Strong performances, attentive set design and strategic lighting made “Tughlaq” a treat for an audience still fresh from the memories of the brilliant “Andha Yug”
The Urdu version of Girish Karnad’s celebrated Kannada play “Tughlaq” premiered on the lawns of Ferozshah Kotla by the Department of Art, Culture and Languages of the Delhi Government last week is a striking and dramatic study of an enigmatic ruler, bringing alive the conflict between the people and ruling class and the intrigues and counter-intrigues within the ruling elite. It recreates a bloody, nightmarish world in quest of true spirituality. The perceptive, insightful and ingenious direction, excellent acting and highly stylised lighting design offered a memorable theatrical viewing experience.
The play is directed by Bhanu Bharti. His last year’s production of Dharamvir Bharti’s “Andha Yug”, staged at this venue, continues to linger in the memory of the audience for its artistic excellence. In “Andha Yug”, chorus was an important and integral means of expression in a production that featured veteran Hindi stage actors like Mohan Maharishi and Uttra Baokar. This time, in “Tughlaq”, comparatively younger actors are cast, including some who played significant roles in “Andha Yug”. In the production under review, the use of music is minimal, used briefly between the change of scenes to make the shifting of locales rhythmic and evoke the right mood. What is most striking in “Tughlaq” is the vastness of the set designed by Ved Pohoja. A fort is created to depict the new capital in Daulatabad. There are multiple locales in which dramatic actions takes place. The play opens in a huge area with the Sultan announcing his policy of equality of all citizens before the law and his decision to transfer his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad for strategic reasons. Here, in this space, a conspiracy by the nobles against the Sultan is hatched. Then we have a court scene where Tughlaq interacts with his courtiers and nobles. Horizontally, a long track is designed to depict the march of people of all ranks and classes from Delhi to Daulatabad which causes a chaos of miseries.
Special attention has been paid to paint different locales differently to reflect various moods and characters of the dramatis personae. The court of the Sultan is painted creamy brown to reflect the serious, egoistic and cruel character of the ruler, which is intensified with a variety of shades produced by the light effects.
Much planning, use of the latest equipment and precise operation of light effects are the highlights of the production. A remarkable creative collaboration between director Bhanu and light designer R.K. Dhingra, honoured by the Sangeet Natak Akademi for his light designing artistry, contributes to create wonderful effects. We are under the illusion that the 26-year tyranny of rule of Tughlaq is unfolding before our eyes. Despite the fact that the action keeps shifting from one locale to another, the dramatic action unfolds in a seamless manner. The complex combination of sounds, ideas, action, words, rhythm and colours creates theatrical magic.
In a scene set on the tower in Daulatabad we watch a lonely Tughlaq confronting a young guard on duty. When the guard leaves him alone enters Barni. Tughlaq reveals his utter isolation, his growing feeling of purposelessness, his ardent desire to recapture his youthful dreams and to return to his books. But he realises it is too late now.
The denouement leaves an overwhelming cathartic impact on the audience. Only Tughlaq and Barni are in the court. Tormented by the series of betrayals, widespread fraud by the people and utter failure of his idealistic policies that brought about economic disaster and the threat of revolt, the Sultan is tired and sick. He slumps into his throne. A disturbed and shocked Barni leaves slowly. In the distance the namaz is being recited in a soul-stirring voice. Here special beam lighting from a height with the use of smoke intensifies the inner peace experienced by Tughlaq. It appears that in this rare moment of divinity and eternal tranquillity the scarred soul of Tughlaq finally finds shelter.
Yashpal Sharma, popular character actor of mainstream cinema, is cast in the main role of Tughlaq, bringing various diabolically contradictory emotional levels to his character with telling effect. His Tughlaq displays a rare strategy devoid of ethic to destroy his enemies and rivals. His brutish murderous instinct is revealed when he discovers that his trusted courtier Shahabuddin is conspiring to kill him; as the plot is unearthed he stabs Shahabuddin repeatedly, as if in a frenzy. Another aspect of his personality is that he is a highly religious person, idealistic and a dreamer who wants to create a world free of violence and nightmares. There are agonising moments when cries of spiritual distress come from the bottom of his heart. He is deeply disturbed that this world is too immoral to perform ibadat (prayer). His Tughlaq is an embodiment of the spiritually crippled humanity. Jitu Shastri’s Barni is an intellectual, and deeply religious. A keen observer of Tughlaq’s inhuman tyranny, his face becomes the mirror of a terrorised humanity. Among others who are superbly cast in the production are Himani Shivpuri as the stepmother of Tughlaq; Ravi Khanwilkar as Najib, the loyal minister of Tughlaq; Sitaram Panchal as Azam; Amit Jayrath as Shahabuddin; Rajesh Sharma as Ratan Singh, who betrays Shahabuddin; and Sajjad as Shaikh Immamuddin, bitter critic of the Sultan. The character of Aziz is vital for the understanding of the character of Tughlaq and for discovering a contemporary connotation of the play based in medieval India. Teekam Joshi paints the portrait of Aziz with subtlety. Because of his street-smart qualities and unethical conduct he rises from a humble dhobi to the rank of Subedar. When exposed, his Aziz confronts Tughlaq with boldness and, strangely enough, the Sultan far from giving him a death sentence awards him the title of Subedar. In his scenes with Tughlaq there is a touch of light-heartedness.