This adaptation of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari explores its anti-facist themes
When the German Expressionist masterpiece, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, released in 1920, there were still two decades left before Adolf Hitler led the country in the Second World War. But the silent horror movie is decidedly anti-fascist and questions authority, and is credited with almost having a premonition of the rise of the Nazi party. “Democracy is being threatened everywhere, not just in the West, but also right here in India. And hence the themes are very relevant today as well,” says actor Prakash Bare who stars as the eponymous Caligari in the play which is on stage this weekend.
The play follows the story of a hypnotist Dr. Caligari who uses a somnambulist, Cesare, to kill people, thus addressing the nuanced themes of control and propaganda and the horrors of fascism. The narrator, Francis, tries to unravel this mystery. “The play raises these issues but it is not preachy. It does so in a subtle way,” adds Prakash.
The director and scenographer Deepan Sivaraman was always fascinated by the movie. The parallels of the German fascist regime and the current scenario in India struck a chord with him. But it was also a challenge to adapt the silent movie to stage. “I like a complex narrative structure with multiple layers. I like how Hitchcockian it is,” he says, adding, “As a scenographer, I like theatre to be a whole audio-visual experience and not just text-central.”
The original movie is known for its stark set design, crooked backdrops and dark shadows. The set of the play also mimics this macabre style. It is a very claustrophobic sort of a warehouse. There are sculptural installations, puppets and even a cinematic video playing in the background enhancing the feeling of dread. Deepan has always been interested in non-linear narratives, fantasy and magical realism. The director’s last play was The Legend of Khasak, an adaption of Malayalam writer O V Vijayan’s novel and he has also produced works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
While this is the premiere in Bengaluru, the play was showcased at the International Theatre Festival of Kerala, Bharat Rang Mahotsav and META 2016, where it won an award for Best Set design, and will travel to Wuzhen Theater Festival in China, later this year.
Rs. 500 upwards. February 9, 10 & 11, 6.30 pm and 8.30 pm. At The Bay Amphitheater, Bellandur