supports them).
A country that is first known for its art and culture anywhere else in the world, actually manages to function on its own without much support. All of our success comes from within. I think we are doing very well and we should continue.
IB: What will help make plays more popular among the masses?
When it comes to folk or classical theatre, it has been there (for years) and has permeated into people’s lives and religion, because that’s where it originates.
Modern theatre will always be for the very few. You know those 300, max 500-600 people show up, and 1,000, if it’s a big auditorium and a popular production.
Now if you look at our production Piya Behrupiya, it became very popular and surprised me. Songs, dance, comedy and the nautanki style – it just went down well with the audience.
And then of course, there is Marathi and Gujarati popular commercial theatre that draws an audience of 5,000 or so.
But all said and done, (theatre) will never be able to compete with rock shows, cinema, football and cricket. It’s the essential nature of the art form. That’s something we have to live with, and keep making every effort to reach out to more people.
IB: What can we look forward to from you in the future?
It’s been a long journey and I keep forgetting that I am first an actor and then a director. C for Clown, Hamlet the Clown Prince, and Nothing Like Lear – these plays with Rajat Kapoor are the only ones I have done as an actor.
Now I think it’s time I jumped back in. So I am using this as a platform to appeal to all the wonderful directors and performance makers: please do consider me and call me for an audition!
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Image Credit: Atul Kumar/The Company Theatre