Sunday, October 30, 2016
William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is a comedy quite similar to his more famous play The Comedy of Errors. The Twelfth Night has twins, a boy (Sebastian) and a girl (Viola), who are separated when young. Viola dresses as a man, calls herself Cesario and befriends Orsino, who is in love with Olivia. But Olivia is in mourning for seven years, and wouldn’t accept any overtures for a relationship, or so she claims.
Orsino sends Cesario to woo Olivia on his behalf, but Olivia falls for Cesario, who is actually Viola, and who has fallen for Orsino. After much confusion, the long-lost brother-sister twins meet, and Olivia realises that it’s Sebastian she loves; Orsino accepts Viola’s love. In the end, all’s well that ends well.
The Hindi film industry has had a long and flourishing relationship with Shakespeare. It’s strange that no director has thought of turning Twelfth Night into a movie. But what cinema didn’t do, the theatre has. Although the Company Theatre’s Piya Bahrupiya claims to be a Hindi translation (as opposed to adaption) of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, it is performed as a nautanki, with the entire cast of characters also doubling as a vocalists and chorus, and the accompanying musicians (pump organ player and percussionist) occupying centre stage.
Of course, what adds zest to the production, and, in fact, makes it entirely Indian in content and form is the frequent song-and-dance interludes that intersperse the narrative. These songs – inspired by the varied Indian folk traditions – transcend the play into a classic, and turn it into an unforgettable experience. Since it was first staged about six years ago, Piya Bahrupiya has gained critical and popular acclaim both in India and globally.
Last evening, the Michael Young Theatre in Toronto’s charming Distillery District was the venue for Piya Bahrupiya; hearteningly, the theatre was packed to capacity, a mix of Canadians of Indian origin, as well as other ethnic groups. Why Not Theatre, in partnership with Soulpepper, brought Piya Bahrupiya to Toronto, as a unique way to celebrate Diwali, with victory “of poetry over propaganda, of optimism over pessimism and of love over hate”.
The musical production tests the mettle of the actors not merely in the art of emoting, but also in singing, because a large chunk of the narrative is carried forward through songs. The actors deliver a rousing performance with quick-witted dialogues that use contemporary idioms to relate to the present-day audience who presumably don’t have the patience for Shakespearian language (which is an untested hypothesis, and needs to be contested, but let’s leave that for another time).
It’s the mixture of the various forms of folk song traditions, including a zany qawwali sequence, and a rousing Ma Sherawali bhajan, that invigorates the narrative. The constant interactions with the audience also keep the proceedings lively and engaging.
The actors are all superlative, both in the acting and singing, and it’s difficult to select who’s the best because even in those in minor roles perform brilliantly. However, a special mention must be made of Geetanjali Kulkarni (Viola/Cesario) and Mansi Multani (Olivia). Gitanjali’s Cesario is wounded, a prisoner of circumstances, and frantic in her search to profess her love for Orsino, without breaking Oliva’s heart. Mansi’s Olivia is nubile, incredibly alluring but utterly guileless.
Piya Bahrupiya ran from October 27 to October 29.
Sagar Shrikant Deshmukh: Orsino
Mansi Multani: Olivia
Trupti Khamkar: Maria
Geetanjali Kulkarni: Viola
Saurabh Nayyar: Malvolio
Aadar Malik: Andrew Agucheek
Gagan Riar: Uncle Toby
Neha Saraf: Feste
Arnod Bhatt: Harmonium
Niketa Saraf: Assistant Percussionist
Rahul Sharma: Percussion
Atul Kumar: Director
Amitosh Nagpal: Translator
Priyanshi Bahadur: Production Manager
Vinod Ravindran: Tour Director and Surtitles
Trupti Khamkar, Kiyomi Mehta, Neha Saraf: Costume Designers
Atul Kumar, Sujay Saple: Lighting Designers
Andrew Leeke: Technical Director