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A masala-tinged poem, sung to perfection
NIDHI GUPTA  2nd Sep 2012

A still from Piya Behrupiya

omewhere in the middle of The Company Theatre's rendition of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, a distraught Sebastian, Viola's lost-at-sea twin, pleads his case with the audience. Deriding the bard for keeping his role so limited, he even takes a jibe at his director for slotting him in this cameo, especially after he's done him the huge favour of translating the play for an Indian stage.

"Yeh 'thou-thine' hum bhi kar lete?! Dil par haath rakh kar kahiye, yeh Toby ka role main nahi kar sakta tha?" Demands the cheerily dimpled Amitosh Nagpal of his enamoured viewers, who promptly break out into applause out of sheer delight at being included. Titled Piya Behrupiya, or 'lover-impressionist', this play is all about hammering down all sorts of walls with a heavy dollop of laugh-out-loud humour.

Generously infused with a folksy flavour, the play is a riot of all things burlesque, Broadway style. Director Atul Kumar says that he could only see actors and actresses from Bollywood cavorting across the big screen when he read through the script. The play was originally commissioned by the Globe Theatre for their annual festival celebrating Shakespeare in London earlier this summer.

After a well-received performance — Kumar says they got the longest standing ovations and a resolute audience despite terrible weather — the company is now touring India with their play.

The ease with which a well-honed cavalcade of artists — notably Geetanjali Kulkarni as the cross-dressing Viola, Mansi Multani as the Punjabi spewing object of Orsino's affections, Neha Saraf as Phool Singh, the impish town bard of Illyria and Saurabh Nayyar as the yellow stocking-clad social climber Malvolio— romp about on the stage makes this play a delight to watch. Not only are they excellent actors, every one of them sings like a lark. "Gagan Singh Riar, who plays Toby, is our composer. We have picked up a lot of tunes from folk traditions from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab," says Kumar, adding that while some are self-composed, they've borrowed verses from Kabir too.

The play retains most of the original script — mistaken identities, love and tomfoolery are still central to this nautanki— but the troupe desi's it up plenty, like the qawwali war between Sebastian and Andrew where Toby breaks out into a Jagrata song. All matters of sex and sexuality are addressed lightly. Sebastian's raunchy attempt to untie a knot of scraf on Olivia's abundant assets with his teeth has always had the audience in spilts.

In this 'translation', one witnesses a re-imagined, re-interpreted and re-implemented work. "This version is much more fun and contemporary. And the comedy works very well when you disrespect it and shake hands readily with the audience," states Kumar.

Nothing is sacrosanct on this stage — not the bard, not the director, not you. For its delicious, fresh take on a 17th century narrative, this one's a must-watch.

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