| Aditya Hitkari and Peeya Raychaudhuri.
Mumbai, Oct. 24: Shakespeare is young, cool, Indian and politically correct; and Romeo and Juliet is just too long a title. Ask Alyque Padamsee.
In R&J, directed by Padamsee and presented by Q Theatre Productions, Romeo is a dude. He was so in Shakespeare too, but that was in Verona, and at least half a millennium ago.
With R&J, which opened to a full house in the city on Sunday, things have changed. Padamsee, who would like to hook the MTV generation to Shakespeare, has Romeo (played by Aditya Hitkari, MTV veejay) living in “today’s Mumbai”. He rides a red bike, goes to the gym, shapes his abs, looks at girls and hangs out in a disco. It’s there that he first meets Juliet (Peeya Raychaudhuri, former Channel V veejay).
Under the glare of the strobelights, when Romeo sets eyes on his Juliet, he does burst into the same metaphors as the original one about how she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear. But he also slips in a CD into the DJ’s hand to play for her his favourite music (fusion).
“The best word to describe this play is Indo-funk,” says Padamsee. But his Romeo and his Juliet, according to Padamsee, who dedicates R&J to victims of communal violence, are also timely, secular symbols of India’s composite culture, who mingle azans with shlokas.
While Romeo and Juliet belonged to two clashing clans in Shakespeare’s vision, in Padamsee’s, they belong to two conflicting religious communities in contemporary India. “My Romeo is an upper class macho Mumbai teenager,” says Padamsee, “and my play is about India today.
“I have been thinking about staging Romeo and Juliet for long. I first thought about it during the riots in Ahmedabad in ’69. Then again during the ’92-’93 riots in Mumbai, though then I went ahead with Mahesh Dattani’s Final Solutions. But with the violence in Gujarat, I thought this was the right time,” he says.
In his play, Juliet’s family — suggested to be Hindu — is shown as many upper middle class households are: trendy on the outside, rigid to the core. Juliet’s mother wears designer wear and has a perfect cocktail-dress figure, while bowing unquestioningly before her husband’s authority.
Romeo’s family is suggested to be Muslim. Both families realise the price of hatred when the lovers die. “Romeo and Juliet is about the consequence of hatred. It’s about what happens when the violence hits you. I saw south Mumbai during ’92-’93. I wanted to tell the people who come to the theatre how riots enter the drawing room,” says Padamsee.
“Neither Romeo nor Juliet belongs to families that are used to killing. That is why I don’t agree with the setting of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet. I don’t think gang war was right for the film, though it was a visual treat,” he says.
“The play is about irrational hatred, which can erupt anywhere. It is important for us, because we don’t want our country to become another Sri Lanka or Ireland, where peace can make no return,” Padamsee adds.