"The world’s first acknowledged genius, Socrates, was strange in many ways. An exceedingly ugly man, with astonishing powers of concentration, he was entirely uninterested in honor, wealth, or even minimal material comforts, risked his life in battle, chose to spend his days arguing that he knew nothing while demonstrating that his interlocutors knew even less, and accepted the verdict of the Athenian assembly that he was the enemy of the state and therefore willingly took the hemlock."
Alain De Botton, 'The Consolations of Philosophy', 2000:
"...Few can have appreciated his looks. He was short, bearded and bald, with a curious rolling gait, and a face variously likened by acquaintances to the head of a crab, a styr or a grotesque. His nose was flat, his lips large, and his prominent swollen eyes sat beneath a pair of unruly brows..."
Alex Andreou wrote in Guardian, June 3 2013:
"...When I changed my appearance for an acting job I experienced the ugly shadow of discrimination cast on 'Muslim-looking' people...I have been rehearsing for a play for some weeks now. I am playing Socrates this month in a modern retelling of The Clouds by Aristophanes. I agreed with the director that a big bushy beard would be right for the character. It didn't occur to me that, in the wake of the horrific incident in Woolwich, this would transform me into what Nick Robinson might describe as "of Muslim appearance...".
So is big bushy beard enough to play Socrates?
More than a decade ago, I saw much hyped Marathi play 'Surya pahilela manus' (सूर्य पाहिलेला माणूस)- meaning the man who has seen the sun: Socrates. Dr. Shreeram Lagoo (श्रीराम लागू) played Socrates.
I did NOT LIKE the play one bit. It bored me to death. The only thing worse I have seen, featuring Dr. Lagoo for 'full length', is a Marathi film 'Jhakol' (झाकोळ), produced by Dr. Lagoo himself!
My wife, Anjali, slept almost during the entire duration of it. She woke up only when Socrates (Dr. Lagoo) came down with a thud while calmly relaying bits of wisdom. (Later Anju would vow not to go to any play of my choice in future!)
What went wrong? To begin with, the choice of Dr. Lagoo to play Socrates.
If you have seen Dr. Lagoo on cinema screen or on the stage, particularly of 1970's, you know that he is a very good looking man in a conventional sense. Fair skinned, sharp facial features, thick black hair....He has grown old gracefully and still, at 86, looks handsome despite his ailment.
In the play, I thought, Dr. Lagoo looked like a sage painted by Chandamama artists. I feel the looks of Socrates matter critically in projecting what he was in reality.
It's NOT easy to mock Dr. Lagoo with those sage-like looks and hence 'Surya pahilela manus' does not even get a chance to become comedy. Even otherwise, no attempt has been made to portray Socrates as "a queer middle-aged man with feet of clay". To me, he came across as Bhagat Singh of Classical antiquity.
In the past, I have argued that Nilu Phule should have played Nana (नाना) in Ghashiram Kotwal (घाशीराम कोतवाल), not just because he was a better actor than Dr. Mohan Agashe (मोहन आगाशे) but that he resembled Nana more.
Considering his great sense of comic timing- amply demonstrated in a number of Marathi films like Master Vinayak's (मास्टर विनायक) 'Brahmchari' (ब्रह्मचारी) 1938- and his looks, someone like the late Mr. Damuanna Malvankar (दामुअण्णा मालवणकर) 1893-1975 would have been a better choice to play Socrates...
Dr. Lagoo, courtesy: amarujala.com