Clowning glory: Rajat Kapoor talks about his play Nothing Like Lear

On the sidelines of Nothing Like Lear showing in Mumbai, director Rajat Kapoor talks about how the play in gibberish connects to the audience
While theatre gives him tremendous joy, Rajat Kapoor is equally passionate about cinema
While theatre gives him tremendous joy, Rajat Kapoor is equally passionate about cinema

It isn’t easy to keep the audience glued to the seat for a mono-act, but Rajat Kapoor’s Nothing Like Lear, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s King Lear, is one of those rare plays that manages to achieve the feat effortlessly. The play—currently showing in Mumbai—is ‘nothing like’ Shakespeare’s famed tragedy, but has all the themes of King Lear—tyranny, authoritarianism, father-daughter relationship, frustration and betrayal. The most interesting bit is that all of this is shown through the comic eyes of the robe-wearing clown—actor Vinay Pathak—mouthing gibberish lines.

The play is a mono act, but it would not be wrong to say that Pathak, or the clown, makes the audience ‘see’ the other characters through his acting—his father, his daughter, his brother. Over an hour of a laugh riot, including the repetitive scenes where the clown is fixing an imaginary car, does not take away from the fact that it is a poignant piece charting the painful experiences of the clown, especially the fractured relationship he shares with his daughter.

Despite the nonsensical language of the play, the character, Kapoor insists, is contemporary and relatable. “A clown gives you a fresh perspective. When you do a Hamlet or Lear with clowns, you start from zero and are free to interpret the text. Clown is a purist form of being in a way; it comes without baggage. If a clown is sad, it is pure sadness you can explore, or joy, greed or hate.

The clown is like an empty vessel. Vinay and I developed the character, its laugh, language, body language, acts of love and hate. Eventually, what came out was completely original,” says the 62-year-old, who is also an established name in Bollywood with films like Mithya, Mixed Doubles, Ankhon Dekhi, Kapoor & Sons, Bheja Fry, Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story and most recently RK/RKay.

Nothing Like Lear debuted in 2012. How has the show evolved in this decade? “When we started, the play was improvised and didn’t have a set text. Through the first 20-odd shows, we were making corrections, before the shape was defined. The play has grown in length over the years. It was a 95-minute play originally and now it is 105 minutes,” says Kapoor. The idea of a theatre act headlined by a gibberish-talking clown first came to Kapoor while improvising for a play called C for Clown in the late 90s. “I am fascinated by clowns,” says the director, who realised that though the language was balderdash with nonsensical impressions, it was still expressive and the audience understood it.

While theatre gives him tremendous joy, Kapoor is equally passionate about cinema. He owes his interest in filmmaking to his “filmbuff” father who, from a young age, would take him along to screenings of offbeat films, playing at art-house cinemas in Delhi. By 16, Kapoor says, he knew he wanted to be a filmmaker.

He watched the great auteurs of cinema, Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard and Werner Herzog and soon after enrolled for a course in direction at the Film and Television Institute of India in 1988. “I can’t choose between the two, as they are different kinds of pleasures,” says the actor-director, who has just finished his new film, Everyone Loves Saurabh Handa, a whodunnit. He is also keeping busy in the OTT space. After the recently released Jehanabad, where he plays a Bihari politician, Kapoor will be seen as a terrorist in Radicals and as captain of a hijacked ship in Pirates.

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