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The age of aquarius

Come Friday evening, and all roads will lead to Purana Qila, for a fabulous adaptation of the cult musical, Hair.

music Updated: May 21, 2012 12:15 IST
Pranav Dixit

There’ll be hippies at the Purana Qila on Friday evening. And drugs, sex, rock and roll and a scandalous song or two. Oh, and a live band as well, egging them on. The Neemrana Music Foundation, in collaboration with Hindustan Times Brunch, will be presenting Hair, the three-act rock musical that took the world by storm when it was first performed 40 years ago in New York City.

Hair is a product of the hippie counter-culture and the sexual revolution of 1960s America and most of its songs became anthems of the anti-Vietnam War peace movement. It tells the story of the ‘tribe,’ Berger, Claude and Sheila, a group of politically active, long-haired hippies living a bohemian life in New York City and fighting against conscription into the Vietnam War.

HairHair is no small production by any stretch of imagination. More than 50 singers, dancers, actors and a full-fledged orchestra of 10 will perform – live – on a specially constructed open-air stage that took 15 people more than three days to build. It will be set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Purana Qila.

“It’s a colourful show, lively and energetic. Since everything is going on at the same time – dancing, singing, music – everything has to be in perfect sync with each other. It’s like a circus!” exclaims Antoine Redon, producer and music co-director who is in charge of the chorus and also plays Berger, an irreverent, happy-go-lucky hippie, in the play. To drive home the theme of drugs, hallucinations and psychedelia, massive 3D projections will be beamed right on the façade of the Purana Qila itself.

And while a short preview of the musical was performed last year at Delhi’s Garden of Five Senses, this is the first time ever that the complete show will be performed in India.

Act I: Music and Mirth
Hair has some iconic songs, including the chorus-led, foot-tapping opener Age of Aquarius that is ranked #57 on the US Billboard’s Greatest Songs of all Time. “We couldn’t tamper with the numbers,” says Stefan Kaye, the music co-director who was in charge of the 10-member band. “One, they are legendary. Two, they are copyrighted. That said, we have taken a few liberties with the arrangements. So while the original Hair was pretty much an out and out rockfest, this particular version will have elements of disco, reggae, rock and roll, funk and soul music played by the band using a plethora of instruments – trombone, saxophone, trumpet, organ, guitar, bass and drums, to name just a few.”

The script, admits director Somasundaram, who has dabbled in French and Indian theatre for over 20 years, has been pretty much rehashed from the original. “The first time I read the play, I found it too abstract. There were too many references to American culture and very little interaction among the characters themselves – instead, they spoke mainly to the audience,” says Soma.

He then plodded through the dozens of adaptations of the musical from all across the world and found themes that would appeal to an Indian audience. “The main theme of the musical is about hippies, free sex, drugs, war and love,” he says. “But I also found broader themes like friendship, relationships and sacrifice. This was the only way I could connect the story with people here.”

Act II: Dream and Dance
For Redon, producing Hair in India was a dream come true. “This was the first play I acted in when I was in school!” he says with a smile. “And even then, I played Berger. So when I moved to India five years ago, I badly wanted to do it here.”

The message of Hair remains as relevant today as it was in the ’60s, says Redon. “It is love, peace, joy and happiness. The means to reach these values are still relevant to the twenty-first century.”

If the intention of Hair 40 years back was to make an ‘outer revolution’ to stop wars, the intention today is to make an ‘inner revolution’ to achieve inner peace.

“How to face wars? How to behave in the face of opposition? Are love and non-violence not the best weapons? Hair in 2011 will advocate the Gandhian values of ahimsa and satyagraha in his native land,” Redon says.

Rehearsals began more than a year ago after multiple rounds of auditions. “We selected people primarily for their singing skills,” says Soma. “None of them, really, are trained dancers or actors. Through the course of the year, they underwent rigorous training. This is a full-fledged musical, so I was very clear from the beginning that each person would do everything – sing, dance and act.”

The cast is a motley crowd, a group of twenty-somethings that includes both Indians and foreigners. “None of the cast members are full-fledged professionals,” says Soma. “We have advertising professionals, students from the Lady Shri Ram College and even lawyers participating in the show.”

It’s not been easy. For the past month-and-a-half, the cast has been practicing for more than six hours every day, almost without a break. “There are 35 songs in the show,” says Redon. “And every single person has to know each one by heart.”

Act III: Luck and Location
There’s something strange about mixing a centuries-old monument like the Purana Qila with drugs and hippies. “But I can’t see this musical happen indoors!” says Soma vehemently. “I needed a certain kind of exoticism… I wanted to project a Woodstock-like atmosphere. Antoine and I checked out many places including Agrasen ki Baoli in Connaught Place and the ruins at the Hauz Khas village before we finally zeroed in on the Qila (which we got with lots of patience and loads of luck!). I personally thought this play would be felt better if it was done outside.”

Adds Redon: “I’ve seen operas in Verona and the ambience adds ten times to the appeal of the play. There’s a certain kind of serenity at the Qila that needs to be tapped into and there’s nothing better than theatre to do that. Also, theatre is a niche thing, so you have to make it a little larger than life to attract the crowds,” he says.

Last year, the short preview of Hair got a massive response. “People were tapping their feet, singing along, there was so much energy in the air you could feel it!” smiles Redon. “This time around, it’s going to be a grand experience. Our fingers are crossed.”

Hindustan Times Brunch and The Neemrana Music Foundation present
Hair: The Groove Rock Musical
When: 7 pm on February 25, 26, 27 and 28
Where: Purana Qila (Old Fort), New Delhi
Duration: 2.5 hours
For invites, please contact The Neemrana Shop in Khan Market on 43587183/84/85

Meet the Cast
“Be free, have no guilt, be whoever you are, do whatever you want, just as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” This is the credo of the three protagonists of Hair

Antoine Redon: The producer and music co-director of the musical, plays Berger, an irreverent free spirit who is in love with his roommate, Sheila

Bhavini Misra: The show’s choreographer plays Sheila, a New York University student who is a determined political activist

Rajeev Khali: Rajeev plays Claude, the nominal leader of the ‘tribe’ who faces the tough choice of sticking to his principles or going to war

Hair: a history
Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical was written by James Rado and Gerome Ragni, both New York-based writers and actors, in late 1964. The musical’s profanity, its depiction of the use of illegal drugs, its treatment of sexuality, its irreverence for the American flag, and a nude scene at the end of the first act caused much comment and controversy.

Hair tells the story of the "tribe”, a group of politically active, long-haired hippies of the “Age of Aquarius” living a bohemian life in New York City and fighting against conscription into the Vietnam War. Claude, his good friend Berger, their roommate Sheila and their friends struggle to balance their young lives, loves and the sexual revolution with their rebellion against the war, their conservative parents and society. Ultimately, Claude must decide whether to resist the draft or to compromise his pacifist principles and risk his life by serving in Vietnam.

From HT Brunch, February 20

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