Wednesday 12 October 2016

Piya Behrupiya is hilarious Hindi-Bard musical
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : In BLR's review of the Bard on the Beach production of Twelfth Night in 2013 I described the play thus : "TN is like a Hallowe'en party on speed -- scads of silly people playing games in costumes sewn not just of thread but of thought and deed as well. Mistaken identities, disguises, romantic fantasies, cozening capers, songs, drunk scenes, homoerotic dilly-dallying, omg what a swillery of good cheer."

Enter Mumbai's The Theatre Company and its artistic director Atul Kumar. Piya Behrupiya is not only Kumar's Hindi version of Twelfth Night, let's make it into a musical to boot  Largely from the nautanki tradition (folk drama from North India), the other part is sheer Bollywood goofiness. One cannot imagine Billy Bard not giggling himself silly over this masala-infused translation -- more like a reformation or metamorphosis -- of the original TN. (Its title in Hindi, fittingly, means "lover impressionist").

Quicky take on BB's plot : Duke Orsino (Sagar Deshmukh) is lovesick over Lady Olivia (Mansi Multani). His manservant is actually a woman, Viola (Geetanjali Kulkarni), who masquerades in men's get-up using the name "Cesario". Fake Cesario is smitten by the Duke, but the Duke orders that s/he plead his love for Olivia. Cesario does so so engagingly that Olivia falls arse-over-teakettle in love with "him", forget the pesky annoying Duke.

Meanwhile Olivia's calculating steward Malvolio (Saurabh Nayyar) has sweaty-palmed dreams of becoming Olivia's husband and jumping up a caste or two in the social hierarchy. But her maidservant Maria (Trupti Khamkar) despises him. She conspires with Olivia's uncle Toby (Gagan Riar) and his accomplices Andrew (Aadar Malik) and Feste the fool (Neha Saraf) to pull off some serious knavery and skullduggery against Malvolio. By forged letter, they trick him into believing Olivia only needs proof of his love for her to reciprocate juicily: her servant's horniest urges and thrusts will be requited if only he'll dress like a foppish nerd when he tries to seduce her. He goes there. Yikes. Major, major "Uggggh! reaction from Olivia just as the conspirators had predicted. Declared mad, Malvolio is dungeoned. 

Thought drowned-at-sea, Viola's twin brother Sebastian (Mantra Mugdha) magically appears and all the swooners wind up bedding their desired mates. Except poor ol' Malvolio : he's sprung from prison with only his wounded pride to sleep with. 

How it's put together : Reviewers since the show's 2012 opening at the Globe to Globe Festival in London maintain the audience's inability to understand Hindi is no hindrance to their enjoyment of Kumar's show. Surtitles (English translations that are projected above) do help, but also the fact that the Amitosh Nagpal translation flits in some English expressions for timing and comic effect, too. Meanwhile one surtitle screen proclaimed "My king is brooding sadly on his throne" while easily 8-10 lines of Hindi dialogue were uttered to accompany it...! 

The show is part slapstick, part vaudeville, part farce, part English panto, wholly batty soap opera melodrama that pays scant lip service to Shakespeare. Mostly WS's plot is what's patriated for the Orsino-loves-Olivia-loves-Cesario-loves-Orsino schtick. Just an excuse to mount a series of silly stuff scenarios that being borrowed from a "serious" playwright might help sell the show. It works indeed. For his part, Malvolio is a puffy snot, not an unrepentant sermonizer to fellow staff. Most central to all the fun are the three comic relief characters from Bard -- Olivia's forever buzzed-up uncle Toby, his sidekick Andrew who drools and gropes for Olivia, plus the impish and cheeky Feste the Fool. Together they carry the bulk of Act 1's song, dance and overall merriment singly, in duo and trio all. 

When not downstage left and right acting and preening and aping for the crowd, the players skip back to join the chorus in cross-legged yoga poses on the orchestra dais. With the orchestra they add gusto! voices to the individual performances out front, jibing and taunting and directing and upstaging them at will.

What the show brings to the stage : Certain reviewers have insisted this show is not an "adaptation" of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night but rather a true and honest direct Hindi translation of WS's original. Either they saw a wholly different script at play or they drank too much of Toby Belch's champagne punch. Piya is pure send-up following the nautanki tradition of songs sung to entertain theatre-going troops that have numbered up to 10,000 or more at a single amphitheatre sitting.

For their part, the dialogue threads are really just connectors for a dozen or more solos / duets all aimed at Tina Turner's timeless ironic taunt : What's Love Got To Do With It?  Piya features a host of them : "A song celebrating young love". "A song for lovers in longing". "A song for Olivia to fall deeply in love". "The fool's song of love and folly" (by Feste & the Dipsomaniacs that was the crowd's favourite of the night). "The fool's song of wisdom declaring that love is blind".

Who gonna like : The 2001 Bollywood film Monsoon Wedding jumped into mind instantly and repeatedly. If the colourful showiness of such films makes you giggle and clap and snort with glee, Piya Behrupiya will give you countless moments of mirth. But also insight into how rich and layered live theatre entertainments in India have been and can be when reworked for contemporary folk. 

That playwright Kumar is known for clown performances and spoofs of serious writers who evince his country's myriad voices and regions comes through loud and clear and cleverly. A more agreeable introduction to the Diwali tradition -- what Diwali Fest artistic producer Rohit Chakhani says is India's "Thanksgiving and Christmas" both : a festival of light over darkness, a victory of hope over despair -- certainly no easier an intro to the culture or its dramatic impulses is likely to be found today in North America.

Particulars :  Produced by Mumbai's The Theatre Company in collaboration with The Cultch and DiwaliFest with Bard on the Beach a Community Partner.  At the York Theatre,  639 Commercial Drive, right next to Nick's old-time Italian pastapizzariaOn thru October 22nd. Run-time some 135 minutes including intermission. Box office 604.251.1363 -or- via the internet at Cultch ticket office

Production team :  Director Atul Kumar.  Translation by Amitosh Nagpal.  Music Assistants : Gagan Riar, Rahul Sharma, Saurabh Nayyar.  Dance Assistant : Neha Saraf.  Costumes : Trupti Khamkar, Neha Saraf, Kiyomi Mehta.  Direction Assistant : Rachel D'Souza.  Administration : Priyanshi Bahadur.

Music :  Harmonium : Amod Bhatt.  Dholak : Rahul Sharma.  Percussion Accompaniment : Niketa Saraf.

Performers : Sagar Deshmukh (Orsino).  Trupti Khamkar (Maria).  Geetanjali Kulkarni (Viola).  Aadar Malik (Andrew).  Mantra Mugdha (Sebastian).  Mansi Multani (Olivia).  Saurabh Nayyar (Malvolio).  Gagan Riar (Toby).  Neha Saraf (Feste). 


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