Direction : Aniruddha Khutwad
Writer : William Shakespeare


Deepa Punjani

No upcoming shows.

Quickly dispense with any expectation of a different or more inspired retelling of Shakespeare's enshrined love story (since the title could lead you to believe that), and you can still be assured of being treated to a tuned and calibrated version of the famed ROMEO AND JULIET. Director Aniruddha Khutwad was called in by the Drama School Mumbai (DSM) to direct their annual students' production this year. The play has had several versions at home and abroad, on stage and in film. This new Indianised version is in step with the great tradition of mounting Shakespeare's plays and making them contemporary.

Unlike the DSM's previous annual productions that were staged at the main auditorium of the Marathi Sahitya Sangh, this one has been made to fit a makeshift black box theatre; a room on the upper floor of the premises has been converted, and the result smacks of ingenuity. This leads to a greater and intimate appreciation of the production. It also evidences the presence of a good director and his ability to transform not only the space but also the students' approach to a classic text.

There is an obvious quality of restraint in the performances. They may not be nuanced but they are not shrill either. Clear enunciation with concise lines spoken with belief do the trick. Juliet's portrayal by Niharika Lyra Dutt is the most vivid, perhaps leading the team to emphasise her name in their title. The poetic nature of the text also best emerges from her part. Romeo (Rushab Kamdar) and the rest of the team stay faithful to their roles making them credible in what appears as the setting of an unnamed Tier II city of India that will soon acquire the status of a 'smart' city.

The Hindi translation by Amitabh Srivastava suitably adapts to the production and makes the characters believable and accessible in their present circumstances while being faithful to the original premise of two warring families, literally at each other's throats. The original names of the characters remain the same without coming across as odd in their metamorphosed background.

There are slight changes but they are not out of place either. Mercutio has been replaced by Mercutia (Vaishnavi R.P.) and the Friar has been thoughtfully replaced by the doctor (Dheer Hira). Besides Niharika's earnest and determined voice that makes her endearing as Juliet, Dheer's performance as the doctor, is subtle and genuine, and stands out among the stronger performances along with Vivaan Parashar, Shubhankar Tawde and Nitika Arora who play Tybalt, Lord Capulet and the nurse. The three-member orchestra/chorus that triples as narrators as well as some of the other characters (Kaustav Sinha, Sagar Bhoir and Shreeram Chaudhari) is a clever touch, and provides humour.

The stage and light design by Pandu Ranga creates the desired romantic ambience such as in the famous balcony scene between Romeo and Juliet. The effect is achieved without being cumbersome. Big scenes such as the party in the Capulet household are magnified in their atmosphere using fairy lights and DJ music. Even Juliet's bed is shown as a necessary part of the design underlining the consummation of her relationship with Romeo. Yet these relatively bigger pieces of the design do not clutter the space.

This is a clean production, purposefully managed, keeping the action focused, the blackouts timed, and the entries and exits unobtrusive and organised. For a students' production, this professionalism is a remarkable achievement and must be retained. Not a few months ago I was critical of the little performances that the students had publicly shown as part of their training. I am only too glad that my despair, at this point at least, has been nullified by this laudable effort that owes in no little measure to the vision of its director and his transformative ability.

*Deepa Punjani is the Editor of this website.

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