Two actors, one role — Mughal-e-Azam comes to Delhi

At the Weightlifting Auditorium in Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, one could feel the weight of Priyanka Barve’s voice as she elegantly arrives at “More Panghat Pe” on a stage usually reserved for brute force. As she improvises with a harkat, director Feroz Khan applauds in Marathi. All of this seemingly disparate elements come together as one observes the rehearsals of the upcoming musical Mughal-e-Azam from a corner.

Soon one discovers that she is not the only Anarkali around. There is Neha Sargam waiting in the wings as well. After a tremendous response in Mumbai, the Broadway-style musical is coming to Delhi this weekend and the actors are excited as well as a little anxious for it’s a story that unfolded in the north of India and the audience here are particular about diction. “Galti nahin honi chahiye,” says Priyanka laying extra emphasis on the Urdu phonetics of the word mistake.

Granddaughter of leading vocalists Padmakar and Malati Pande-Barve, Priyanka was a natural choice for the musical that requires live singing. Khan says that singing was the first requirement during auditions followed by dancing skills and acting. “I knew I could make them act but singing requires years of practice.” That Priyanka learnt Kathak as well helped in getting the nuances of the character. “The choreography is not a copy of what we have seen in the film. The challenging part was to sing and dance simultaneously. It requires lot of breath control,” says Priyanka, who is a known face in Marathi theatre. Another difficult task is changing outfits and applying make up quickly, sometimes in 30 seconds flat. “In one of our early shows, I forgot to remove my lipstick for the prison scene. The show caller immediately messaged to the back room team on walkie-talkie that it was looking odd. After that I have been extra careful,” smiles Priyanka.


07dmcAnarkali   | Photo Credit: 07dmcAnarkali


Neha also hails from a musical family. Her grandfather Pandit Siyaram Tiwari used to make her sit on his lap and teach classical ragas. “I started my career by giving auditions for Indian Idol. I made the cut but because of a sudden bout of illness I could not continue. However, when my audition was aired, producers started approaching me for serials.” Neha did a number of soaps and in the process her singing took a back seat. “Then one day, Mukesh Chhabra, casting director of the play, approached me for Mughal-e-Azam because of my ability to sing and after clearing minor issues with diction, Feroz sir exclaimed, Kahan thi tum! (Where were you)?” relates Neha.

As “Mohe Panghat Pe” has elements of thumri, says Neha, she knew she could handle it well. “It was ‘Jab Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya’ that was difficult to master. It has three antaras and each is different from the other. Having said that these are compositions of Naushad sahib and hence can’t be taken lightly. Before very performance, we rehearse for hours.” It has its rewards. “After one of the performances, a lady came up to the sound engineer to ask if we were playing recorded songs of Lata Mangeshkar. It is a huge compliment,” recalls Neha. For Priyanka, it was Shankar Mahadevan’s praise that boosted her confidence. “He knew about my singing talent but he was surprised by my acting ability,” she gushes. For both it is the response of the anonymous audience that matters the most. “One uncle comes with binoculars now to have a close look at my expressions,” grins Priyanka.

Natural approach

Neha says the director has allowed them to move away from the bombastic dialogue delivery of the film. “That was a dramatic era. He has taken a natural approach. He told us to do the way we feel it. If we feel like breaking the line because we want to breathe, we do that. You don’t need to follow a pattern where you breathe after three or five words. Feroz sir wanted us to express, not impress,” Neha says that multiple shows of the 150 minute play demand that two actors are cast as Anarkali. “We have our shares of pluses and minuses but those who have seen both of us perform feel that overall we are equal.” Priyanka agrees that they are two different personalities and have interpreted Anarkali in their own way.

In fact, they have different takes on love and hence they draw their own meaning of playing Anarkali before today’s audience. Priyanka sees Anarkali as someone who had a pure heart and soul, qualities that are diminishing today. “The play teaches us to respect love.” Neha identifies Anarkali as a rebel who fought for her love. “I am also like that. I don’t believe in walking a line because it is meant that way. I don’t know much about deep love because I am a free bird. But my emotions are intact. And I have had my share of experiences to fall back upon.”

When she gets into “heavy” costumes designed by Manish Malhotra, the petite actress says, she feels like Anarkali. Or Madhubala? “Madhubala’s beauty is unmatched and we don’t want to reach there. When you watch the play you might feel that this is apt and you may not miss Madhubala for that very moment. But once you come out, I feel, you will fall in love with Madhubala even more.”

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 3:17:56 PM |

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