He was a local man and he was the only one who actually, really, fought the British. If he was not Muslim, he would have been treated better than Shivaji," says Bangalore-based actor and playwright Girish Karnad, explaining why he picked Tipu Sultan when the BBC commissioned him to write a play for the 50th anniversary of India’s independence in 1997.

Abhijeet Shetty (left) as Tipu Sultan and Harish Seshadri as Poornaiya. Roy Sinai

“Tipu Sultan is misunderstood and that can be credited to the British, who painted him as a villain," says Karnad.

Making a comeback after eight years, the play opened in Jagriti theatre last night in a new avatar, with a new cast. It depicts Tipu Sultan, the man, the statesman, the husband, the father and the son who dreamed of ousting the British from the country 150 years before it actually happened.

While most of India knows the stories of Tipu Sultan, his battles and his tragic death—thanks to the popular television serial on his life in the 1990s—this play addresses lesser-known aspects of his life. For instance, he spent most of his life on horseback and often returned to camp to jot down his dreams. “There were 30-odd notes on his dreams that he recorded by writing and I picked a few to create a representation of what he was like," says Karnad, indicating that the title plays on the word “dreams". “There is what he dreamt of and then the dreams he actually woke up to. I was fascinated by them all. They speak of a man who is mystical and mysterious," says Karnad, adding that he’s based the play on the biographies and literature available on Tipu Sultan.

In its new version, the play has a completely different cast, and the set has been adapted for the Jagriti theatre stage by Raja, who founded Jagriti theatre and runs it. While Abhijeet Shetty plays Tipu Sultan, Jagdish Raja and Vivek Madan play historian Mir Hussain Ali Khan Kirmani and Arthur Wellesley, a colonel in the British army, respectively. “A new cast changes the tone of the play in many ways, but I have not consciously tried to make it different from what it was in 2004," says Raja. She considered adding a video component but decided against it because the play is historical and called for a simplistic presentation.

The play opens in the year 1803, four years after Tipu Sultan was killed on the battlefield, at the point when Colonel Colin Mackenzie visits the house of Kirmani, who has been appointed an historian by the English. The story is narrated through Kirmani, who was in the service of Sultan, and holds him in high regard. The play weaves through battle scenes, stories of Tipu Sultan’s personal life and, most importantly, the dreams he maintained a record of and kept concealed even from his closest associates.

An integral part of the play is the background score that was created by Sankarshan Kini and Rahul Bharadwaj for the first version of the play. They have kept the music as is. “We spent a lot of time then on what kind of music we should use and what instrument was used then," says Raja.

“Once I have written a play, I hand it over completely to the director. I was happy with how it turned out previously," says Karnad, who is yet to see the new adaptation.

The Dreams of Tipu Sultan is on till 20 May at Jagriti theatre, Bangalore. Tickets, 300, are available on www.bookmyshow.comor at the venue.

pavitra.j@livemint.com

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