The Taj and the mirage


STAR ATTRACTION: Jaya Prada in the ballet ``Amrapali."

STAR ATTRACTION: Jaya Prada in the ballet ``Amrapali."  

It would have been easy to say all roads led to the Taj this week in Agra, where the closing celebration of the 350th anniversary of Shah Jahan's monument to his true love took place with a three-day extravaganza. The only discrepancies would be, the celebrations took place at the Madhavgarh Garden, Agra Fort, and the roads were not exactly streaming with banners about the festival. The locals were taking it surprisingly easy. But maybe, Agra is just too used to living with tourists.

Never mind. The organisers, primarily Uttar Pradesh's Department of Tourism, had done a good job of arranging quite a hitch-free three days of events at an open-air venue rigged up to seat 7,000, at a cost of over Rs.2.5 crores. Air-conditioned green room tents, several entries, buzzing fan stands and close-circuit screens for those sitting far off, and a polite police presence: Everyone seemed to be trying hard to make the last few days of the International Year of The Taj, which ended on September 27, a pleasant if not indelible memory for tourists, art lovers and the general public.

Perhaps it was this stress on pleasing so many with such varied tastes that made the programme line-up look like a bit of a tossed salad. The first evening belonged to Muzaffar Ali, who presented Jahan-e-Ishq: Sufi music in three genres. First were the Istanbul Music and Sema Ensemble. Presenting traditional Sufi music from Turkey, the 12 members, comprising six musicians and six sema (whirling Dervishes) were performing for the first time in Agra. (Their first visit to India was for the Jahen-e-Khusrau festival in the Capital). The solemnity of the ritual was awe inspiring, the music lilting, and, as happens with music of Eastern Europe and West Asia, similar yet different from the Indian. But it was Shujaat who caught the pulse of the city by blending Kabir, Amir Khusrau and U.P. folk. Hearing his mesmerising voice and his virtuoso sitar playing, the crowd clapped and cheered just like the anchor had earlier asked them to.

As Abida Parveen's turn came, the level of expectancy was very high. Of course, she did not disappoint. Her's too is a rendition that seamlessly blends the ritual with the performance, the presentation to an audience with a complete surrender to the Almighty. As for sound, one wondered how the Agra Fort and its birds, to mention only two of the affected parties, would withstand the decibel level. Set designer Ashok Sagar Bhagat remarked rather ruefully that 20 years of the fort's life must have been shaken out of it by the vibrations, and hoped he wouldn't agree to design a set for such an event that caused damage to the heritage site again.

The second day belonged to Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia's flute recital. Though the maestro doesn't believe in over amplification, he said he was not just glad he was invited to play, but glad the event took place at all. "The leaders are usually too busy saving their government. I'm happy the U.P. Government has brought public attention to our heritage. And there are so many other such monuments. They should also be commemorated. If we forget our cultural heritage what is left?" He was accompanied on the tabla by Vijay Ghate and on the flute by his disciple Sunil Avachat.

Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia giving a recital at Agra.

Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia giving a recital at Agra.  

But if anyone thought it was too much of a classical dose, there was Jayaprada as legendary courtesan Amrapali, on next. Here was Bollywood come alive, and amazingly, without cuts, retakes or breaks. The famous actress, whose appearance in this dance production choreographed by Bhushan Lakhandri and scored by Ravindra Jain, has been in the news lately, showed her mettle in terms of sheer stamina.

Besides, of course, a blemishless face and plenty of poise in the multi-media production. Not to mention a costume change for every scene. It was almost like a live Chitrahaar, but that much more difficult to execute since done live. With Adnan Sami performing on the closing day, it was an exciting end to an eventful if motley three days.

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