Nothing Like Lear is for all intents and purposes both like and unlike King Lear. But of course I was not to find this out until the one man troupe, Vinay Pathak, grabbed me by my ‘guts’.
It was the 27th of November, a Sunday, and we – me and two of my companions – had got ourselves tickets for balcony, which was lighter on our pockets, at Kamani Audotorium on Copernicus Marg, New Delhi; but as one of my companions pointed out, it would have had marred the experience, for she had not brought her glasses with her. Call it our sheer luck or the bane of demonitisation or the lack of love for good theatre, not many people turned up for the play; so we were, by default, offered seats at the side stalls towards the front.
Minutes into the play, and I realised that perhaps my companion was right, that we all must have missed quite a bit of the aura that Mr Pathak just “zapped” into the moment he, albeit quite inconspicuously, arrived on the stage.
“The show hasn’t started yet,” he reassured the audience, who were caught off guard by his sudden appearance on the stage. He shambled across the stage in a large pair of clown shoes and carrying a suitcase, making light talk with the audience and giving suggestions as to things they could do before the play actually started, like “Send that last SMS,” or “You should always carry a book to the theatre.” I could already feel a player warming up before hijacking the entire game. And that’s exactly what Mr Pathak did; his jokes became bolder and bawdier (mostly at the audience’s expense), once the audience was lulled into a sense of enjoying innocuous quips, and very subtly “commenced” the play.
Once into the meat of the play, I started to look for strands that would somehow connect the string of jokes to the bard’s original that this play, even as its title denounces any resemblance, is supposedly based on. For in its deliberate negation there is an acceptance, an idebtedness to Shakespeare’s play – upon seeing the “Nothing” in the title, one is inadvertently reminded of the famous line from King Lear, “Nothing will come of nothing.” And this is where the likeness to King Lear begins.
Even though this was a one man show and largely comic, the themes of Shakespeare’s play found their way into this absurdist interpretation. Besides a tragic undercurrent forever ran through the surface of the play, and it frequently burst out with such force and vitality that it left the audience, well at least me, with goosebumps. Handling such sudden shifts in tone, and that too for nearly 90 minutes, is a daunting task, but such is the talent of Mr Pathak that he makes this look like a walk in the park, except for moments when I thought I heard him drop the character’s prescribed accent. But this is hardly a blemish on a performance so magnificent that the entire audience accorded him a well-deserved standing ovation at the end, for a good 5 minutes!
Here, I must admit that even though Mr Pathak is the one who carries the play on his reliable shoulders, jumping from one shade of character to another with a frenzy associated with dissociative disorders, Mr Rajat Kapoor, the play’s writer and director, is equally deserving of every bit of praise for infusing the sense of dissociation of tonality into the play itself. It is the genius of Mr Kapoor that we get to see King Lear through the eyes of a fool (clown), who embodies the persona of the narrator (apparently an unreliable one), Edmund, Gloucester, King Lear and, of course, the Fool, while also being a contemporary social commentary on the way we treat the old. The major themes of King Lear – filial ingratitude, sight and blindness, jealousy, existentialism, father-child relationship – are all addressed with due reverence to Shakespeare’s play.
Even though I am a fan of Rajat Kapoor, I had not expected to be surprised by Nothing Like Lear. But it did. It was like watching Mr Kapoor’s Mithya, a gem of a movie, which I consider as the best example of a genre-hopper from Hindi Cinema. Both the works are unpredictable to the truest sense of the term and both of them delve deeply in existentialist philosophy (besides this play too can be seen as a genre-hopper, but I am unsure whether this term could be applied to plays as well). And when I finally got the chance to meet Mr Kapoor, who was humbly standing outside the theatre greeting the audience, I could not help telling him how much I loved Mithya; to which he gave a nod of approval and allowed a hint of surprise to flash across his otherwise calm face.
[If this play comes to your city, please do yourself a favour – watch it!]