1. It’s much more than one night
Piya Behroopiya, or its premiere title Barvi Raat, is the Hindi translation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. It is his only play with an alternative title – What You Will. Shakespeare’s play draws on the spirit of the festival of misrule that temporarily inverts the social order at the end of the 12 days of Christmas, but its mayhem is universal.
2. It premiered at Shakespeare’s Globe in London
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre has been reconstructed about 0.2km from the original playhouse, but that didn’t dim director Atul Kumar’s delight at being part of UK’s Globe to Globe festival of the Bard’s plays in April. He recalled “the smell of beer in the yard, the groundlings [audience in the pit] waving screaming laughing clapping dancing along with the songs of the play, standing ovation, backstage warmth of heaters and freezing cold of London, and rain pouring down on actors as their teeth chattered and they still sang full throttle!” Geetanjali Kulkarni, who plays lead actress Viola, remembered telling her husband as they watched a play at the Globe seven years ago “that this is an actor’s stage and I want to perform here”. She added, “I feel Shakespeare baba listened to my wish and it came true.” While the London shows used English scene synopses for the European audience, the Mumbai shows will have a bit more trimming as the Globe, being an Elizabethan stage, required no set or lighting design.
3. There’s a lot of cross-dressing
Shakespeare’s last romantic comedy is rife with disguises that enable characters to swap gender, class and lovers. Viola believes she has lost her brother, Sebastian, in a shipwreck. She dresses up as a man, Cesario, to gain employment with duke Orsino. Orsino sends Cesario to woo Olivia on his behalf. But Olivia finds herself attracted to Cesario/ Viola, who is conflicted by her love for the duke. Viola, whose love appears to be the truest in the play, is Shakespeare’s only heroine to never step out of her male disguise. The ploy would have created more friction in the Elizabethan era, where men played all the roles, and hence the boy playing Viola would be romantically paired off in the guise of a woman dressed as a man, effectively playing with the seventeenthcentury audience’s perception of gender and enraging the Puritans who considered cross-dressing deviant. In another twist, male jester Feste is played by actor Neha Saraf in this fortnight's production, as translator Amitosh Nagpal and Kumar perceived the wise clown to be an essentially “sexless character”. Kumar has designed the play's costumes.
4. It’s not Shakespeare straight up
Nagpal, who also plays Sebastian and a narrator, has weaved in the actors’ improvisations from rehearsal as well as tweaked the play’s cultural references in the Hindi translation. Explained actor Geetanjali Kulkarni, “We’ve maintained the Shakespearean atmosphere, but we’ve used colloquial words. Amitosh belongs to Punjab, so the flavour of truckwaali bhasha [truck-driver’s language] is there.” Kumar, famous for his irreverent, clownish take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet and King Lear, has kept the plot outline and essential themes, and downplayed the script's latent homoeroticism, cruelty and melancholy for the lively two-hour musical. “I don’t think it is possible for me to ever do a straight up translation of Shakespeare – ever!” said Kumar. “So you will see in the translation and in the performance that although it is not a devised piece, we have taken it out of its context and played around with it and made it our own. And the songs in the play helped us towards that a lot.”
5. The rhythm is divine
“If music be the food of love, play on,” is Orsino’s famous line in one of Shakespeare’s most poetic and musical plays. You may miss some of Shakespeare’s ditties, like Feste’s “Come away, death”, but cheer anyway for Nagpal’s lyrics set to music from Amod Bhatt, who helped develop folk tunes from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and Rajasthan in tandem with the cast. Piya Behroopiya is Kumar’s first musical. “The dance is incidental,” said Kumar, adding that the pleasure of “live music in a performance is something that I never realised in the 25 years of my career. We cannot stop humming the songs of the play – including my 6-yearold daughter who is now in the play – and hope we can leave our audiences filled with our music for days to come.”
By Saumya Ancheri on June 22 2012 6.24am