An obsessive piece of work: Feroz Abbas Khan on new musical 'Raunaq and Jassi'

Manish Sain

New Delhi, Nov 15 (PTI) Feroz Abbas Khan's decision to adapt K Asif's blockbuster film 'Mughal-e-Azam' in 2016 for stage was met with much scepticism. Many around him called the act a 'sacrilege', betting that the project would bomb.

Three years and 180 international shows later, the production has secured a safe spot in Indian theatre's hall of fame, and the director is ready with his next production — a desi adaptation of William Shakespeare's tragedy 'Romeo and Juliet'.

Set in rural Punjab, Khan has decided to call it 'Raunaq and Jassi'.

He said he was sold at the very first draft of the musical, and believed it was a project that needed to be done.

'It almost became an obsession for me and my writer that we needed to get this on stage, so this is an obsessive piece of work that I am doing,' Khan told PTI.

The musical premieres on November 28 at Mumbai's Mukesh Patel Auditorium.

Like the original 16th century play, 'Raunaq and Jassi' too explores a long-standing hatred between two feuding families – the Jagirdars and Chaudharys, and a spark between young Raunaq and Jassi who belong to either clans leads to a compelling journey of separation and hatred but accelerated by love.

Khan, however, insists his production has an 'original script told in an Indian context'.

'It is kind of a homage (to Shakespeare) but it is a completely original piece of writing, and the fact that we are doing a musical, that's the fresh aspect of it,' Khan said.

Unwilling to divulge much about the plot, he said it was a powerful love story that will resonate with the current times.

'I can tell you that the play resonates very much with the times we live in. It's a powerful love story and restores the faith in love. It's an absolutely Indian play...it connects with everything around us very strongly. It is a celebration of love,' he said.

The 60-year-old producer-director said that directing 'Mughal-e-Azam' was a feat, particularly because he had the legendary status the 1960 film to match up to, but asserted that adapting 'Romeo and Juliet' was an even bigger challenge because several versions of the tragedy already existed in different media including cinema, theatre, and ballet.

'With 'Mughal-e-Azam', it was a conviction that we are going to be a disaster. Because to even try and attempt to do a version of 'Mughal-e-Azam' would be considered sacrilege. The expectations were rather low with it.

'With 'Romeo and Juliet' I think it is different because there have been so many versions in different media, but being a classic, it continues to affect the audience. It's more challenging because there are so many versions. In all that, I am trying to put my hand up and say, 'Look, I too have a version of 'Romeo and Juliet'' and it is important,' he said.

The musical will see the team of 'Mughal-e-Azam' reunite with the script and original lyrics by Iqbal Raj, costumes by fashion designer Manish Malhotra, and choreography by Mayuri Upadhya.

With about 30 artistes including dancers and actors, the play has a total of 11 songs including two original compositions.

While the character of Jassi is played by Neha Sargam, actors Omkar Patil and Mahendra Singh Pal will take turns to play Raunaq.

Taking traditional Punjabi music and mixing them with some original lyrics, the play expects to deliver a 'robust and powerful' musical experience.

Just like Khan's 'Mughal-e-Azam', 'Raunaq and Jassi' too has a strong female lead, the director said.

'This play is Jassi's play, a very strong female voice. Wherever men fight, they fight without understanding the consequences. In every conflict, the consequences are borne by women and so here is Jassi who is standing up to that,' Khan said.

Following its premiere in Mumbai, the show, produced by BookMyShow, will also travel to New Delhi, Pune, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. PTI MAH TRS MAHMAH