Review by Manju Sampat
This is the first play to kick off the third season of Aadyam, a theatre enterprise that is promoted by the Aditya Birla group. Aadyam has been a real boon for theatre groups and theatre lovers. Divya Bhatia, their Artistic director and Brian Tellis their Creative director, have ensured a steady stream of quality stage productions for theatre loving audiences both in Mumbai and New Delhi.
Humayun and Babur, are two guards, whose duty it is to guard the building of the Taj Mahal, the most beautiful monument to have ever been built. The Emperor Shahjahan has decreed that no one is ever allowed to see it before it is completed. During their guard duty, the two guards banter about the vagaries of life, and various other issues of universal interest like freedom, politics, friendship, duty and the parameters these issues have to work within. Two insignificant characters getting centre staged and discussing these weighty issues in absurdist fashion, is very reminiscent of other Absurdist plays like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and to some extent also of Waiting for Godot.
The direction by Danish Husain is an interesting concept. The action takes place in two opposite spaces, forcing the audience to shift chairs when the scene changes happen. This experiment certainly makes the play interactive and wakes the audience from any stupor they may have fallen into! Shahjahan, wants to ensure that nothing as beautiful as the Taj Mahal is ever built again. So he orders that the hands of all the twenty thousand men who built the Taj, and also of its architect Ustaad Issa, be chopped off!
Humayun and Babur (ironical that their names are the same as the founding emperors of the Moghul dynasty) are given the task of performing this horrific act. Thankfully the audience is spared any scenes of gore and bloodshed, and the only semblance of this dastardly deed are some scattered hands in the background! Both of them are riddled with guilt for having “killed beauty” on this “night of the forty thousand hands”.
Eventually Babur, the more sensitive and emotional of the two, confesses that the only solution is to kill the Emperor when they finally achieve their dream of becoming Guards of the Harem. Unfortunately for this blasphemy the dutiful Humayun is forced to put Babur in jail, and this finally leads to a most unexpected end.
Joy Fernandes as Humayun, is a perfect foil to Vrajesh Hirjee’s Babur. With his expressive face, Hirjee is quite brilliant and energetic as Babur, while Fernandes manages to engage the audience despite his role being the less boisterous one. Babur is the dreamer, the dreamer who dreams about the Aeroplath,a flying palanquin, and of “sandelwood machans in the forest”, while Humayun is the realist, the more prosaic one, who is rooted to his duty and to doing the right thing as he knows it is ” allegiance to the Emperor or death” that is the law of the land.
The set design by Vishwa Shroff and Katsushi Goto is interesting while Arghaya Lahiri’s lighting design is excellent and contributes effectively to the sets and the play. The accompanying music also adds to the flavour of this production.
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