Bombay Showcase

Midsummer Mein Mangal

When Sunil Shanbag decided to do a Gujarati version of All’s Well That Ends Well for the Globe to Globe Festival in the UK, he was keen that the Mumbai audiences see it too. The only way to

attract this audience, with its distaste for the ‘intellectual’, was to disguise the production’s Shakespearean origins.

Mihir Bhuta’s musical adaptation of the Shakespeare original, set in Saurashtra, Mumbai and Rangoon of the early 20th century, was so redolent of the culture of Gujarat that audiences related to it instantly. Everyone had a relative who had left his village and travelled to another city to make a living, leaving his wife and family behind. Heli, the sassy heroine of the play decides to woo her negligent husband and travels as far as Rangoon to get him back. It’s the kind of obstacle-course romance that is at once traditional and modern. And it worked.

Contemporary Gujarati theatre has otherwise ignored the Bard. There have been Taming of the Shrew kind of plots in some family dramas that could, at a stretch, be linked to Shakespeare. There was also a Romeo & Juliet via Westside Story, in the form of Feroz Abbas Khan’s Eva Mumbai Ma Chaal Jaiye.

It’s not as if Shakespeare’s works haven’t been translated in Gujarati or there haven’t

been adapted productions. The first performance of The Taming of the Shrew in Gujarati was held in Surat, in 1852. A 1903 Gujarati Othello became so popular

that the male actor, Jaishankar Bhojak, who played Desdemona adopted Sundari — the heroine’s name in this version — as his own stage name.

Marathi theatre, however, embraced Shakespeare with verve, right from the 19th century. Writers and directors such as Mahadevshastri Kolhatkar, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar and BV Warerkar popularised the Bard with Marathi theatre aficionados. However, it was perhaps VV Shirwadkar whose Natsamrat, a superb adaption of King Lear, brought box-office busting popularity to a Shakespeare play.

Shreeram Lagoo’s performance as the title role of stage actor Appasaheb Belvalkar whose children drift away after he divides his property among them, is the stuff of legend. Though other actors like Arvind Deshpande and Yashwant also famously played the larger-than-life character in subsequent productions. The play’s timeless appeal is proved by the massive success of Mahesh Manjrekar’s film based on the play, starring Nana Patekar. Shirwadkar’s adaptations of Macbeth (Rajmukut) and Othello were also done in the mid-90s; the first, starring Durga Khote (according to Arun Naik’s book, Shodh Shakespearecha). He succeeded in thoroughly Indianising the plays for a Marathi audience.

Amidst the tragedy and high drama, if anyone had fun with Shakespeare, it was Chetan Datar with his rambunctious gender bending, tamasha-tinged production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which the men played the women’s parts and vice versa.

Ratnakar Matkari also did a version of the same play as Jadoo Teri Nazar with comic star Prashant Damle playing an ophthalmologist and Satish Tare as his ‘Puckish’ compounder, who put magic eye drops into the eyes of some people and caused romantic havoc.

However, it must be maintained that Shakespeare is not limited to Mumbai. There have been productions like Madhav Vaze’s Hamlet in Pune or Sharad Bhutadia’s Raja Lear in Kolhapur. There’s also Rasika Agashe’s Kalokhatil Romeo Juliet, inspired by the Bard’s great tragedy.

Shakespeare has popped up in Hindi, Bengali, Assamese, Urdu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Kashmiri, Chhatisgarhi. And of course there’s that glorious multi-lingual production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream done by Tim Supple which took the world by storm. It proved, if proof were needed, that Shakespeare will always belong to whoever performs his work.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 11:45:37 PM |

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