Theatre “Sons of Babur” doles out the tale of Moghul rulers with their warts, moles and glory.
T he text is layered with historical and political strains. “Sons of Babur,” a headlong take on a rather disparaging description of the Muslim community by Hindutva elements, tries to set the record straight. It rolls out like a photography exhibition, frame after frame exhibiting different facets of Moghul rulers in serial order; quite literally Babur and his sons.
“Sons of Babur” presented by Pierrot's Troupe, directed by Sayeed Alam, written by Union Minister Salman Khurshid and staged at the FICCI Auditorium the past week, could have been a smooth watch, but for the audience. During the course of the over two-hour play, spectators walked in and out, taking washroom breaks and even leisurely strolling out as actors unveiled a scene barely few steps away. Khurshid's text has been translated to Hindustani by Ather Farouqui. With the playwright in attendance and even a Bollywood star present, the audience boasted a power list.
“Sons of Babur” inextricably links the immediate present and the extended past. It blurs the idea of space and time to glean out vivid vignettes from centuries ago. In the play, the idea of performance space is constantly rendered nebulous as the present is often enacted in the well and even the stairs of the auditorium. Rudra Sengupta, a young research student, yearns a grant to visit the burial of the last Moghul emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar in the then Rangoon. Though his research idea doesn't hold much sway among instructors, his earnestness has him hallucinating a meeting with Bahadur Shah Zafar.
The emperor is frail and cast away, yet his love of Delhi is shown to be undiminished.
“The sense of oneness that exists as India in geo-political terms owes its birth to the Moghuls, though they did it for their political strategies, there was nothing sacrosanct in it,” says director Alam, adding the power games the Moghuls played had many positive results.
Shades of grey
While Bahadur Shah Zafar is largely portrayed in a fair light, in his narrative to Rudra, the shades of grey that characterised the other Moghul rulers are dealt with. The idea of a foreigner, often used to refer to Babur, and the increasing Indianness of subsequent Moghul rulers is stressed upon in “Sons of Babur.” The inter-religious marriages between Moghul rulers and Indian princess are also harped upon.
The playwright and the director do not attempt to sanitise Moghul rulers. Their cold-blooded murder of their siblings, and on an occasion of the father, is portrayed. However, on most occasions they are shown feeling guilty or repenting their actions. If Aurangzeb is often accused of creating division between Hindus and Muslims, Bahadur Shah Zafar, playing the sutradhar, gently reminds that the army had most number of Hindus during that reign. Tom Alter gives an assured performance as the aged Bahadur Shah Zafar.
However, the format of reeling out tales of six Moghul rulers, at times, tends to be tedious. Even if it is the important chapters from their lives that are recreated, the presentation resembling a play-within-a-play with Bahadur Shah Zafar and Rudra watching on, makes it a trifle prosaic. The neat partition of action somehow interferes with the merry blending of past and present that otherwise marks the play. The sets meanwhile, create the feel of Moghul court without opting for ostentation.