Never-ending saga of a maverick ruler

Tughlaq – the name inspires ridicule from even those who have no idea how the wording came about.

Known for his quixotic decisions – shifting the Capital of the country from Dilli to Daulatabad and declaring copper coins of equal value to gold and silver ones – Tughlaq remains, for history, a failed and derided ruler.

But even the legacy of a controversial emperor like Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq barely gives a director the liberty to stretch a play on his life to three-and-a-half hours.

Fans of history and theatre in the city learnt a textbook lesson in the chronicles of the sultanate the hard way when theatre director K Madavane staged Tughlaq – the play recently.

This iconic drama, essayed by the well-known playwright Girish Karnad, is produced quite infrequently for the length and complexity of the script involved.

Only three directors are known to have dared to stage it so far - Ebrahim Alkazi, Prasanna and Bhanu Bharti.

Bhanu’s Tughlaq was, in fact, staged not so long back on the ramparts of the Firozeshah Kotla, on a grand scale and with an impressive star cast.

Madavane, acclaimed in his own right, seems to have slipped in an attempt to “be different” from his predecessors who have directed the play.

Tughlaq was never known to be a short drama but different directors dismantled the script differently to make it easier for the layman audience. In Madavane’s production, however, some scenes are stretched ridiculously such as where the pains of the janta are
portrayed in shifting base to Daulatabad.

Another instance is where the khalifa from Saud is robbed and killed. At a point where the patience of the audience has already been tested for over three hours, one does not expect humour to rescue the mood in the auditorium.

The things to write home about in Madavane’s Tughlaq are some of his promising directorial techniques.

The use of a gigantic wooden chair with steps, where the main characters including Tughlaq deliver the main scenes, is novel.

This stage, on wheels, is moved by the janta, symbolising shift in the Capital. This janta, by the way, is symbolised by several extras – their bodies painted in white and wrapped in plastic.

These extras just lie around, poverty-stricken, powerless and helpless, enduring the
mad sultan.

Mention must be made of the actors – indeed, all of them – for being able to immaculately deliver dialogues in Urdu and carry the long play on their shoulders.

Ayaz Khan (as Tughlaq), Madhumita Barik (as his step-mother), Diwakar Grewal (as minister Barani) and Shahnawaz Khan (as another minister Nazib) deserve accolades.

Tughlaq is a brave attempt any day. But the play’s length remains a mammoth task that needs to be tackled.

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