“Art needs to sensitise society. Raunaq & Jassi wants to do that,” says veteran director Feroz Abbas Khan about his new musical in an interview with Firstpost. Today, while many speak to power, “speaking to society is the difficult part.” And most prominently with Raunaq & Jassi, Khan wants to sensitise society about putting our faith in love and not in hatred. “What does hate get you in the end? Nothing. Eventually, we have to put our faith in love. And that’s what this play is about,” he says, adding that it's a "belief in love and a celebration of love.”
Raunaq & Jassi is a Hindi play set in rural Punjab in the 1950s, and audiences will “see an extremely strong play on gender. To me, Raunaq & Jassi is about Jassi’s story.” And about his choice of Punjab as the setting, Khan explains: “The terrain resonates with beautiful love stories. It’s a very colourful and a very robust terrain. And the vivacity and the colours and joy of the people. They celebrate life. And we wanted to celebrate love.” The play has costumes by Manish Malhotra, traditional and folk Punjabi music by Piyush Kanojia, choreography by Mayuri Upadhya, and is produced by BookMyShow.
While bringing together much of the team from his 2016 Broadway-style musical Mughal-e-Azam, ideologically, he’s taken a completely different direction with Raunaq & Jassi. Mughal-e-Azam was essentially a tribute to the film’s director K Asif, retaining much of the film’s essence and primarily adapting it for theatre. Raunaq & Jassi on the other hand, though inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, is neither a translation nor an adaptation, but an "homage to the Bard". While the fundamental concept of star-crossed lovers struggling amidst hatred remains, the script and music are entirely original, making it primarily a 'Khan musical experience'.
This difference in approach is a deliberate decision. While Mughal-e-Azam was a roaring success, for Khan, “success is merely a signpost. It’s on your way. But that’s not the destination." The idea of replicating something that brought him success isn’t an enticing one. Because, he explains, even without challenging the conventional, it’s possible to go on and “you may end up finding a formula for success.” But such a vying after success is dangerous, “because then, mediocracy is going to get a status of excellence…Before you know it, you may be successful, but you will actually have degenerated. And then, when success eludes you, you will not know how to get up.”
He adds, “I feel uncomfortable with success. So I need a challenge, something which will again put me in the same place where I started, all over again.” And constantly starting from scratch also means putting himself in new, unchartered territory; but “without vulnerability, there’s no growth.” Growth comes through trying new things and pushing oneself in new directions, not by living within one’s comfort zone. “The comfort zone is the dead zone. Stay comfortable, (and) that’s it, you’re finished. Because we’re all works in progress. And so should be your work too.” Essentially, instead of success, Khan is always aiming at excellence.
This is also why he was drawn to Romeo and Juliet, besides its message of love, considering it in its capacity as a classic. “They [classics] transcend time, they transcend space, they transcend boundaries, and they transcend differences.” Because of this transcendental nature, they create an enduring connection with audiences, often being passed on from one generation to the next. Recreating these classics means facing preconceived notions and expectations, which challenges him as an artist. “You want to lock your horns with classics. That’s where you get challenged.”
Besides these tests, establishing a connection with audiences also means relatability. “The moment you’re able to connect with the audience, I think the rest of the pieces fall into place.” But one must find the line between doing something for the audience on one’s own terms — while “it shouldn’t be self-indulgent”, it also shouldn’t “pander to the baser instincts of the audience”. And Abbas’ respect for his audience means that his aim is always to nurture a deep relationship with them, leaving them changed people. “We are looking into a world where they are emotionally and intellectually enriched, and they go back different people. From when they entered to the time they leave the auditorium, there’s a change in them.”
This is also what he considers the unique power of theatre. “It stays with you much longer, because you don’t just consume it, you get enriched by the experience of theatre.” It’s because of this experiential power that he chose theatre. First, starting out as an actor, “I realised that I want to be a storyteller, and the medium that best suits me is theatre,” he says. And the story Khan is telling with Raunaq & Jassi is one imbuing the power of love on a vibrant Indian terrain, a thoroughly “Indian experience” that he hopes will leave audiences changed.
Raunaq & Jassi premiers on 29 November in Mumbai. More details here.
Updated Date: Nov 20, 2019 10:17:44 IST