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Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ re-imagined with a Bollywood twist

Audiences will be treated to an Indian update of the age-old love tragedy

Nabila Pathan

Published: Updated:

William Shakespeare's timeless love story "Romeo and Juliet" is set to receive a Bollywood make-over complete with music and dance when it debuts next month at the Access Theater in New York.

Audiences will be treated to an Indian update of the age-old love tragedy, with the Montagues and Capulets representing a clash of old money elites with new money and the 16th century Italian town of Verona transformed into the hustle and bustle of modern day New Delhi.

The adaptation is the inaugural production for the newly formed Hypokrit Theater Company, whose co-founders, Arpita Mukherjee and Shubhra Prakash, have created a start-up that aims to adapt classics with a multicultural sensibility.

Since the production of Romeo and Juliet began last year, the creative directors and the cast have spent the past seven months locked in weekly rehearsals combining western acting technique with the classical Indian performance theory of Rasa. Traditional costumes have been put together from India and the song and dance numbers have been choreographed by renowned dancer Swarali Karulkar.

Ahead of the premier in February, the performers are adding the final touches to their performances in the final stage of rehearsals.

“It’s so different from anything I’ve been involved in...it’s a complete multicultural cast,” said Aizzah Fatima who is playing the role of Nurse in the play. Not only is she excited with the Bollywood treatment of the play, having grown-up with Bollywood films during her childhood, but also because of the opportunity the Theater presents for actors like herself who originate from ethnic minority backgrounds.:

“Theater can sometimes be limiting in terms of how you get cast. People will look at somebody like me and say, ‘oh you’re ethnic so you can be cast in an ethnic role’. They will not necessarily cast me as a Juliet or the nurse role ordinarily because they do not see people of different ethnicities playing those roles.”

The co-founding artistic director, Arpita Mukherjee, speaking to Al Arabiya News, explains that Hypokrit Theater Company strives to provide artists from minority communities a platform to showcase their talents whilst assisting them in marketing their work.

“Both Shubhra Prakash and I were inspired to create Hypokrit Theater because we felt there was a dearth of opportunities for actors of color in New York, especially when it came to highbrow work such as Western classics. We also felt that this lack of minority representation was why Theater goers were actually declining. We found this to be more than just a 'right thing to do' but actually a sound business model. People keep saying "minorities don't come to see Theater or don't support the arts" so we said that we would give them a project that they could get behind.”

Hypokrit Theater Company has a non-traditional approach to running a Theater company.

“As most startups, our crowdfunding campaign was all about reaching out to our nears and dears to help us get off the ground. When we started the company, we had many naysayers. Our Indiegogo campaign was an important step in showing people that there is support for a company such as ours and that diverse voices do have a viable market.”

As for the next steps in the company, Arpita says her work is not yet complete: “We're taking our crowdfunding success to companies, corporations and foundations. We're forging relationships with angel donors and key influencers in the community, and we're trying to sell out our show at a reasonable value.”

“What do I mean by reasonable? We feel that smaller Theater companies don't grow because they price their tickets too low to be able to recover the costs. We've invested a considerable amount of sweat equity in the production and we want to see the benefits. Our actors earn commission on tickets/sponsors/program ads they sell and so on. We want to charge a competitive price and be sold out.”

The Hypokrit Theater Company is launching its inaugural production: William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, re-imagined with a Bollywood aesthetic On February 6 and runs for three weeks. Tickets are now on sale for the production, with opening night already completely sold out.