New Delhi: NATWA, a Delhi-based theatre group has taken up a Mughal emperor whose life has spawned much debate and writing, as the theme for their latest theatrical production.
By using his life and times they are presenting celebrated Tamil playwright Indira Parthasarathy’s ‘Aurangzeb’ in Hindustani at the Sri Ram Centre, New Delhi. With an expertise on historical greats, their earlier production Othello won much critical acclaim.
The play was originally written in Tamil in 1974 and performed in 1976 and 1989. KS Rajendran whose mother tongue is Tamil, has given it a strong Hindustani flavour. Translated by Shahid Anwar it is authentic as it creates a period look not just in terms of costumes and backdrop but also dialogues, language and accent of the characters.
In this masterly analysis of the conflicts that haunt an astute politician amidst a crumbling empire, the playwright weaves his narrative from the intricate interplay of historical forces leading to the war of succession and the ideologies and delusions that either make or mar the historical characters.
In a decadent, bourgeois society, the opportunistic upper and military classes make the most of the situation in seeking, retaining and augmenting their own powers. Even the support of the two sisters Jahanara and Roshanara, each to her chosen brother, is seen to be part of the larger scheme of intrigues rampant in Mughal chambers and courts.
The historical matrix of the play provides a base for an exploration of the psyche of characters, where latent fears and worries come to the fore as the situation becomes grim. Written in 1974, a few months before the Emergency and offering, among other things, a critique of the one nation-one language-one religion theory, the play Aurangzeb has even greater political and cultural relevance today.
When Emperor Shahjahan fell ill in 1657, a war of succession broke out among his four sons, Dara Shukoh, Shuja, Aurangzeb and Murad. The main contenders were Dara and Aurangzeb while Shahjahan’s two daughters Jahanara and Roshanara, supported Dara and Aurangzeb respectively. The Emperor himself lent his support to his eldest son Dara, who alone of the four brothers, was present at Agra and sympathetic to Shahjahan’s dream plan of building a black-marble-mahal for himself on the other side of Yamuna facing Mumtaz’s Tajmahal.
The play begins with the conversation between two of Aurangzeb’s spies in Agra Fort, who tell us of others spying on them, indicating Aurangzeb’s suspicious nature as well as his attempt to be in control.
The play selects, telescopes and fuses events to capture fissures and peaks of a period of history. The war of succession to throne and issues and ideologies that the major players in the drama represent: Shahjahan symbolises a decadent, self-indulgent, romantic astheticism; Aurangzeb articulates and fiercely fights to establish an Islamic fundamentalist state; and Dara projects himself as a philosopher-statesman striving to preserve a pluralist society and nation. Shahjahan dreams about a black-marble-mahal for himself, Aurangzeb dreams of ‘one nation, one language, one religion’, while Dara fears that Aurangzeb will destroy the precious heritage of Akbar.
The play has as its theme the struggles of mutually contradictory dispositions of the various characters: Shahjahan lives in the past, Dara in the future and Aurangzeb in the present. Aurangzeb’s success is the triumph of pragmatism but he has to pay dearly as we find him in the last scene sitting not on his peacock throne but beside it on the floor. His loneliness becomes his tragedy. The play ends with him asking himself he question: ‘Am I a devout Muslim or a fanatic?’ He is left awaiting the judgement of history.
The play will be staged at the Sri Ram Centre, Safdar Hashmi Marg, Mandi House on April 28 and 29 at 7 p.m.