THEATRE “Tale of the Taj” plays upon the inner conflict of the historical characters to sustain audience interest. DIWAN SINGH BAJELI
O ver the years, Pierrot's Troupe has been able to build an audience of its own that found its productions entertaining and lively with a focus on interpreting characters from history. Its latest production, Dilip Hiro's “Tale of the Taj”, which was presented at Shri Ram Centre (SRC) recently, is in tune with its standards of quality. The play shows the relationship between Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal in a new light, apart from raising compelling issues of male chauvinism against the backdrop of the bloody war of succession to the Moghul throne. The production deserves to be seen for its slickness and new insights into dramatis personae drawn from history. There are more shows on November 12, 13, 19 and 20 at SRC.
Jointly directed by Ashok Purang and M. Sayeed Alam, the play captures the ambience of the Moghul empire with an undercurrent of sinister plots to capture the throne. Initially, Noor Jahan, power hungry, hatches a plot to see her son-in-law Prince Parvez succeed Jahangir. The cause of another contender, Prince Khurram (Shah Jahan) is diplomatically and aggressively fought by Asaf Khan, the most powerful noble in the empire. His daughter Mumtaz Mahal is married to Shah Jahan. Noor Jahan, widow of Jahangir, is Asaf Khan's sister. Shah Jahan, a skilled plotter and ruthless, mercilessly killed all claimants.
Playwright Dilip, who is based in London, does not try to project this war of succession as a museum piece of history. Focusing on Mumtaz, he writes mainly through the female point of view. Generally described as ‘the ornament of the palace' in whose memory her husband built the Taj Mahal, a great monument famous worldwide, she is interpreted here as a ruthless strategist countering plots against her husband. Shah Jahan is shown as impatient and uncertain about victory over his formidable rivals. In contrast, Mumtaz is methodological, full of confidence and ruthlessly executes her plots against the enemies of her husband.
Having achieved his goal Shah Jahan consolidates his position. He begins to undermine the power of Mumtaz and belittle her role in the war of succession. To assert her superiority of intellect and power play, Mumtaz invites her husband to play a game of chess in their chamber. It is a game played in a light-hearted spirit. In a light vein the throne is put at stake. Ironically, Shah Jahan loses the game; his playful mood becomes bitter and serious. Symbolically, the game takes the form of a ceremony to celebrate a woman's power. Mumtaz occupies the throne. They are all alone in the chamber. Shah Jahan's male ego and his arrogance as an emperor come to the fore. He tries to force Mumtaz from the throne and in the process she falls on the ground and dies. An inconsolable Shah Jahan is full of guilt. In this moment of emotional crisis, Shah Jahan commits himself to construct a monument in her honour and make her the first royal lady in the world to have such an unparalleled monument.
The directors have kept their production free from the clutter of period details. The acting style is restrained with emphasis on the inner conflict of the characters. This device enables the actors to hold the interest of the audience, and there is curiosity about the final outcome of the intrigues and counter-intrigues.
Niti Phool as Mumtaz Mahal imparts subtle strokes to her portrayal of a bold, intelligent, ambitious and scheming royal lady convinced of her powers. Her Mumtaz forces the royal physician to poison Prince Parvez, the arch rival of her husband, and succeeds in her sinister move. She has no moral qualms using any means, fare or foul, to achieve her goal. Ekant Kaul as Shah Jahan acts admirably. In the denouement his soliloquy is touching. Unburdening his mixed sense of guilt, gratitude and love, he laments the death of his wife. Harish Chabbra as Jahangir and Asaf Khan, Anju Chabbra as Noor Jahan and Pankaj Mata as Prince Parvez bring their characters vividly to life.