Gender Roles at Play in Rajat Kapoor’s Take on ‘As You Like It’
Gender role reversals cause much confusion and hilarity in Rajat Kapoor’s play ‘I Don’t Like It As You Like It’
Play: I Don’t Like It As You Like It
Written & Directed by: Rajat Kapoor
How do you write about a complex, entertaining play that has you thinking, laughing and applauding all through ninety minutes, within a limited word count?
Try gibberish, suggested someone. I would if I had the writing skills of director-scriptwriter Rajat Kapoor.
In the past, Kapoor dared to present some of William Shakespeare’s most serious plays, Hamlet and King Lear, through clowns. Using clowns once again, this time he takes the kernel of As You like It to present a satirical and yet warm look at contemporary times. His gibberish makes a lot of sense!
Most of us, as kids, have seen clowns at circuses as a happy lot. But I remember my daughter being very disappointed after she shook hands with one. “His hands are very rough,” she exclaimed, all of three years. And in Kapoor’s play, too, the clowns have a rough life. Down and out, bickering bitterly amongst themselves, they try to get going with rehearsals for As You Like It.
But it is not easy. There is Mimi who not only steals other actors’
lines, she steals even their pauses. Soso (Cyrus Sahukar) suffers from
melancholia, Fido (Vinay Pathak) adores Fifi but she prefers to paint the town red with other
men and this comes in the way of the rehearsals. To complicate matters further,
the director of the troupe, Popo, decides to make them do a gender change by
having the men play women and vice versa. “What will happen to my X and Y
chromosomes?” wails one clown. And then, to compound their woes, the harassed clowns
are asked to vacate the place where they practise, because a mall is coming up
Stoically, they proceed to the forest of Arden. “We are clowns, we move on, we make new memories,” observes one resignedly. And there, amongst the trees, under a star-lit sky, with fireflies for company, each clown discovers his or her identity. “It is so quiet here, that I can hear myself think,” says another. Many a poignant moment is experienced here while the clowns lie back and look at life afresh.
In Shakespeare’s play Rosalind impersonates as a man when she escapes to the forest of Arden. So what happens in Kapoor’s play when Coco, a man, plays Rosalind and then has to do another gender reversal to play a man? Endless confusion and hilarity, many a double entendre, as well as serious thought on gender issues take place. “The guitar you play is too small,” complains Mimi. “Size doesn’t matter,” replies Coco cheekily. Simple Fido, on the other hand, is content just making coffee for Fifi because if he asks for more he would lose her as a friend. A rare man, that!
The rest of them are typical men, in a warm, fuzzy manner. So, when one of the male clowns plays a woman he moans, “I’ve been a lady for only one day and I already hate men.” A delightful costume detail points to the silly vanity of men and the level-headedness of women—while the women wear sedate, striped knickerbockers, the men wear polka-dotted ones!
Contributing to the satire are Soso’s puppet’s off-the-cuff one-liners. “This play is so bad, Shakespeare must have written it to pay off his home loan,” it grumbles.
Matching the witty dialogues is the nimble footwork of the actors, producing slapstick at its best. Mimi, played by the ever-agile Faezeh Jalali, does splits, somersaults and tap dance like a professional clown. In perfect tandem with her is Aadar Malik playing the very lovable Coco. Sometimes all the actors tumble about on stage with Popo (Joy Fernandes) whacking them with a bat. Just like at a circus.
Working at various levels, Rajat Kapoor uses all the Shakespearean devices like acts, play on words, soliloquies, mix-up of genders… as well as contemporary theatre techniques to produce a play that is rich in language, sharp in satire, a visual marvel and absolutely hilarious.
Apart from a very talented team of actors, Kapoor is supported by
skilled set designer - Meenal Agarwal, lights designer - Arghya Lahiri, lights
operator - Asmit Pathare, costume designer - Tanya Sharma, music composer - Naren
Chandavarkar and sound operator - Aditya Kelgaonkar, all of whom create the right
mood in each act taking the play from a low note in browns and greys to a
mellow one in blues and finally a celebratory, scarlet finale.
Note: Rajat Kapoor’s I Don’t Like It As You Like It will be performed in Delhi at the Kamani Auditorium on May 21 and 22.
(Alpana Chowdhury is a Mumbai-based, independent journalist and a writer of two biographies – Madhubala: Masti and Magic and Dev Anand: Dashing, Debonair)
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