Kalki Koechlin: Breaking Bard in UAE

The Bollywood and theatre actress will be part of the Shakespeare Comedy Theatre Festival in Abu Dhabi

16:32 March 8, 2018
Kalki KoechlinCOVER

Let’s face it: William Shakespeare and his acclaimed plays aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.

But what if we tell you that you don’t need to have a thorough understanding of the great Bard’s works to enjoy the plays that will be staged in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

It’s not like how you know it.

There’s going to be a lot of clowning and goofing around as the Shakespeare Comedy Theatre Festival rolls into Abu Dhabi this weekend with their radicalised interpretations.

Director Rajat Kapoor

Bollywood actor and the director of SCTF Rajat Kapoor and his talented troupe comprising Kalki Koechlin, Vinay Pathak, Ranveer Shorey and Jim Sarbh among others will make it their business to put a comical twist to Shakespeare’s famous plays such as King Lear, Macbeth, Hamlet and As You Like It.

‘I Don’t Like It. As You Like It.’

As they get ready to stage their plays, Gulf News tabloid! caught up with Bollywood actress and theatre personality, Kalki Koechlin, to find out what’s in store for theatre aficionados. The actress who recently launched her own theatre company is one of the rare talents who has straddled both stage plays and Hindi films with great dexterity. Excerpts from our interview with Koechlin...

 I love the community feeling that a play evokes and with various kinds of rehearsals, you get to delve into each play in detail.”

 - KALKI KOECHLIN | Bollywood actress, theatre artist 

What should we expect from your comedies this weekend?
Shakespeare is often explored in a serious way. So it will be refreshing to see clowns performing the plays of Shakespeare.

Traditionally, it may help to have a knowledge of his works, but for these comedies you can watch it without being acquainted with Shakespeare. We are not using the original text, but we are giving it a modern context. The magic of Shakespeare is that all his themes are so relevant. It was written 400 years ago, but it still resonates today.

It’s interesting you say that because Shakespeare and his language can be intimidating to several people especially to the millennials who may not be familiar with his works…
Yes, absolutely. Our plays are made for the millennials in the sense that there are many modern-day references which they will easy identify with. It is not in the Shakespearean language, although we have used a few lines from the text. Since we play clowns, we speak gibberish and have this strong sense of humour running through the plays.

Shakespearean comedies are complex in nature. How did you bring them to the stage and did the director give you a particular brief?
That is a question that Rajat [Kapoor, the director of the plays] can answer best. I have no idea how he does it. There is no brief, but we work on two months for each play. In my case, I read the Shakespearean text and tried to contextualise it with something in my own life. Or, sometimes we tried doing it through mime. So, Rajat picks, chooses and tell us what he wants. It’s a process.

Did you find it liberating to be on stage?
I am constantly on stage and therefore I don’t miss it. But I love the community feeling that a play evokes and with various kinds of rehearsals, you get to delve into each play in detail. Being on stage is vastly different from being in films.


 I never read reviews [of my plays]... I just don’t want to read a review for my own work because the criticism that I need as an actor to improve myself will come from those who are close to me and who understand me. A review gives an objective overall idea of a play, but the kind of feedback I am looking for are from my directors, mentors and people who know me.”

In this era of instant gratification with all of us being hooked onto our phones, how difficult is to grab the attention of your viewers when you are on stage?
It is a part of modern life. You can’t ignore technology and perhaps it can help you to solve some of the problems that exist.

Technology is important and it’s through internet or phones that we are able to connect to each other. But it has become an addiction and in my opinion any new invention needs to be used in a responsible way.

I feel like — we are still in the infancy stage of using it like a toy. For me, it is always refreshing to go to a theatre and switch off my mobile phones and not have my earphones plugged to my ears for those two hours.

Is there a lot of physical humour in the plays that will be staged here?
Humour is used generously. As You Like It has a generous dose of slapstick and physical humour. King Lear is a one-man show and is a moving piece. Hamlet, the play that we have been doing for the longest time, has a lot of dark comedy. MacBeth is the most disturbing one for me because it has a lot of relevance to the world today because of the changes that we are seeing around the world. It’s the story of a dictator and an evil ruler of the world. It’s an interesting time to see MacBeth.


How difficult is it to make people laugh and do you have a process before hitting the stage or a quirky ritual to de-stress?
I find it is very difficult to make them laugh, but in my experience it’s when you try to give up making them laugh, they laugh the most. I do stretches and I go to the washroom to empty my bladder before the show. I am usually nervous before a show.

Who was your toughest audience till date?
It was our show in Surat and I think the audiences had no clue what was going on. We were doing Hamlet and all our jokes met with dead silence. We also went to China and we got a similar response. But we have been to non-English speaking places such as Amsterdam or other places in the world and it has always been a good crowd. We don’t always need language so much in a play that has a lot of clowning around and gibberish. When you do 150 or 200 shows, you are bound to have a few that aren’t perfect.

Staging plays are hard work. You are rehearsing eight hours for two months at a stretch before a show opens to the public. You never know how a piece is going to go and there’s no structure per se. It’s only when you get on stage in front of an audience that you get an idea if your play is working or not. Then, you start tweaking it. It’s a guessing game in many ways.

‘Nothing Like Lear’.

Don’t miss it!

What: Shakespeare Comedy Theatre Festival

When: March 9 and 10

Time: 3.30pm and 7pm

Where: Abu Dhabi Theatre

Plays: As You Like It: I Don’t Like It; Hamlet; Macbeth and Nothing Like Lear

Tickets: Dh50 onwards.