The Shakespearewallahs!


An Indian adaptation of the Bard’s highly popular Twelfth Night called Piya Behrupiya, was an outstanding piece of theatre. Prof. Avinash Kolhe lauds the adaptation.

The Bard holds eternal attraction for theatre-professionals as well as lovers all over the world. Shakespeare’s work must have been adapted in almost all known languages of the world. Atul Kumar, founder of The Company Theatre (established in 1997) is one such Shakespeare aficionado, who cannot keep away from him. Kumar’s theatre group keeps bringing adaptations of Shakespeare’s play regularly, the latest being Piya Behrupiya based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a well -known comedy.

Piya Behrupiya is a musical adaptation in Hindi of Twelfth Night, one of William Shakespeare’s best known romantic comedies (‘romedy’ in today’s language!). This play was commissioned for The Globe of The Globe Festival, which took place at the Globe Theatre in London. Twelfth Night has been adeptly translated by Amitosh Nagpal, who also plays Sebastian. Piya Behrupiya is loosely based on the Nautanki form of theatre, highly popular in North India. Thanks to this form, it has a lovable, freewheeling quality to it, which gets the audience completely engrossed in the performance.

Original, yet not
Despite its adaptation in Hindi, it retains the original names of Shakespeare’s play. This adaptation liberally uses various dialects of Hindi, and at times Marathi too, to devastating effect. The play kick-starts with Viola (Geetanjali Kulkarni) shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria. She feels that her twin, look-alike brother, Sebastian, is dead. Viola decides to masquerade as Cesario and gets employed with Duke Orsanio (Sagar Deshmukh). Viola falls in love with Orsanio, who in turn is in love with Lady Olivia, who is in mourning as she has lost her father and brother. She keeps spurning suitor after suitor.

The actors did an outstanding job, most of them being gifted singers too

In due course, romantic interests and mistaken identities converge and comedy gets underway. The comedy also involves Olivia’s uncle Sir Toby (Gagan Riar) and their aides who plot to make Olivia’s steward, Malviola (Saurabh Nayyar) feel that his lady Olivia is desirous of marrying him. To further the fun, Lady Olivia falls in love with Cesario. As is expected in any comedy, all is well that ends well, and Viola’s brother Sebastian turns up in the end.

Theatre veteran Atul Kumar has rendered a highly entertaining show. This 17th century Shakespeare’s play has been brilliantly given an Indian touch, that keeps the audience captive in their chairs! Though Nagpal has adapted the play to Indian conditions, he has kept the original names. The purpose is to keep the basic flavour of the play alive without corrupting it. The play is full of clever writing. Sample these gems: Olivia’s Bas use kiya reject or Aap kahaan ko belong karte ho?, take the play to new heights. The translator Amitosh Nagpal walks on the stage and tells the audiences what a thankless job he was called upon to do. Then he goes on to blame Shakespeare, who has given very little space to the character of Sebastian. Amitosh Nagpal steals some scenes with his sheer dialogue delivery and sense of timing.

It’s also a musical
One of the reasons why this performance stands out, is its songs. Almost all actors are gifted singers. There are enough dollops of folk music, which includes Kabir’s dohe sung by Phool Singh (Neha Saraf). Then there is Mata ka jagrata where Gagan Riar, who plays perpetually inebriated Uncle Toby, suddenly takes stage as Billu Dangerous, and the rest of the cast doubles up as his Jagrata Mandali!

In terms of stage design, the play is extremely colourful to watch with a mix of orange, purple and red. A giant portrait of Shakespeare loomed large in the background, as if a Hindu deity had emerged from chaos.

This was a well-adapted and very enjoyable play

All the actors are on the stage for the entire play. When not featured in action downstage, they are seated on a platform upstage. There are three musicians who also function as chorus, often interjecting, commenting, and also joining in the singing. There was an excellent blend of dance and music.

Superlative performances
All performances are phenomenal. Their facial expressions and change in tone of voice add value. One must specifically mention Viola (Geetanjali Kulkarni) who fluidly switches from boy-servant to love-struck girl. She brings to her performance ease and flair, the hallmarks of a senior actor. Sagar Deshmukh who plays Duke Orsino, complements her well. The chemistry between Uncle Toby (Gagan Riar) and Maria (Trupti Khamkar) must be seen to be believed. Look out for actress Mansi Multani who plays Olivia with a Punjabi accent. Her performance is mind-blowing. Neha Saraf who plays the clown Feste is outstanding. She gets some of the best lines and delivers them to full effect. Amitosh Nagpal’s Sebastian appears on and off, but generates a lot of laughter. The direction of this play is outstanding. Atul Kumar shows a tight grip on the script as well as its stage rendition.

Prof. Avinash Kolhe

Prof. Avinash Kolhe is Asst. Professor in Political Science at D.G. Ruparel College, Mumbai.