Theatre

A tale of impossible love

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Raunaq & Jassi takes creates a fantasy with real-world implications, says Vikram Phukan

Back in the saddle after hitting the ball out of the park with the nostalgia trippin’ Mughal-e-Azam, director Feroz Abbas Khan opens his new musical this week. A BookMyShow production, Raunaq & Jassi takes its central conflicts and dramatic arc from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by way of West Side Story, but features an original script by Iqbal Raj written entirely in verse, which is not a translation of the bard’s iambic pentameter. Setting aside comparisons with his previous magnum opus which was also a love legend, Khan elaborates, “I have deliberately gone in a different direction, and the scale of the play is dictated by the text. If I have to repeat something I may as well not do it.”

The production is set up as a ‘play within the play’ with an intrepid singer-narrator guiding us along a ride through the colourful Punjab of the 1950s. For the opening run, the star-crossed lovers are played by Omkar Patil and Neha Sargam — one of two actors who played Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam. “The challenge, as always, was to find actors who could sing and act, and also possessed the requisite persona,” recalls the director.

Love vs. hate

In Raunaq & Jassi, the warring factions are the fictional Chaudharys and the Jagirdars, who share an acrimony that goes back so far in time that its genesis has been long forgotten. Rather than rooting the tale in topical hostilities, Raj has created a fantasy with real-world implications. “We’re not trying to narrow the conflict down to religion or caste, that would have been too obvious,” explains Khan. The play’s fundamental focus is on the complexion of the hatred between the clans, that resists all balms and leaves destruction at its wake. Yet, it is a contemporary wind that has provoked Khan to tackle a parable of love and hate.

“There is no greater urgency to present this story than in the times we live in,” he claims. Similar to the great plays of Shakepeare that do not wear their predilections on their sleeve, Raunaq & Jassi is described as a layered experience that offers much more than meets the eye. “Theatre is at its most potent when it stays in the realm of the metaphorical. The moment we become obvious or literal, it loses the power of theatre,” elaborates Khan, alluding to the swirling themes that occupy the play’s subtext.

Prep talk

To prepare for a play written in verse, Khan submitted his actors to weeks of voice exercises, before they even began working with the script. “The language of the play is poetic and economic but it requires the articulation of prose, which is easier said than done,” says the director. His actors took their time to start ‘speaking in meter’ — patterns of speech with stressed and unstressed syllables — as if it were mere conversation. Another important dimension to their performances was, of course, the live singing that is the absolute mainstay of a musical worth its salt.

Fighting the odds

Adding to the palette was the score by Piyush Kanojia, which harnesses the rustic elements of Punjabi folk, with its pulsating rhythms and distinctive flavours. Kanojia is a hold-out from Mughal-e-Azam, as is choreographer Mayuri Upadhya, who had mounted such memorable dance set-pieces in that play (including the show-stoppping ‘Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya’). The tastefully sumptuous costumes are by Manish Malhotra.

One element that came out very strongly during the three-odd months the play has been in production was its inherent female voice. “Women are not given too many choices, therefore to act on one’s desires takes much more gumption on their part,” says Khan, of Juliet aka Jassi’s agency in the play. This informed the decision of making the omniscient narrator a woman.

Ultimately, Raunaq & Jassi is a play that puts all its faith on impossible and eternal love, even if it is illuminated by irrational hate.

Raunaq & Jassi, Mukesh Patel Auditorium, NMIMS, Vile Parle; more details at bookmyshow.com

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 12:45:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/a-tale-of-impossible-love/article30109001.ece

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