A tragi-comic, raucous, dark and irreverent work based on Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice offering a bitingly South Asian perspective. Set in Wembley, London, where hatred and intolerance among Hindus and Muslims have grown to a boiling point. Using music, blank verse and present-day pop references, the play explores how the preponderance of power in one sector of a community can marginalize a minority and provoke reactionary and retributive responses.
Jitendra, a Hindu actor, has fled Bollywood stardom to seek fame and fortune in Hollywood. To secure backing for his “India-Indie flick with crossover appeal” he schemes to marry a rich young heiress, Pushpa Shah, and in the process endangers the life of his best friend, Devendra, by becoming entangled with Devendra’s nemesis, Sharuk, a Muslim money-lender. Pushpa, is in love with Jitendra, but as per her father’s will, must marry only a man who can pass a multi-media test.
Written in an iambic pentameter replete with Indian, American and Afro-Caribbean jargon, Merchant of Vembley reflects the many different sounds of the South Asian Diaspora as well as the polyglot crackle of London. The play contains songs and incidental music, also by Kurup, influenced by both rock-and-roll and Bollywood movie songs further highlighting the clash/mash of culture that is so evidently the “masala” of the South Asian Diaspora. Merchant explores the nature of empathy and grace as well as blame, personal responsibility and internalized and externalized religious bigotry through the dreams, hopes and biases of the various characters as they pine and connive in today’s multi-cultural London.
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