Theatre

Not built in a day

Two decades back, Ajay Shukla's “Taj Mahal Ka Tender” has won its writer both the Sahitya Kala Parishad the Mohan Rakesh Samman. Since then, the play has seen countless performances by theatre groups. Its biting wit throws a powerful punch, and remains, despite the passage of years, both relevant and well-loved.

A recent production by the Shree Umapati Group, directed by SP Singh Sengar, once again brought this play to life, and reiterated the need for more such strong, well-written satire in Hindi theatre; plays that can be both humorous as well as challenging.

Using the story of Taj Mahal’s construction, the play begins at the point when Emperor Shah Jahan first decides to build a monument to commemorate his Begum, Mumtaz Mahal. While the set of the play is in the Mughal style, it uses a contemporary context, one that’s fraught with corruption, red tape and bureaucratic power play. The play explores the construction in the light of these issues. With every delay and every bribe, the play reminds us of our reality, and even as it uses slapstick comedy and situational comedy to elicit laughs, it doesn’t lose its darker context.

At certain places, the acting seems inconsistent, but the play’s script is both strong and timeless, carrying the production. The Chief Engineer Guptaji, played by Govind Vajpayee, uses every trick in the book to defy Shah Jahan’s orders for a fast, delay free construction of the monument. Vajpayee essays the role well, his countenance reflecting both shrewd self-preservation and bottomless greed. He cheats and siphons funds allocated for the construction to serve his own purposes, till the money is almost gone and all he has to show for it is a tender inviting builders. Hand in glove with Guptaji is everyone else involved in the construction of the monument, and their geed and dishonesty all but kill Shah Jahan’s dream. He himself dies before the foundation for the monument is laid.

Vivek Kavishwar, who plays Shah Jahan, manages to infuse the right amount of pathos, helplessness and righteous anger in his character, and the rest of the cast delivers well. At place, though, the lines are delivered with a jerky, over-careful quality, one that breaks the illusion and reminds you that you are watching a play.

On the whole, though, the play is sharp and biting, light only so far as the action on the stage is concerned. Its theme remains both critical and sombre, and we see Shukla’s talent in the way that he succeeds in creating a world which can make you both laugh as well as squirm with impatience, anger and shame.

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 5:21:05 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/not-built-in-a-day/article7282423.ece

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