The Mughal magic

Panoramic Tale From ‘Aurangazeb’.   | Photo Credit: R_Ragu

‘Aurangazeb’ written by Indira Parthasarathy is a play that deals with one of the most turbulent periods of Indian history. He has painted a brilliant canvas of imperial ambitions, opposing ideologies and familial conflicts with resonances for the present day.

Shraddha and Theatre Nisha joined hands to present this panoramic tale. Directed by V. Balakrishnan (also in charge of design) with understanding , ‘Aurangazeb’ was staged for four evenings at the Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai under the aegis of various sabhas. The play has hardly been staged in Tamil though it is written in the language. The work has been translated and presented to acclaim in Hindi as well as regional languages.

Indira Parthasarathy sets his play at the time when an ailing Mughal emperor Shah Jahan sees his sons fighting to succeed him. He favours his eldest son, the liberal Dara Shikoh, as he believes Dara will fulfil his vision of raising a twin Taj Mahal in black marble. However, the emperor’s younger son Aurangazeb ascends the throne, killing his other brother and Dara, and leaving a trail of blood to fulfil his all-consuming goal of “one language, one nation and one religion”.

‘Aurangazeb’ is a story of dreams and obsessions — of a father’s dream of immortalising beauty in stone, and a son’s obsession to abjure beauty and art in any form. It is a story of contrasts: of brothers whose views are diametrically different, and sisters who do not see eye to eye. It is about liberalism and fanaticism, loyalty and treachery. But above all, it is a tale of the timeless and universal — of the enduring fascination for power, the fickle-mindedness of the public which worships success, and the human emotions of greed and envy.

While the older sister Jahanara supports Dara, her younger sister Roshanara espouses Aurangazeb’s cause fuelled by jealousy of her sister who is her father’s favourite. Having banished music and the arts from his kingdom, Aurangazeb is left desolate at the end of his reign. He is haunted by the ghosts of the past and his sanguinary actions.

It is surprising, however, that there is very little reference in the play to his military exploits for till the end Aurangazeb was engaged in expansionary activities.

The first scene took us straight to the heart of the drama where, in Shakespearean fashion, the soldiers discuss the struggle for power. The measured tempo was sustained; it helped create the intensity but without the melodrama. A couple of theatrical flourishes like the sword-wielding Dara and the constantly dancing personification of the arts were rather forcibly introduced.

The very well-designed costume (Neela Krishnamurti) in pleasing shades never descended to tinsel except for Jahanara’s sharara and the red skirt of the dancer (Vaasanthi). Together with the subtle lighting, it made for a fine visual feel.

The music and the call for prayer accentuated the atmosphere of religious piety and of the era. The set (execution; A.B. Charles) throughout comprised a platform and a lone arch that lent itself to durbar, fort and place of refuge.

The actors, except for a couple, were cast appropriately and portrayed their roles with conviction. Ganapathy Murugesan made for a calm and unfazed Dara whose beliefs help him face betrayal with dignity. Swami as Aurangazeb made his appearance only after a few scenes but immediately created an impact with his cold eyes and demeanour. He is seen at his best in the final scene. Hemalatha Swaminathan as Jahanara exuded quietude while Archana Sharma as Roshanara was suitably fiery. But both of them as well as Ganapathy Murugesan had trouble pronouncing some Tamil syllables. Mano played the traitor, but his enunciation of Tamil words grated on the ear. Krishnamurthy valiantly tried to be a convincing Shah Jahan — a difficult role to enact. The device of using a row of actors at the rear of the stage helped dispel the emptiness, and also enabled them to be turned, in a moment, to devotees at prayer or courtiers. The actors’ voices sometimes could not be heard clearly. A bit of trimming in the end would have helped.

A historical such as this, marked by restraint and sophistication, is seldom seen on the sabha scene. ‘Aurangazeb’ was a treat for lovers of the theatre and history. Catch up with ‘Aurangazeb’ at Alliance Francaise, College Road:

Today, 7 p.m. Two shows, both tomorrow and Sunday - 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 4:49:01 PM |

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