Mixed Up Doubles

Award-winning director Mohammed Salim Arif recently presented for the first time in Delhi, a staging of the script of Gulzar’s Angoor, a Hindi adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors.
(L-R) Salim Arif with Gulzar
(L-R) Salim Arif with Gulzar

William Shakespeare had come to the streets of Delhi after 400 years! He was spotted by people at the Mandi House metro station and “was seen desperately searching for Shri Ram Centre. If that startles you, this is from the text of an Instagram promo video of theatre director Salim Arif’s new production, 2 By 2. It is based on Angoor (1982), a Hindi film and an adaptation of Shakespeare’s famous play, The Comedy of Errors. TMS met with the UP Sangeet Natak Akademi Award-winning director during one of the show rehearsals at Shri Ram Centre ahead of the final performance. He shared how Shakespeare’s play, written around 1594, is, to date, celebrated as a classic with the notion of ‘mistaken identity’ as its pivot.

“Gulzar saab gave me permission to use his script. Our play had the same plot, characters, and setting,” said the Lucknow-raised and Mumbai-based theatre director who presented a play for the 50th time in Delhi, with previous housefull shows being Tajmahal Ka Tender, Aap Ki Sonia, Kachche Lamhe, Kharaashein, Ghalibnaama, and more.

2 By 2 is a 90-minute play divided into two acts and performed by a troupe of 16 actors and crew members from the Shri Ram Centre Repertory. We caught a glimpse of it during the rehearsals that left us in splits, what with them recalling the film Angoor— centred around Raj Tilak, a wealthy merchant with identical male twins, both named Ashok. One day, while travelling with his wife and twins, Tilak encounters another pair of identical twins, whom he adopts and names Bahadur (they become the family’s retainers). Fate intervenes with a tragic accident that splits the family. The real fun unfolds when years later, unmarried Ashok and Bahadur arrive in the same city of the married Ashok and Bahadur, causing comical misunderstandings.

2 By 2 is plotted around a case of mistaken identity
2 By 2 is plotted around a case of mistaken identity

A timeless theme

Shakespeare is the most adapted playwright of all time with 420 feature films and television series based on his plays. In India, the theme of The Comedy Of Errors has been worked and re-worked into many blockbuster films. And it still continues to draw theatre directors, filmmakers, and audiences alike. “People love this idea of having a set of twins with the same name in the frame. In reality, it may be a far-fetched scenario but its beauty is that the audience is ready to believe it. If we get caught in the idea of plausibility and believability, half of the entertainment industry may not work,” said Arif on how the theme made for interesting theatre.

The Gulzar connection

We asked Arif about his favourite Shakespearean adaptation and he said it was “undoubtedly” Angoor. “Gulzar saab has the very rare ability to get across to people of all age-groups. He has kept pace with the changing times in his films, poetry and lyrics. His cinema is known for its realistic depictions. He also often uses flashbacks, which is more often like the re-opening of an investigation into certain situations the character is going through. His characters have a certain dignity. I marvel at his dialogues.

I have imbibed a lot from him in several aspects over the years. After he stopped making films in the late 1990s, I urged him to come to the theatre and write for me. That creative association continues till date with 2 By 2,” he said of the poet and filmmaker with whom he had previously worked on popular television series such as Mirza Ghalib (1988) and Tahreer Munshi Premchand Ki (2004). Arif said that since Delhi is the “theatre capital” where audiences have an eclectic taste, his new production was thoroughly enjoyed here. “With 2 By 2, I have the privilege of rich content that has the touch of two maestros of storytelling from different times—Shakespeare and Gulzar.”

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The New Indian Express