Interview with Prashanth Kumar Nair whose work “Romeo & Juliet — No Strings Attached” has been shortlisted for the MetroPlus Playwright Award
Prashanth Kumar Nair's “Romeo & Juliet — No Strings Attached”, an irreverent reboot of the Shakespearian tragedy of the star-crossed lovers, is on the MetroPlus Playwright Award shortlist. The 30-year-old Bangalore-based advertising professional and theatre enthusiast talks about the play, puppets and choices.
Can you tell us about the genesis of the play?
My wife and I were discussing the concept of the Romeo-and-Juliet kind of love. I realised that more than being about love, the play is about choices. I felt ‘Romeo and Juliet' was somehow given the short shrift by critics. It was always looked upon only as a teenage love story; I felt the crux was choice and not destiny. They could've chosen either way, but they chose what they did and their lives played out the way it did because of their choices. The puppets in the play represent the choices — and when they cut their strings, they still play Romeo and Juliet, but in their own way.
How relevant is Shakespeare today?
Shakespeare is always current. One can find as many parallels and references to the modern world as there were then. Shakespeare's stories are always human stories, universal stories, that is why they resonate in any era. In ‘Romeo and Juliet', problems are solved only by death. One can draw parallels of people, states, countries where differences can only be resolved by violence. But, what he might have intended has to be seen in context of his time. Juliet being 13 in the play was quite creepy for me. Present societal norms view 13 being too young, the same way in the bard's time that age was considered perfect. It is nice to take ownership of Shakespeare. I mean no disrespect to Shakespeare. ‘No Strings Attached' is what I got from the play.
The language is an interesting mix of contemporary and classic. Comment
When Nacho as Tybalt says of Romeo's reaction to meeting Juliet for the first time, ‘that is the longest pick up line I've ever heard', I am making a comment on how we have lost the knack of using language.
Where you inspired by Baz Luhrmann's ‘Romeo + Juliet'?
No. ‘No Strings Attached' is not on that scale.
Can you comment on the use of music in the play?
Music serves not only as transitions; some of the heavy text too is translated into music. I have left some of the musical options open, such as I have said ‘a Sufi-ish tune' but it depends on the production as to which song they'd like to use. I have left a lot of space to workshop. There is direction, but a lot of scope for actors to develop.
How did you go about adapting Romeo and & Juliet?
Once I had decided on the play, I went through it with a fine tooth comb. I did away with the prologue, but apart from that the story remains the same. I abridged purely for length.
Which is your favourite Shakespeare play?
I would say ‘Othello'. It is interestingly written and the emotions of envy, possessiveness and revenge are raw. I couldn't identify with the implosion that Hamlet went through contemplating vengeance. I think how my school textbook taught Lear ruined it for me. ‘Macbeth' and ‘Othello' work for me because I discovered and explored it on my own.
What about the audience as ghosts?
Ghosts are a Shakespearean tradition. It is also a chance to hit below the belt of an audience who travel across town and pay money to watch a play but also need to check their phones a million times!
Has being in advertising helped your writing?
The meticulousness comes from advertising where you have to make every word count.
You've earlier written short plays. Is writing a full length play a different ball game?
Yes. In a short play, the challenge is in telling the story in 10 minutes while in a full length play, you need to keep the focus, you need to be relentlessly at it.
Would you like to direct the play?
Yes. Because I feel there might be a disconnect between what I intended and what a director might understand. That gap needs to be filled.