The Merchant of modern times 

New Delhi, July 17 (IANS) The jury is still out on the genre of “The Merchant of Venice”, one of the most debated and complex plays by William Shakespeare. While some argue it’s a comedy there is still a debate on it being a tragic comedy or a problem play. However, when Vikram Kapadia decided to direct “The Merchant of Venice” for Aadyam theatre, he was sure that his adaptation of the Bard would be a black comedy.

“It is open to many interpretations. But for me, it is a black comedy. It’s always a challenge to adapt the Bard’s work. Since playing around with dialogue means killing the play, I have only made it contemporary with the costumes and the set,” Kapadia told IANS.

Adapted in a contemporary setting, it is a universal tale showcasing the games people play. There is deception, treachery, love, hatred and revenge. For Kapadia, the play is politically and socially relevant than ever before.

The satire on society is also an exciting thriller. Venice and Belmont are now recast as worlds of great gamblers, rich business men, socialites and the prodigal youth. It’s a world where morals and conscience are replaced by opportunism and convenience.

The play opens with a cross-dressed singer (very central to many Shakespearean plays) crooning in a night club, introducing the audience into a heady world of cocktails and casinos. It’s in the bar that Antonio (Luke Kenny) a rich merchant promises Bassanio, his young friend 3,000 ducats for wooing beautiful heiress Portia.

The play revolves around two main plots: Bassanio’s adventures playing the lotto to win Portia and Shylock’s pursuit of Antonio’s “pound of flesh”. Shylock, the central character, is the heartbreaking villain, an unmerciful Jew moneylender. The most successful banker in Venice, he is regularly slighted by the Jews and is constantly in competition with Antonio.

In his modern take on the play, Kapadia tried to portray Shylock more sympathetically, like most of the contemporary renditions.

Shylock is played by the director himself. Sporting a magnificent beard (minus the red hat) he makes a poignant performance. Kapadia’s Shylock comes across as a wounded person with a sense of pride. With his rendition of the seminal “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die,” Kapadia pulled off the predicament of Shylock with ease and elan.

However, one wonders if Kapadia was successful in bringing out the human side of Shylock. The director also failed to show the intensity of the relationship between Shylock and his daughter Jessica, who elopes with Lorenzo, a Christian, which shatters Shylock.

Another character who took the centerstage is Portia. She is stubborn, vindictive, wealthy and beautiful, a character with many shades. Yuki Ellias as Portia was at her best at the court scene, which is very melodramatic.

Despite Rajeev Siddhartha’s good looks, he failed to make an impression as Bassanio. The Moroccon king (Neil Bhoopalam), Portia’s unsuccessful suitor put on a brilliant show, as did Jim Sarbh as Gratiano, Bassanio’s friend.

Somehow, Kapadia fumbled at places, where he tried to induce a contemporary flavor to the narrative. His idea of modernity highlighting a night club, actors in bikinis and bottom slapping of women didn’t fit the plot.

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