Bertolt Brecht’s ‘The Threepenny Opera’, teleplay adaptation by Amal Allana, Doordarshan, 1998
The journey of music on the modern Indian stage began in the urban centers from mid 19th century, with Parsi Natak and Natya Sangeet companies supporting actors /singers like Bal Gandharva, who became popular stage icons. With the rise of prose drama from the 1920s, music and songs lost efficacy to resurface once again under the influence of the theatre of Bertolt Brecht from the 1960s onwards. Now songs began to form an integral part of a new evolving dramaturgy, their significance lying in the actor stepping out of his role and addressing to the audience directly, in a critical stance, commenting on the action.
Directors/ composers of this time, like B. V. Karanth and Habib Tanvir felt that modern Indian theatre could benefit through a confluence of urban and rural musical traditions, along with cross-cultural exchanges with Brechtian ideas.
To celebrate World Music Day, here is an excerpt from ‘The Three Penny Opera’ by Bertolt Brecht, adapted/translated into Hindustani as a teleplay for Doordarshan in 1998 by director Amal Allana.
The play first performed in 1928 in Berlin, narrates the story of a London-based underworld don, Macheath who gets away with his wrong doings due to his affluence and contacts. Macheath marries Polly Peachum, daughter of Peachum, who has a business in begging. Peachum seeks to get Macheath hung for stealing his daughter away, whom he considers a major asset for his business. Although Peachum is successful in getting Macheath to the gallows, a last minute reprieve is granted through a royal decree. Macheath is pardoned and granted the title of Baron.
Amal Allana writes, “The Threepenny Opera in Hindustani was produced for the centenary celebrations of Bertolt Brecht in 1998 as a teleplay. The text was adapted to a north Indian Muslim milieu. Accordingly Louis Banks, the composer, was inspired by Qawali music and the music of popular Indian cinema for this ‘Beggar’s Opera’. Raghubir Yadav, the well known stage and screen actor, lent his strong, raw voice for the title song, Mack the Knife/ Magarmach ke Daant.”