Shakespeare Meets Bollywood
This month, Austin Shakespeare performs William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” at Zilker Park. The comedy features cross-dressing, mistaken identities and sword fighting, but with a twist: Bollywood-style dancing and singing.
“Twelfth Night” gets its name from the bygone Twelfth Night festival, which was celebrated on the last of the 12 Days of Christmas. Traditionally, servants would take on the roles of their masters and children would pretend to be adults –merrymaking in the name of a rebellious inversion of what was considered the natural order of things.
So it’s fitting that Austin Shakespeare is doing an unconventional Bollywood-style staging of the age-old comedy. But as choreographer Prakash Mohandas points out, Shakespeare and Bollywood tap into some similar scenarios.
“It’s a very Bollywood-ish plot. The story is very melodramatic,” Mohandas says. “There’s a lot of entanglements with relationships and stuff like that, which is stereotypical of Bollywood movies.”
For those who don’t know what Bollywood is, it gets its name from the Indian film industry based in Mumbai – formally known as Bombay. Just think: bright colors, pop music and larger-than-life dance numbers.
Austin Shakespeare’s version of “Twelfth Night” features new music composed by Mumbai-born singer-songwriter Naga Valli. Valli used Shakespeare’s verse to compose Bollywood-style songs.
“It’s an un-intimidating way to go see some heavy literature and some heavy drama,” Valli says. “It makes it so much more approachable.”
Besides the singing and dancing, the production is a traditional Shakespeare comedy. There’s romantic verse and bawdy prose, with lots of laughs and near tragedy. Ann Ciccolella is Austin Shakespeare’s artistic director.
“It brings real joy,” Ciccolella says. “’Twelfth Night’ can have some ambiguity in it, but Bollywood has no ambiguity – everything is either really happy or really sad.”
The show runs through May 27. Performances are at 8 p.m. from Thursday to Sunday at the Zilker Hillside Theater.
James Jeffrey contributed to the reporting of this story.