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Weird magic of Macbeth

Could Lady Macbeth have been a Tantric who teamed up with the witches to weave a spell on her husband' Alyque Padamsee believes she was. And so, he has come up with his version of Macbeth, inspired by Tantra.

It all started with a book called Shakti-The Feminine Force that Padamsee had read some 20 years ago. 'The book talks about Tantra and its proximity with witchcraft and I immediately thought of Macbeth,' says the Mumbai-based theatre director sitting in his Oberoi Grand room on Wednesday afternoon.

'Nobody could explain how in one single night the witches make the prophecy that Macbeth will be king, Lady Macbeth convinces Macbeth to murder King Duncan and even the killing takes place. It came to my mind that Lady Macbeth could be a part of the Tantric circle and from that insight I began visualising the witches as instruments of Lady Macbeth,' adds Padamsee.

The witches have a vital role in Padamsee's Macbeth ' they drink blood, wear malas made of skulls, crown Macbeth and his wife after Duncan's murder, reappear after Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking scene and finally dance around Macbeth's severed head chanting 'Fair is foul, and foul is fair...'

The ad-marketing guru was in town looking for sponsors to bring the play to Calcutta. Set in a Tantric universe, the two-hour-long production premiered in Mumbai a month back.

'To me, Lady Macbeth invokes the witches and gets them to visit Macbeth. When Macbeth returns home, we show her doing a kind of ritual around him in bed, and then she mounts him,' says Padamsee, who has been guided by a Mumbai-based Tantric, Subhojit Dasgupta.

From where Padamsee sees it, 'Macbeth is like Shiva, who creates and also destroys everything in his path.'

Tantra believes in the composite forces of Shiva and Shakti. 'Shakti is the stronger of the two, but she becomes hollow if she gives too much energy. Having given away all her power to Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is empty after Duncan's murder,' explains Padamsee. 'My biggest challenge was how to make Lady Macbeth sympathetic yet terrifying. She's like a Kali figure.'

So, isn't Lady Macbeth snatching all the attention from her better half ' and Shakespeare's hero ' in his production' 'Oh yes, many critics have also felt that the play is actually about Lady Macbeth,' admits Padamsee.

Delhi-based theatre actress Lushin Dubey has been cast in the key role. 'I have been thinking of staging the play for 20 years but I wasn't getting the right actress. I saw a solo performance of Lushin 18 months ago and fell in love with her acting. She has got a tremendous voice and combines power with sensuality, which is the core of Tantra ' the male-female conjoining. From instigating Macbeth to the final breakdown and her obsession with blood, Lushin is fantastic,' he says, nodding his trademark curly mop.

'I have got a brilliant team. I have Vijay Crishna as Macbeth who played Iago opposite Kabir Bedi in my Othello. Then there's Gerson da Cunha as King Duncan and Sabira Merchant as Lady Macduff,' he adds.

Having lined up a cast of 23 members, Padamsee spent six months training his actors just on verse speaking. 'You see, modern actors have not done much of Shakespeare. I have trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, London, where they teach how to speak Shakespeare. So, I have passed that on to my team.'

The verse speaking exercise focused on diction, the meaning of sentences and the iambic pentameter, in which Shakespeare wrote.

For the expensive project mounted on Rs 30-40 lakh, daughter Raell Padamsee (the play's producer) has put together a high-profile ensemble ' costumes by Tarun Tahiliani, music by Louiz Banks and set design by Fali Unwalla. With the clues Padamsee gave them, Tahiliani has come up with dresses that are partly Western with Indian influences, Banks has scored music dominated by chants and hymns, while Unwalla has designed a 'spectacular set'.

Parvez Mistry has trained the actors in sword fighting and Padamsee has taken the help of special effects for the battle scenes, to make the witches appear and vanish, and to make the woods of Birnam move to Dunsinane.

Macbeth is the 71st production in Padamsee's long theatre career. Of the four major Shakespeare tragedies, he has staged all but King Lear. Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar and The Taming of the Shrew are also part of his repertoire.

'My Macbeth is a frightening production,' warns Padamsee, before adding with a twinkle in his bespectacled eyes: 'But it's elevating, too.'

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