Whether it’s the clean charm of Shashi Kapoor in Mr Romeo (1974) or the spicy hot Ram-Rambo-Romeo (Ranveer Singh) served up for mass female cardiac arrest in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013), these gentleman lovers are years senior to William Shakespeare’s teenage Romeo. He was best played by 17-year-old Leonard Whiting in Franco Zeffereli’s movie Romeo and Juliet (1968) and best remembered as 22-year-old Leonardo Di Caprio in Baz Luhrmann’s fast- spinning version of the tragedy from 1996.
Alas for Shakespeare! For all the beauty of his poetry and for all the éclat of Romeo on stage or screen adaptations, Yogi Adityanath’s Anti-Romeo squad in Uttar Pradesh has conjured Romeo up to be a feckless hoodlum, a creature who has exponentially gained an identity of carnal calling and is now a viral disease infecting a pure and sacred state. Roadside Romeos are out for a rum time with any or many a wide-eyed waif of assumed virginity.
Ask the vigilantes and the cops. They know a Romeo when they see one. He is a college boy, offering to drop a female classmate home. He is seen on a park bench in close proximity with a young woman who doesn’t seem at all in danger. But she is in danger. Or she might be. Or she will be. The cops just know it.
At a time where “ancient grudge breaks to new mutiny” and “where civil blood makes civil hands unclean,” everyone can watch the public shaming of such a Romeo as he is pulled off his bike or hustled off the park bench. He could be made to crouch and hold his ears or have his hair shaved off. Anyone is allowed to take pictures and upload them on the internet. Later, when the media reports the matter, there are measures against the policemen for going too far, but the anti-Romeo squads are nevertheless alerted to watch over young couples in the comfort of each other’s company.
Senior members of society bless the squads because they firmly believe that girl children must be protected. It is of no consequence whether the girl is now a woman in her adult years, of sound mind and capable of taking decisions. She is forever the child of her parents and a child of her larger family, the state. Whether large or small, would any family like its members to be with ill-intentioned reprobates?
Strangely, ill intention has not so far been of concern in a male getting a quick feel up when a bus lurches and a woman passenger crashes against him. Nor is it seen in the taxi or auto rickshaw driver who stops when hailed, refuses the woman passenger but gives her a quick look over before speeding away. These are momentary things, almost like rape , which a noted Indian parliamentarian called “a small mistake,” because after all, “boys will be boys”.
Shakespeare’s Romeo is described by Juliet as “the god of my idolatry”. He is a mild-mannered, dreamy lover and “Verona brags of him to be a virtuous and well govern’d youth”. He is sensitive, artistic, has suffered the rejection of Rosaline and now finds a girl who knows her mind.
Juliet describes her love to be as “boundless as the sea”. In Shakespeare’s play, it is Juliet who risks more than Romeo. Staking parental disapproval, she will not marry Paris, the handsome hunk singled out to be her best match. After Tybalt, a beloved cousin, is killed accidentally by Romeo and he is banished from Verona, Juliet sabotages a forced marriage to Paris by feigning a terrifying death.
At just 13, Juliet is possibly the youngest of Shakespeare’s characters. Alone in her struggle, distraught and terrified though she is of the possible consequences, Juliet’s courage of conviction shines till her last moment.
Where art thou, Juliet?