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The truth behind the marble marvel

Henna Rakheja, May 28, 2014, DHNS:

It is rare that one is glued to a theatrical performance replete with a range of historical facts over two long hours.

The infusion of humorous bits, acts as a digestive for the audience that marvels the resurrection of historical characters alienated from imperial sensibilities.

What has been etched in our memories, about the loving husband Shah Jahan and his beautiful wife Mumtaz Mahal, that led to the building of the Taj Mahal, is revoked by Pierrot’s Troupe’s latest offering - Shah Jahan-O-Mumtaz.

Clearly prodding the audience to perceive and interpret the tale from a female perspective, the Urdu-Hindi translation of the originally English play Tale of the Taj, delves into the aspect of the ‘race for throne’ and the abilities of a female in male-dominated Muslim society.

From scene one onwards, where Noor Jahan expresses her disapproval of silver coins that don’t bear her picture, the narrative builds an upward graph. Experienced actors ably support the plot and make it worthwhile.

While the stage is initially dominated by the maverick Jahangir (enacted marvelously by Harish Chabbra), it is Mumtaz Mahal (Niti Phool) who later emerges as a strong personality.

In between, it is the character of Shah Jahan, portrayed ably by director M Sayeed Alam, who floors the audience with his near-perfect dialogue delivery, intonation and befitting body language.

Moreover, the director doesn’t limit the existence of Shah Jahan to his stance and allows for a role-reversal on the stage where the Queen is portrayed as strategically more powerful than the King.

The beauty of the plot remains intact as the husband-wife banter is incorporated in the narrative by the director.

Thus imparting genuine overtones to the lives of historically relevant characters.
The tale spans over a decade but what is shown is condensed smartly by the scriptwriter Dilip Hiro, to whom the director credits the success of devising the scenes intelligently.

From the profound dialogues to the intelligent additions in the stage setup (such as the colourful drapes and golden throne), the production is truly appreciable.

So much so that even the body language is given due consideration.

In a scene where the Shahi Tabib (Royal Doctor) is shown extracting impure blood from Shah Jahan’s body to be sold off in the market, Mumtaz catches him red-handed. Niti improvises her character and stands cross-armed.

“It was an intentional move to break the conventional image of Mumtaz and helped me in showing her as a woman who has vanity but also the shrewdness required in politics. She is feminine but part of her brain thinks like a man,” says Niti whose actions are not so obvious.

It is, however, M Sayeed Alam who lets himself be subtly portrayed as a subservient husband even while bearing an emphatic persona of a King and wins hearts.

He says that he was conscious to not repeat himself since the audience has seen him in similar characters previously.

Though that consciousness could be observed, yet he impressed with his efforts.
The aesthetically done lights by Vijay Gupta, enhanced the experience of the audience in Sri Ram Centre where the troupe performed and made it a captivating show till the concluding scene which comes across as a little stretched beyond what is required.

But the question ‘Is the Taj really a symbol of love or repent?’ lingers on
in the mind.


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