Heer Ranjha (Retold)
2 out of 5
Heer Ranjha has survived since the 15th century because it is a tale of archetypal dimensions. Popularised in 1766 by the Punjabi poet Waris Shah, it is a tragic love story in which the beautiful Heer plays Juliet to Ranjha's roaming Romeo. Faced by the repressive forces of the older generation, they are repeatedly frustrated in their romantic aspirations until, after a journey that brings them closer to spiritual maturity, they are foiled once more and united only in death.
This battle between the purity of youth and corruption of old age engages our imaginations on a fundamental level. We have a deep need to see a new generation flourish with its idealism intact, overturning the prejudices of the establishment and thus rejuvenating society. This is why it is disappointing that playwright Shan Khan chooses to retell the myth not with the grandeur of an epic, but with the banality of a soap opera.
That he has updated the story to modern-day Glasgow is not in itself a problem. In this version, Heer is the "face and voice" of Five Rivers, the most successful chain of restaurants in Scotland, while Ranjha is an under-qualified drop-out who has only once ventured outside the city. Her being a Sikh and him a Muslim only makes things more awkward.
What is a problem - aside from working out why Nalini Chetty's confident Heer would ever be attracted to Taqi Nazeer's low-charisma Ranjha - is that the challenges they face are so pedestrian. Too little is at stake in Khan's overly explanatory storytelling to make us care for this commonplace romance. There are compensations, however, in Daljinder Singh's lively staging for Ankur Productions, with its inventive use of space, well-drilled performances, modern nods to Bollywood and forceful music by Tigerstyle.
© Mark Fisher, 2008