Piya Behrupiya OR Shakespeare through nautanki

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Si-ja-rio! Si-ja-rio! Si-Ja-aaaaaaaaaaaaaa-rio!
I can still hear Olivia call out to her beloved Sijario (Cesario) in a Punjabi accent as thick as pakodewaali kadhi.
Her “hain” on seeing her steward – Malvolio – dressed in yellow stockings and orange vest (fishnets, if there was a worse thing possible on earth) in full Punjabi galore enough to give Kirron Kher a run for her money.
Malvolio, who has the yuppiest “yup, yup” for his Madame Olivia, mixing accents as freely as Olivia’s uncle Toby mixes his spirits to proudly proclaim – “jab tak iss shehar mein daaru hai aur meri body mein liver hai, tab tak main peeoonga”. A pretty attractive alternative to Shakespeare’s “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”
That, and a Bengali Andrew, who, in his true Bengali outpouring of rage, when chance presents itself in an opportunity to beat up the amour (Sijario) of the woman (Olivia) he has been pushed into desiring by the malevolent Malvolio (Olivia’s uncle and his host and drinking buddy), he launches into a war of words – a qawwali.
Feste is a fool but only just. Feste manages to shine the spotlight on what lies between the pair of Olivia’s ears, which is, not much. Despite being a simpleton.
Unlike the smart Sebastian. Who serves as the audience’s pointsman, a far substantial role here than in Shakespeare’s original work I daresay. And his helpful Antonio has been reduced to a mere mention.
Sebastian’s twin Viola…
(That they be identical twins is a necessity for this play to make even the littlest sense;
Separated in a shipwreck – of course!
Both thinking the other is dead,
Bollywood is absolved for its
Chaalbaaz and Seeta aur geeta and Ram aur Shyam and Angoor if even Shakespeare had nothing better),
… who is pretending to be a man Cesario, in the employ of and secretly in love with Duke Orsino, hired as he is to sing of the Duke’s love for Olivia, who falls for this messenger of his instead, swayed by his looks and his voice, when suddenly Sebastian crosses this lady’s path and the lady knows naught between the identical twins.
If you are still with me after all this mash, you can conveniently figure out the ending, not that you’d care by now. The knot unravels in the most “Bollywoodlike” fashion – Olivia gets her Sijario, The Duke who wanted Olivia is suddenly content with Viola, formerly Cesario to him, Toby marries Maria, and largely all remaining characters are suitably paired up.
Fair offering for a nautanki that is Piya Behrupiya, a play that I just had the good fortune to watch with my gal pals at Prithvi Theatre. The play, with colourful actors, absolutely no props, no change of costumes, and no sophistication whatsoever as one would expect from something inspired from The Bard’s work – none of which it seems to be wanting anyway.
It is nautanki but perhaps an apt way to reimagine a story so plotless, a fact that until now was so hard to acknowledge. Piya Behrupiya does more than that though – it takes small, bite-sized digs at the prevalent social norms, makes you laugh through its witticims and clever poetry, and entertains with a fantastically talented bunch of actor-singers.
Finally, let me tell you this – there’s nothing better than and absolutely everything can be made better by, an evening out in the company of one’s gal pals.

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