Play throws light on Aurangzeb’s love life

BEGUM ZAINABADI, based on the eponymous novel by Sharad Pagare, is a rare document that shows us that in his youth the Mughal badshah Aurangzeb succumbed to beauty and love like anyone else. The puritan Aurangzeb who banned music and dance during his reign in India fell madly in love with a dancing girl named Hirabai (Kathak dancer Ankita Desai) whom he sees by chance at Subedar Saifkhan’s house. So besotted is he that for months he is supposed to have given up looking after his political affairs.
The play opens with an old Aurangzeb (Ashish Sharma) recalling his past, which he is dictating to his grandson. Aurangzeb, haunted by memories of Hira, hears the sounds of anklet bells and music typical of the kothas or the dancing girls abodes. On enquiring on the source of the music he is reminded of his ban on music. The play then shifts to Akhtari Bai’s (very convincingly played by Vidhu Khare) kotha where she is forced to part with her favourite dancing girl as she falls in love with a Hindu merchant. When he dies, the girl and her little daughter Hira are left destitute, Akhtari brings them back to the kotha and the training of Hira begins in which no small part is played by the percussionist Talib played very authentically by Hitesh Bhargava.
The third angle is Roshanara Begum, Shahjahan’s younger daughter and an avid supporter of Aurangzeb. She plots his future as the Badshah and puts the idea of killing his brothers in Aurangzeb’s head. As played by Vanya Joshi, who has picked up a lot of weight, Roshanara is scheming termagant who herself drinks wine and is not averse to having a fling with one of the serving boys. On their refusal of she has them castrated. The eunuchs, who have easy access to harems and the emperor’s chambers, are then employed to spy on members of the royal family.
Director Bharti Sharma says in her note that the stream of consciousness and flashbacks were employed in the transformation of the novel into drama. Bharti was perfectly on target in the conceptual stage; her adaptation of the novel was aptly theatrical and brought out the issues of male domination by the ruling class which makes for a double exploitation of women; by men and the state. It also highlights the status of women in a feudal system where the powerful class creates its own women rulers who are as cruel to their own sex as the male. However, there was no need for sets. Areas could have been symbolically created with a permanent spot for the narrator.
BLOOD WEDDING directed by Neelam Man Singh Chowdhry for NSD rep

In Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetic drama Blood Wedding, two young men tragically kill each other in a fight for a woman, who has love for Leonardo and honour for the one betrothed to her, the groom, the moon is not the friend of lovers as he shines mercilessly to expose them in flight and final doom. In fact it is the moon, largely ignored in most productions as too abstract to be portrayed, who is the most interesting character in the drama. Sitting on a swinging platform above the action right from the beginning, she/he is seen quietly adding silver paint to the body in preparation for the end when the moon must “shine brightly”.
The production was marked by the detailing which is Neelam’s trademark. Every tiny aspect of a scene or action is worked out. If she chooses a particular tradition or custom within it, each visual detail will be present. For instance, the marriage talks between the girl’s mother and boy’s father has peculiar rites attached to the occasion that are faithfully presented. Neelam’s in the costumes which are designed flowing with the duende which is this mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained that is the spirit of the earth or as Lorca puts it: “It is truly alive: meaning it’s in the veins; meaning it is of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.” Anyone who lets his duende get carried away may find himself put away in the soil from which he has sprung, his blood nourishing the crops that will feed another generation that will struggle with its own duende.
Her work with the rep company admirably shows up Neelam the director and pedagogue. She has got a mediocre team of actors to perform and perform well in the case of one of the two mothers, the more physical one. By having two persons playing the mother and the bride — not so much the two grooms — the concept further universalises the type and creates a kind of continuity in the characteristic roles. The stage was designed by Vajinder Kumar, with attention to the environment created in the production. Daulat Vaid’s lighting was in consonance with the moods in the play.
Blood Wedding is translated into Hindi by Dr Mahendra Kumar from the Punjabi version by Surjit Patar music for which was composed by B.V. Karanth . This Punjabi version was presented by Neelam with her Chandigarh group The Company.
Neelam retains most of the music and brings her own group of naqaliyas or folk singers of Punjab for the NSD production. The music was the weakest link in the production.

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