6 August 2008


Hindi, Shri Ram Centre, Sat Oct 6 & Sun Oct 7

The legendary war of succession between Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh has the kind of dramatic potential that jumps out at you from the dullest textbook. Natwa’s production resurrects a Tamil play written a few months before the Emergency (in 1974), using the story to dwell on the dangers of dictatorship and religious bigotry.

The play moves back and forth between the familial sphere and a larger world of religion and politics, domestic squabbles within the royal household emerging as intimately tied to ideological battles. It is an involving tale with strongly etched characters – the once-magnificent Shah Jahan now reduced to senility; the plain, moralistic Roshanara with her childhood envy of the more attractive Jahanara, their father’s favourite; and of course, the aggressively pious Aurangzeb, willing to use any means at his disposal to defeat his brother Dara, whose belief in the truth of all religions is matched only by his faith in the wisdom of the riyaya, the people at large.

Sanjay Gautam is exceptional as the feeble, delusional Shah Jahan, and the scenes between him and Jahanara (Manleen Kaur) are superb. Roshanara, however, is played in an unnecessarily shrill manner by Laxmi Rawat, and the Aurangzeb-Dara opposition is too black-and-white, with Aurangzeb championing “one nation, one language, one religion” while Dara goes on about the spiritual equivalence of all faiths. Shrivardhan Trivedi’s self-possessed and philosophical Dara, all wild hair and booming voice, works much better than Mahendra Mewati’s Aurangzeb, whose sudden switch to half-demented old age leaves much to be desired. The sequence where he is assaulted by girls in gauzy costumes who represent “mausiki”, the music that he has banned all his life, would have been far more effective if played in a lower key.

The play could be much tauter – the second half has some strong lines, but their impact is reduced by the fact that they’re usually reiterating something that has already been mentioned before. Trisha Gupta

Source : Time Out Delhi Vol. 1 Issue 13, October 5 - 18, 2007

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