Indira Parthasarthy wrote “Aurangzeb” in 1974 and his script used material from Sir Jadunath Sarkar’s volumes on Aurangzeb. It’s been four decades since then, and there have been new discoveries; more facts and information on the Mughal period uncovered by scholars and historians. It’s interesting then, how relevant the play still remains, and how it becomes, now, a study of ideas, ideology and psychology that almost entirely transcends the narrower ambit of date and time.
Directed by K. S. Rajendran and featuring Mahendra Mewati as the titular character, “Aurangzeb” is a study of human ambition, power and aspiration, revolving around the war of succession that broke out between Shah Jahan’s sons. It is both a symbol and a catalyst. As both Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb emerge as the front runners for the thrown, the clashes become more and more pronounced, and their ideological stands clash, dividing both loyalties and opinions.
While Dara Shikoh imagines a secular, pluralistic nation, Aurangzeb has plans to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state. Their father, who has already placed his loyalties with Dara Shikoh, lives in a world populated with dreams of a black marble mahal for himself, built on the other side of the Yamuna from Mumtaz’s Taj Mahal.
History books find it easier to paint in black and white, and attach qualities to historical figures that are hard to shake off. And so, one of the most important triumph’s of the play is the ease with which it portrays human nature, in all its gray, uncertain tones. Mewati’s Aurangzeb is stringent and confident, but also displays a severe lack of trust, his suspicions about spies and traitors leaking into every move he makes. Shah Jahan’s gentle, aesthetically inclined, almost grandfatherly nature masks a deep selfish vein, his self-indulgence and irrationality a bane upon his already warring sons. He is ill and weak, and cannot disengage from the dreams he’s woven to live in the present. Shah Jahan’s world is in the past, and he still resides there.
Dara Shikoh too is a fraught character, a philosopher more than a statesman, a man who can envision the future but cannot be pragmatic enough to handle the present.
The play builds on multiple threads, creating well rounded characters who are believable, almost familiar, despite their place in history. It debates Aurangzeb’s dream of ‘one nation, one language, one religion’, and it also throws light on the possibilities of Dara Shikoh’s vision of a secular nation.
While its content lays emphasis on the universal theme of human psychology, Rajendran’s play is also true to its context.
With costumes and sets that ring true and dialogues that paint the period well, the entire ambience the play creates is authentic.
Swati Daftaur, “History beyond black and white,” in The Hindu, April 30, 2015. Accessed on May 1, 2015, at: http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/history-beyond-black-and-white/article7158941.ece?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication
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