Nothing Like Lear – Review

Howl, howl, howl, howl! O! you are men of stones:
Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so
That heaven’s vaults should crack. — She’s gone for ever! —
I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
She’s dead as earth.

Lear, Scene III

Vesti la giubba, Italian for “put on the costume” has been a recurrent theme in many portrayals of tragedy. The idea of the “tragic clown” runs down since ages,the painted tears on the clown who, despite the wastefulness he finds his life to be, has to perform in front of the audience for “the show must go on”. Rajat Kapoor’s fascination with tragicomic portrayals of Shakespearean drama, carrying forward the idea from Hamlet- The Crown Prince, continues with Nothing Like Lear, a jocular and intense rendition of a heartbreaking tale that touches upon the wastefulness of life, the traumatic dawning of age, estrangement with a daughter, an omnipresent sense of failure and the foolhardiness that love bequests to man. The Shakespearean fool, a recurrent motif in all of the Bard’s plays, makes a re-entry into Kapoor’s intrigue. The idea of the jester recounting his tale of deep psychic turmoil, of love lost and of the utter uselessness of age makes for a heart wrenching characterization. Vinay Pathak, in his energetic and cutting portrayal of the clown is deeply disturbing and you get a sense of heaviness descend on you as the 80 minute monologue unfolds – despite the raw stand-up repartee, the pastiche govindaesque humor and the Italian accent.

“That, of course, is the great secret of the successful fool – that he is no fool at all “- Isaac Asimov

Atul Kumar as the clown. Courtesy: Zomato

Billed outright as a fool who loved excessively, the clown brings to fore various stages of his life, one filled with rejection and comprising of “nothing”, as he likes to put it himself. Through such incidents in his life, parallels are drawn with the epic Shakespearean tragedy, its part-namesake. The weeping crown whose job it is to make people laugh descends into wails, gibberish when the emotions go out of his hands. The escape to gibberish when his feelings are unable to contain themselves further penetrates the clown and as he ages, it descends to insanity and eventual withdrawal.

Vinay Pathak’s clown is energetic, improvising and indulgent. His wails are deeply disturbing, his insanity terrifying and his schizophrenia heart wrenching. As he goes on, moving back and forth between recounting his tales, regaling the crowd with deliberately slip-shod attempts at comedy and sartorial takes on the society, the irony does not seem amiss. Alternating between the clown and the wailing old-man, the tale is fraught with dangers of exaggeration, but one he manages to sound convincing. Like the King Lear, its nemesis, the play is a tragedy at its core, only, this one has a clown at the centre of it all.

I read somewhere that when Rajat Kapoor was conceptualizing the play, one which despite two months of planning and improvisation found more material to improvise impromptu, Vinay Pathak was what he had always in mind. And rightfully so I say, for the Amar Kaul we have come to love and the Bharat Bhushan we have come to respect makes for a solid stage presence. One that is soulfully stirring in its helplessness, mortifying in its insanity and verbose in its intensity.

In one line: A monologue that uses the basic (and tragic) themes of King Lear, twists it for modern sensibilities, grants on-stage liberties and delivers a deeply disturbing clown who cries throughout.


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