In India there is hardly drama without music, it is a way of life. Hence the nation’s film and theatre productions incorporate a lot of music and dancing in their films and plays for the stage.
When Manish Gandhi, an Indian theatre director and stage, film and TV actor, took to the stage at the University of Ghana’s School of Performing Arts Drama Studio on Tuesday morning, to perform excerpts from his stage play, Brown Shakespeare, he infused the elements associated with Indian theatrical culture, music and dance, to tell his story.
Traditionally dressed and accompanied with dancing bells, Manish’s very interactive performance was filled with swaying emotions alongside the music and rhythmic changes displayed in consonance with the music.
Despite the title of the performance being Brown Shakespeare, Manish incorporates a modern perspective of Shakespeare along with a deep respect for the old to create a true fusion between the modern and the traditional.
A genuinely creative vision unfailingly imbibes the vitality of a tradition and marries it to modernity to give the resulting work its spine. Brown Shakespeare is an interesting and intriguing performance not because it is avant garde but because, instead of either deliberately eschewing tradition or exploiting it from ulterior motives, as is the case with most such theatre work where tradition plays a pivotal role, either by its deliberate absence or by its too facile ‘interpretation’, it glories in tradition, peeling away its superficialities and laying bare its strengths.
The amazing tonal range in rhythm derived from the Indian Navrasas challenging the pace and rhythm of Shakespearean text forms the heart of the performance. Rhythm not only supports, but also dictates Gandhi’s speech, moves and expressions in Brown Shakespeare. The traditional Indian forms used, especially the bit involving the green mask, have a sensorial impact on the spectator.
This play may be seen as a very individualistic theatre statement, rooted in the traditional forms of art from India for its vocabulary where the main narrative is driven by different Shakespearean characters.
Manish based this performance on classical Indian theatre form of koodiyattam and aims to make Shakespeare accessible to an audience who would otherwise not be exposed to or appreciate such work.
Due to a lack of time, he performed just a little of the entire play but still captured the imagination of his audience, students from the School of Performing Arts, so much that the interaction between Manish and the students that followed the performance showed the level of understanding of theatre by the students.
They asked very specific questions about how to incorporate traditional forms of arts into modern narratives to create something contemporary for everyone.
Due to the high level of interest exhibited, Manish and some of the students enacted the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet to the admiration of lecturers, other students.
Manish, during the performance, shows his imaginative capacity from drama created through physical agility and an excellent sense of timing- the pauses and the silence being as important as a movement oriented passages. He uses classical Indian Kudiyattam technique to stimulate the Rasas, it is fascinating to watch the green mask create a certain pattern of breathing and then change form from one emotion to the other.
“This kind of work should not be seen as merely about developing a craft of performance as an end in itself, but in response to certain needs that emerge out of the larger world. It is about all that countries like India and Ghana have experienced historically and continue to experience. Such work stands against the sameness perpetuated by the globalized world,” Manish says.
He adds that the sameness is being reinforced by democratization of knowledge, and information technology revolution in post colonial developing nations like Ghana and India. “The play talks about guarding cultural specificity, it being the expression of individuality, of uniqueness, of originality, in a group and in an individual.”
He hopes that the students will be inspired to take up traditional concepts and fuse them with contemporary themes to bring out new plays and productions that will not just entertain audiences but also used as a means of sustaining the cultural values and norms that has guided the Ghanaian society.
He also see the play as an encouragement to performers from the Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community to take interest in classical texts and make use of their traditional theatre forms to devise a new performance language.
Manish says that he is already seeing the possibility of collaborations between him and these brilliant art students or anyone in the creative industry to undertake productions which will explore the similarities between India and Ghana.
“I believe there is so much room for collaboration. In the first place, we were both colonised by the British and the English Language is a common one between us. Our theatre and film industries can work together to bring out some of these similarities and bridge the gap on the difference.”
After his performance, Manish presented a book, Theatre Craft: A Director’s Practical Companion from A-Z authored by John Caird to the library of the institute.
Theatre Craft is an all-encompassing practical guide for anyone working in the theatre, from the enthusiastic amateur to the committed professional. With entries arranged alphabetically, Theatre Craft offers advice on all areas of directing, from acting, adaptation, and accent to sound effects, superstition, trap doors, and wardrobe.