Rajat Kapoor on challenges of shooting his play for digital screening
DUE TO THE pandemic, the Aditya Birla Group’s theatre initiative, Aadyam decided to not have new plays this year. Instead, it revisited three of their popular plays which were performed on stage, but without an audience and shot for digital screening.
The first play set to open Aadyam’s Digital Edition is veteran actor-writer-director Rajat Kapoor’s I Don’t Like It As You Like It. A reimagination of Shakespeare’s classic As You Like It, the play is retold through clown-style theatre — but features a play within a play concept where the men and women exchange roles.
Ahead of its premiere, we spoke to Mumbai-based Kapoor to understand his experience of shooting a play — that is meant to be watched live, and how he struck a balance to ensure it did not appear like a film or series. Excerpts:
Q: How was the experience of shooting something that is meant for a live audience? Did it involve any retakes?
This is my first time attempting something like this, and we went into it with some principles. The idea was to keep it a theatrical experience. Of course, it won’t be and can never be a theatrical experience because it is not playing out in front of you... In theatre, the audience is definitely a part of creating the moment and the experience. But, we wanted to ensure that what we saw did not pretend to be anything other than what it was. Maybe the way to put it up is‚ ‘what you are going to watch now is a rendition of a play.’
Q: Considering you are a film and theatre director, how tricky was it to find a balance between shooting the play and ensuring that the audience feels like they are watching a live performance and not a film or series?
That was the challenge. The attempt was to keep the essence of the play, not to make a film out of it, or even pretend that that could be possible. It was mostly about how does one shoot it in terms of framing it and lensing it.
In a play, chaos is a large part of the performance, and a lot is happening at any given time. On stage, during a live performance, the audience can choose where to look. The mind decides, and the eye travels from one part of the stage to another, sometimes choosing to watch an actor who does not have lines or is somewhere in the background, but reacting. The audience is free to choose who and how they want to watch the play. However, while filming, one is, in a way, directing the eye of the audience and choosing what is to be watched and at which moment. The process is even harder while editing. Hopefully, it will all be seamless in the end.
Q: Did you always want to make films? How did theatre happen?
Yes. I always wanted to make films, ever since I was 14. I had no idea what theatre was, and I had never watched a play and had no interest in it. Theatre happened to me accidentally. I had joined Alliance De Francaise in 1982 to learn French, and there was a very small theatre group there, called Theatre de Poche, meaning pocket theatre. I just went for one of the rehearsals and was hooked for life.
Q: You have worked on a lot of clown and Shakespearean plays, what draws you towards them both? And, what brings you back again and again?
I don’t know what my pull towards clowns is. Maybe it comes from my admiration for Chaplin and Keaton. But, as I worked more with clowns, I realised this might be the purest form of expression — free of social baggage. The mask of the clown frees you and lets you express emotions in their very essence.
Q: What drew you towards As You Like It in particular and what made you tweak it to be a play in a play, with the reversal of genders?
The fact that Rosalind goes to the forest dressed as a man — Ganymede, and in the forest she meets her lover Orlando who is pining for Rosalind (but he does not recognise her). Now Rosalind, dressed as Ganymede tells Orlando‚ ‘I will pretend to be your girlfriend Rosalind, woo me as you would woo her.’ The fact that there is a woman who is pretending to be a man, who is pretending to be a woman was my initial pull to this play, and everything came from there.
Q: How do you balance writing, acting and directing across mediums? Which one usually gets the best of you?
I am always trying to make my next film, so yes, I write all the time. Every year, I write one or two scripts, and I always have about five or six scripts that are ready to be made. Sometimes they get made eight years after the first draft, some die because they may not be as interesting to me after a few years, and others are still waiting to be made. When I am making a film, which takes about a year and a half of your life, it does consume me totally. As opposed to that, acting is not such a large commitment. Most acting jobs get over in 15 to 30 days. I don’t think it’s really hard to find time for everything you love. If you love it enough, you make time for it.
Rs 399 onwards. The play premieres on December 5, 6.45 pm.