Last year, when Tom Bird, director of the World Shakespeare Festival 2012, approached theatre veteran Sunil Shanbag to stage a play for the event, the latter didn’t know that this would be one of the most challenging tasks of his life. This was the first time that Shanbag would not only be helming a Gujarati play but also representing India at the international event that kick starts from April 23 at London’s Globe Theatre. The play will be staged on May 23 and 24.
Since the festival was conducting Globe To Globe, a first-of-its-kind event, wherein 37 of the Bard’s best works would be presented in diverse languages from across the world, Bird suggested that Shanbag direct a Gujarati production. The language was chosen as the UK capital has a sizeable Gujarati population that the organisers wanted to cater to.
After some negotiations about which Shakespearean play Shanbag would direct, the organisers and the theatre veteran settled on All’s Well That Ends Well. However, the director decided to change the setting and move it from France and Italy to Saurashtra and Mumbai. Titled Maro Piyu Gayo Rangoon, the production features characters from the 19th century Gujarati mercantile class rather than the European nobility.
Explains Shanbag, “I deliberately made the change as the Gujarati audiences would be able to relate to the mercantile class better.” After the play was adapted by renowned writer Mihir Bhuta in August 2011, Shanbag finalised the cast and started rehearsing from mid-January. Since he wanted the production to have an interesting mix of song and dance coupled with comedy and tragedy, he opted for actors who could sing as well as perform. “Maro Piyu Gayo Rangoon features reputed actors — Utkarsh Mazumdar, Meenal Patel, Chirag Vora, Manasi Parekh, Satchit Puranik — and relatively fresh faces like Ajay Jairam and Nishi Doshi. Right from my earlier play Cotton 56, Polyester 84 to my latest Gujarati production, I have been working towards building a pool of actors who have a natural flair for singing and acting.”
Shanbag, who has helmed notable productions in his two-decade long career, admits that directing Maro Piyu Gayo Rangoon has been a learning experience. “This is the first time I’m directing a Gujarati play, so I’m working out of my comfort zone. It is an interesting challenge to understand the psychology of the Gujarati audience and cater to their sensibilities. Moreover, it’s an honour to represent India on an international forum by presenting a Shakespearean play. The Bard and his works hold a special place in our hearts as we have grown up reading his literature.”
Apart from Shanbag, noted actor-director Atul Kumar has also been invited to stage an Indian adaptation of the litterateur’s work. Kumar’s Company Theatre will stage a Hindi version of Twelfth Night on April 27 and 28, the script for which has been penned by actor-director Rajat Kapoor. “It (Twelfth Night) is a light comedy by Shakespeare. We just finished doing a heavy King Lear so this is a refreshing change,” Kumar had said earlier in an interview.
This is not the first time he is staging a Shakespearean play. Over the last few years, The Company Theatre has staged the Bard’s productions, such as Hamlet — the Clown Prince and the most recent being a monologue based on King Lear titled Nothing Like Lear.