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Hamlet ticket to land of heroes


Akmal Ahmed, talented midfielder and diehard Manchester United fan, wouldn’t have imagined that he would one day earn a dream trip to the land of the Red Devils by scoring a goal as an actor rather than a footballer.

But as Hamlet might have remarked, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in an 18-year-old’s philosophy.

Akmal Ahmed in scenes from the play Hamlet@Recent, in which his portrayal of budding footballer Robin and his alter ego, Hamlet the Prince of Denmark, fetched him the award for best actor in a British Council-organised inter-school drama festival. Akmal is set to travel to the home turf of his favourite team, Manchester United, to attend a theatre workshop at Manchester Metropolitan University and hopes to visit Old Trafford to see where his idol (below) Cristiano Ronaldo once played. Pictures by Arnab Mondal

Akmal hadn’t even heard of Hamlet until six months ago, but his portrayal of Shakespeare’s tragic prince in a football-linked adaptation of the play was so striking that it fetched him the award for best actor in the all-India final of the British Council’s annual inter-school drama festival.

The student of accounting and finance at Calcutta Muslim Orphanage will soon be headed for Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK to attend a weeklong theatre workshop, a journey for which he has football to thank as much as he does the Bard.

Akmal, who shares a tiny tile-roof house at Kasai Para Lane in Park Circus with his parents, grandmother, aunt and two siblings, had participated in the drama festival as a member of the Kolkata Goalz Police School.

Hamlet’s was a role that fascinated him the moment Kingsuk Bandyopadhyay, the play’s director, narrated the script. “Kingsuk Sir asked us to relate to the characters and I instantly told him that I would play Hamlet,” Akmal, captain of the Police Athletic Club Goalz, told Metro.

In the play, Hamlet is budding footballer Robin’s alter ego. Hamlet@Recent is set in a football coaching camp from which four boys are to be chosen for a six-month training stint with Manchester United. Robin, who is playing Hamlet in a school production of the Shakespearean tragedy, discovers during the course of the play that he is much like the Prince of Denmark.

For Akmal too, acting helped discover traits in himself he didn’t know existed. It helped that his friend and football teammate Faisal Khan was Horatio.“We would rehearse our lines even while walking the lanes of Park Circus,” recounted Akmal, who attends the Kolkata Goalz football camp thrice a week.

Those who saw Akmal on stage earlier this month couldn’t believe he had never acted on stage before. “He did us proud. We didn’t expect he would put up such a great performance. It’s a great achievement,” said Debasish Roy, additional commissioner of Calcutta police.

Akmal’s family was even more surprised. “He is a nautankibaaz (drama king) at home,” said mother Shaheen Fatema. “But to England as an actor? Unbelievable!”

According to Shaheen, Akmal’s “acting” before the role of Hamlet happened was limited to “making us smile with his jokes and mimicry”.

Her only wish now is for her son, the eldest of three siblings, is to make the most of the opportunity given to him. “Nobody from our family has ever gone abroad. I cannot stay away from him even for a day but I am very happy for him,” she said.

Akmal’s father Mohammed Sultan, a guard with a private security agency, was in the audience that gave the 18-year-old a standing ovation at the South City International School auditorium. He still wonders if it was all a dream.

For sister Sumaiya Nasreen, Akmal is a “hero” like no other. “When I first saw him on stage, he looked every bit an accomplished actor. I had heard him say his lines at home, but on stage he was awesome,” said the Class X student at The Quraish Institute.

Priyanka Roy, English language teacher at the British Council, sees Akmal as a leader in the making. “I have followed Akmal right from his first class here, and I instantly recognised his leadership skills. He is one of the stronger students and also helps out the little ones.”

The boy himself remains grounded. “I don’t know if acting is going to be a part of my life forever, but football is what will keep me alive and kicking,” smiled Akmal, who dreams of playing for India someday.

Mujhe Shah Rukh Khan nahi banna. Mujhe Akmal banna hai (I don’t want to be Shah Rukh Khan. I want to be Akmal),” he said, flashing the winning smile.

While rehearsals for Hamlet@Recent had taken up much of his time in the run-up to the competition, they could not keep Akmal away from his first love: football. “Since we were rehearsing during our practice hours, I used to train on my own in the morning,” said the Park Circus boy, who wants to visit Old Trafford “just once” and see where his idol Cristiano Ronaldo used to sit in the dressing room when he was a part of Man United.

Akmal had started playing football when he was in Class II and made it to the under-16 Mohammedan Sporting team within a few years. But he had to leave the club after six weeks of training because his mother was against the idea of studies taking the back seat.

Kolkata Goalz, a collaborative Premier Skills project between the English Premier League and the British Council with Calcutta police’s support, gave Akmal a second shot at football in 2011.

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