The Bard Goes Local

All the world’s a stage The performance at The Globe Theatre

THE STAGE: Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London. The scene: A house packed to the rafters, cheering along with the actors in freezing rain. The play: Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The twist: Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in Hindi, as Piya Behrupia, with smatterings of Punjabi, Urdu and broken English.
The Company Theatre (TCT), a Mumbai-based theatre group, recently staged Piya Behrupiya in London as part of the World Shakespeare Festival. There were 37 plays from world over, such as a Swahili version of The Merry Wives of Windsor and Richard III in Mandarin. After shows in Mumbai and Delhi, the play will open the Rangshankara Festival in Bengaluru in October. Directed by Atul Kumar and translated by Amitosh Nagpal, it was commissioned by The Globe, as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. “They were clear that it was to be a translation, not an adaptation,” says Kumar. Translation is what he, his cast and crew are calling it.
However, as the mannerisms and costumes echo Indian heartlands, one wonders how fine the line is between translation and adaptation. “We haven’t changed names. The place is still Illyria; the characters are Orsino, Viola and Olivia. But the language and the setting have to blend. Cesario becomes ‘Cejario’ and Andrew Aguecheek, played by a Bengali actor, is Andrew dada,” Kumar explains. It seemed to have worked for the crowd at the play’s Delhi opening. Cesario’s self-introduction to Olivia, “I am from very good family. But disturbed personally,” was accompanied by shouts of laughter and Olivia’s hilarious odeCejario left people in splits.
The stylistic influence is of nautanki plays, where a travelling troupe puts up heavily improvised song and dance shows, sans sets. Piya Behrupiya, too, has no sets. The Globe does not allow for those; something the crew has incorporated in their Indian shows. The acting and the music carry the play and the whistles in Kamani Auditorium stand testimony. The folk music is part self-composed, part songs from Punjab, Maharashtra and Bundelkhand. The highlight is the qawwali between Andrew dada and Sebastian (played by Nagpal) in which they hurl the basest of insults at each other to Sufi music. Gagan Dev Riar, the composer and the actor playing Sir Toby Belch, elaborates on the process. “We’ve taken music from different regions in India. We’ve changed lyrics to explain situations, and for some scenes we composed our own songs,” he says. “Once we started selecting, we got a fair idea of the sound we wanted.”
A two-and-a-half hour show with 18 songs must invite comparisons to Bollywood. “Of course, it did,” laughs Mantra Mugdh, who plays Andrew dada. “But then Bollywood owes everything to Shakespeare. This play, though, is very theatre-specific.” As Toby constantly breaks the fourth wall, calling for “audience interaction”, Sebastian in his rib-tickling sutradhar avatar tries to explain the plot, saying “Yeh daily soap nahin hai,Shakespeare hai Shakespeare”, Mugdh’s statement rings true.
Kumar calls his translator “an actor who writes”. Nagpal’s script carries off both the witty wordplay and sheer slapstick, that appeals differently to various audiences. “People in London laughed in different places than the Indian audience. We didn’t expect that. In fact, for one song everyone in The Globe raised their hands and swayed to the music. We felt like rockstars,” recalls Mugdh. TCT reminds us why Shakespeare lives on in every culture — these are stories of people, power, love and sex.
Aradhna Wal is a Sub-Editor with Tehelka.