Theatre

The darkness behind the Noor

A scene from the play.   | Photo Credit: 22dfr bajeli2

Yatrik has completed fifty years’ journey into the theatrical art, planting many milestones in the history of contemporary Indian theatre. Working under the inspiring creative leadership of Joy Michael, the doyenne of Indian theatre, many of its members including those who were once associates with it have won national fame in the world of the theatre and films. Over the years, Yatrik has distinguished itself as a leading national theatre group to produce bilingual plays both contemporary and classics in Hindi and English with artistic brilliance. Its latest offering “Noor Jehan: An Empress Reveals”, which was presented at the Habitat Centre this past week to a capacity hall, vividly brings alive on the stage the life of a great empress and the historical background and forces that shape history. But the course of history has its own dialectical inevitability.

Written and directed by Avijit Dutt, a talented creative personality, in the field of the theatre and cinema, who has produced some memorable plays for Yatrik in the past. Not long ago, his production of “End of the World” written by Evals Flisar, a significant contemporary Slovene writer, which he produced for Yatrik, was staged in Delhi as well as a few European countries receiving rave reviews.

In “Noor Jehan”, he explores the exciting and eventful journey of the Mughal empress from a widow with a child to a woman of substance, powerful enough to control the state apparatus and ultimately culminating in her confinement in Lahore where she breathed her last. We watch these events through the eyes of Noor Jehan. Eschewing exaggerated physicality and loud delivery of the dialogue, Avijit tries to introduce a subtle cinematic device. Instead of dividing his script into acts; he uses brief scenes to achieve cause and effect to quicken the pace. The production is neat and no attempt is made to provide a spectacular scene to capture the opulence of the Mughal court. With austere design, Oroon Das has created the backdrop with paintings that impart the production a sense of Mughal grandeur which is further enriched with elegant costumes designed by Kritti Sharma. What is strikingly innovative about the production is the offstage sounds effect which provides the backdrop of war of succession, suggesting a canvas of relentless struggle to capture the crown. Here writer-director Avijit’s aim is not to highlight the futility of bloody struggle for the state power but to explore the tragically-alienated world of those dramatis personae involved in the struggle. For the director, the inner struggle of the characters is more important.

In fact, Noor Jehan and Mumtaz Mahal, the beloved wife of Shah Jahan, continue to form part of popular culture of India. A playwright has written about Taj Mahal to comment on the rampant corruption prevailing in social and political lives of the country. There are attempts by playwrights to bring alive Shahjahan’s deplorable condition during his last days when he is imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb for life. We have also seen England-based writer Dilip Hiro’s “Shahjahan-O-Mumtaz” directed by Sayeed Alam in which the playwright asserts that Mumtaz was not a mere icon of female beauty but she was superior in intellect to her consort. Avijit’s new play is probably the first venture seen in recent years on the stage, projecting the life journey of Noor Jehan from her own perspective.

After becoming the 20th wife of Emperor Jahangir she keeps on ascending to the ladder of political power, a world in which the very entry of women is strictly prohibited, it is a world preserved for men of valour ready to die in the struggle for political power. She is an instrument in the furtherance of the fortunes of her family members, who acquired powerful positions in the ruling hierarchy. “For many years she wielded the imperial power. She even gave audience at her palace, and her name was placed on the coinage.”

Naturally, she is hated by a section of powerful people. Those who conspired for her downfall includes Mahabat Khan who is responsible for hatching a conspiracy resulting in the fall of pregnant Noor Jehan, causing miscarriage.

Despite the best efforts of the director and the cast, the dialogues delivered by most of the members of the cast are partially audible. May be there is flaw in the acoustic device of the auditorium.

Lighting flaw is also discernible at places. The performer playing the role of Noor Jehan, who narrates her own story, mostly remains upstage. If she had come downstage, she would have been able to establish a lively rapport with the audience. But despite these flagging patches, the production reveals the tyranny of royal court, intrigues and betrayals leading to a tragic end. The scene where a widow who rings the bell of justice with crowd raising the slogans for justice for the widow whose son is killed by the arrow shot by Noor Jehan is enacted with finesse.

Avijit Dutt as Mahabat Khan gives a brilliant performance. His Mahabat is bold enough to express his intense bitterness at the rise of Noor Jehan before the emperor. He is against “allowing a mere woman to take the matters of state in her hand.” Oroon Das as Jahangir impresses the audience with his performance. Vani Vyas lives her role of Noor Jehan. In the end her Noor Jehan comes to terms with her destiny while she is kept in confinement in Lahore. She says, “I’ve had everything I wanted and much more. I’ve now understood true peace comes from a lack of want.”

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Printable version | Mar 6, 2021 11:49:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/the-darkness-behind-the-noor/article8504755.ece

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