If Romeo and Juliet did the bhangra
After Mughal-e-Azam, Feroz Abbas Khan is back with a folksy Punjabi retelling of the Shakespeare play
After the hugely popular stage musical, Mughal-e-Azam, director, Feroz Abbas Khan, is back with Raunaq & Jassi, a new take on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It bears all the elements of Khan’s signature style – lavish sets, colourful costumes and attention to detail.
Khan’s latest is based on a classic, and so was Mughal-e-Azam. But that’s where the similarity ends. Khan said that Raunaq & Jassi’s scale and messaging should not be compared with any of his previous works. Mughal-e-Azam was a theatrical adaptation of K Asif’s 1960 film, retaining the story and characters of the original.
Raunaq & Jassi has only taken the idea of Romeo and Juliet, that of star-crossed lovers in the backdrop of hate. The script, music and dialogues are original. “We have made many changes... For example, there comes a point in the story when the two families forget why they hate each other,” said Khan. “Doing something on the lines of Mughal-e-Azam would have been an easy journey for me. The idea was to take the path less taken.”
Why is the play set in the Punjab of the 1950s? “Think of Punjab and a certain terrain with a distinct sound and image of celebration come to mind. We have also set the story in 1950s rural Punjab to add colour to the overall story,” said Khan. He acknowledged that it was challenging to revisit a story which has been told in many languages in various eras. “I chose to go with a classic because it remains eternal. We’ve told the story in verse as the original tale is in verse,” he said.
There are high expectations from Khan’s latest. “People thought I would fail with Mughal-e-Azam because how could one surpass K Asif’s masterpiece? This time, they want me to succeed,” said the director.
Khan has worked with the same team that helped him deliver Mughal-e-Azam: Manish Malhotra (costumes), Piyush Kanojia (music), Iqbal Raj (lyrics) and John Narun (projection design).
Neha Sargam, who plays Jassi, had also played Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam. “The previous play made my job easy this time round because I could work on my pronunciation and diction,” she said. “This role is more performance oriented as compared to Anarkali’s role which required a lot of singing,” she added.
Stage to screen, best adaptations
New Theatre, London, 1935
Directed by John Gielgud, the play had Peggy Ashcroft as Juliet. Laurence Olivier and Gielgud alternated between Romeo and Mercutio.
The George Cukor film, 1936
Starring Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer, it featured in The New York Times’ Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.
Old Vic Theatre, 1960
Lauded for its realism, this play was directed by Franco Zeffirelli. Judi Dench played Juliet, John Stride Romeo.
West Side Story, 1961
Retold as a musical about two rival gangs in New York, the film won 10 Oscars. Natalie Wood played Maria (Juliet); Richard Beymer, Tony (Romeo).
Royal Shakespeare Company, 1986
Set in the 1980s, in this play the actor wore Armani suits and death came with a drug-filled hypodermic needle. Directed by Michael Bogdanov, it had Sean Bean and Niamh Cusack in the title roles.