At a recent literature workshop in Mumbai, theatre personality and ad guru Alyque Padamsee presented Shakespeare in a new light. The famous 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen' funeral oration was played on rock-jazz music. As women rule India, Julius Caesar became Julia Caesar, played by the versatile Sabira Merchant, who had distinguished herself playing Three Witches in Macbeth and teaching English as well as sipping soup without making noise and other social niceties to Mumbai's corporate honchos. This is how Julia Caesar was presented.
Julia Caesar: I stand directly in Antonius' way when he runs the Course. Antonius?
Mark Antony: Yes. Caesarina?
Julia Caesar: Forget not in your speed Antonius, to touch me; for our elders say the barren touched in this holy chase, shake off their sterile curse.
Antony: Yes, My Lady, when Caesarina says 'Do This', it is performed!
Julia Caesar: I hear a voice shriller than all this music, who calls? Caesarina is all ears.
Soothsayer: Caesarina, beware the Ides of March!
Julia Caesar: What mad man is that? We don't fear the Ides of March, having already passed our SSC. That is the day when Roman coffers are filled with advance tax and we paid our advance taxes and filed our returns! (throws him a ducat) take this and be gone.
(Enter Antony, after the Chase)
Julia Caesar: Antonius, let me have women around me who are fat. Yon there, Lady Cassius, like her husband, has a lean and hungry look. She thinks too much, such women are dangerous.
Antony: Fear not, Caesarina. Lady Cass-ius is a noble Roman woman, heading the Roman Women Slimmers Club, striving for size zero. Hence the lean and hungry look
(Same night. Caesar's palace. Thunder and lightning. Enter Mark Antony)
Julia Caesar: Nor heaven nor earth had been at peace tonight. Thrice hath my maid cried out in her sleep, 'Help, ho, they murder Caesarina'.
Antony: What mean you, my Lady, think you to walk forth? You shall not stir out of the palace tonight.
Julia Caesar: Julia Caesar shall forth. These predictions are to the world as they are to Caesarina. Cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant never taste of Death but once. We are not Annas Hazarus, who pretends to fast, yet don't die.
Antony: A vicious night. A lioness hath whelped in the streets. Graves have yawn'd and yielded up their dead, horses did neigh and dying men did groan.
Julia Caesar: The Victorias are still operating against our orders, hence the neighing. Fear not Danger knows full well that Julia is more dangerous than he. We are two Lionesses littered in one day. I am the elder and more terrible. Separated at birth like in our movies, I had grown great. And Julia shall go forth.
(Scene shifts to the Capitol. Enter Julia Caesar followed by Senators and wise men.)Metellus Cimber: Great Caesarina, my brother accused of treason is to die, spare him, Great Lady.
Brutus: Yes, Caesarina, I too join this plea. Spare the poor soul.
Julia Caesar: If I could pray to me, I would be moved by prayers. But I am Caesarina, I am constant as the Northern Star, of whose true fix'd and resting quality there is no fellow in the firmament. Yet don't forget, death would be a relief than rotting in jail for an eternity like Afsalus Gurus. My order stands.
(The conspirators close in on Caesar and stab him one after another. Brutus is The Last)
Julia Caesar: Et tu, Brute, then fall Julia Caesar (falls down and dies ).
V Gangadhar is a Mumbai-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.