October, 2016

The Shakespeare Society of India in association with Ashoka University hosted a two-day conference titled ‘Shakespeare’s Ashes’

The Shakespeare Society of India in association with Ashoka University hosted a two-day conference titled ‘Shakespeare’s Ashes’.

The two day event included seminars which touched upon different aspects of Shakespeare’s various ‘lives’ across the world as well as his understanding of death; a screening of Aparna Sen’s Bengali adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, titled Arshinagar; and Chahat ki Dastaan, a translation of Shakespeare’s sonnets, into various Indian languages and performances.

Sreya Muthukumar and Zico Sehgal, who are undergraduate students of Ashoka performed a brilliant Bharatnatyam/tribal dance translation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets 128-9, in front of an enraptured audience.

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‘Ashoka students, staff and faculty combined to produce what was arguably the highlight of a sublime conference — the Chahat ki Dastaan, a translation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets into 11 Indian languages and forms’ posted Ashoka’s Dean of Academic Affairs Jonathan Gil Harris, wh is also the president of the Society. Harris is an academic, known for his extensive research on Shakespeare.

“Shakespeare’s sonnets are not taught in India. They make people uncomfortable in terms of how they talk about desire,” said Madhavi Menon, member, Shakespeare Society of India and professor of English at Ashoka University. “Sonnets appeared to be the perfect text to showcase the variety of performance styles and languages we have in India. There will be 10 performance of five minutes each, including Dastaangoi and Bharatnatyam.”

The event also saw American-born Indian Bharatnatyam dancerJustin McCarthy’s exquisite Bharatnatyam and Tamil-Sangham fusion performance- a song rendition of Shakespeare’s wonderfully gender-bending Sonnet 20 (“master-mistress of my passion”).

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About the sessions in the conference, Harris said, “We wanted the topics to be universal and open to as many people as possible including academicians, theatre practitioners and the general public. At the same time, we also wanted to be a very recognisably Indian conference.”

Harris and his team faced many challenges while conceptualising the conference. “For a lot of people here, the study of Shakespeare means something a little different from what we have proposed. I would like to think what we are doing is a democratic form of Shakespeare, something which he himself would have recognised as he was always writing for a mixed audience. We have tried to offer an event that is academic but also has the energy of a literary event,” he said.

Both Menon and Harris believe that the universal appeal of Shakespeare’s plays is because of the ease with which they can be placed in different settings. “If he was alive today, he would have be writing for Bollywood or regional cinema,” said Harris.

This piece was originally published in Hindustan Times https://goo.gl/LT7Sf2

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