Mughal-e-Azam Play

A still from Mughal-e-Azam (the play) with Priyanka Barve as Anarkali at the center stage.

Produced by: National Center for Performing Arts (NCPA) and Shapoorji Pallonji

Directed by: Feroz Abbas Khan

Based on the screenplay by: K. Asif and Amanullah Khan with Kamal Amrohi, Wajahat Mirza and Ehsan Rizvi

Music: Original music score by Naushad with additional score and background music by Piyush Kanojia

Starring: Nissar Khan, Priyanka Barve, Dhanveer Singh, Rajesh Jais, Ashima Mahajan, Sonal Jha, Ram Bahadur Renu, Palvi Jaswal, Amit Pathak, Shweta Padda & Bhavesh Babani

The vision itself is audaciously humongous. One of Hindi cinema’s – no, make that, Indian cinema’s – biggest spectacles and epics, and one of its biggest-ever blockbusters, “Mughal-E-Azam,” which premiered 56 years ago, is being converted into a play, and re-created on stage. And the dynamic original script does not lend itself to anything so static as just a single stage. The music score is another all-timer.  But the audience is now completely different – 12 years have passed since the film was colorized in a shorter, edited version. How then does one connect as the play maintains many portions that were edited out then?

A fabulous integration of heart (instinct) and brain (imagination and common sense) is used. The old songs (most of them thankfully timeless) are integrated as they are, with new minus-one tracks. The novelty: the singers sing live – and proof is offered at the end of the play when the team is introduced on stage. Each song is skillfully presented with astounding choreography and lighting on stage, and Shakeel Badayuni’s spellbinding lyrics set the situational and emotional pitch for Naushad’s evergreen compositions.

Other minor, additional songs are skillfully brought in, as well as the haunting “Salim Chistiya” composed by Piyush Kanojia.

And how is the script, originally co-written by eminent writers of those times including Amanullah Khan, Zeenat Aman’s father, treated for 2016?

Well, here is where there is a fantastic, creative synergy between visions of Deepesh Salgia (credited with creative and strategic vision in the credit booklet, who was also involved with the film’s colorized version), co-producers NCPA and producers Shapoorji Pallonji (who also made the film), along with acclaimed director Feroz Abbas Khan, whose every play, almost, has been a milestone in different ways.

Since the story framework cannot be changed, technology is harnessed to boost the production values and appeal to GenY as well.  Ulhas Sahasrabuddhe of S.S. Lights Media Technology and Solutions, Manish Mavani of Sound and Light Professionals, Video Projection by Jay Mathuria of Spectrum Audio Visual and stage management by Usually Unusual Entertainment (Keyur Shah and Amrit Puri) make the whole experience akin to a Cinemascope movie – beyond anything I have witnessed on stage in plays in three languages – Marathi, Hindi and English.

Full hosannas are also due to Lighting Programmer Nigel Halbrough and his team, Ronnie Fraser of Sonic Lumin as Technical Director, and Sarosh Patel of Effects Tech Sets for the magnificent sweep the near 3-hour presentation acquires.

The only downer was the English translations (Iqbal Raj) that appeared in a scroll with side-projections. Eminently unnecessary (to read them we would miss the action and nuances on stage), they were also random, probably often not coordinated with substantial chunks missing, and the language too was heavily compromised.

The story is known to all: Prince Salim is a boon by the saints to the mighty Emperor Akbar and grows into a triumphant warrior. But he falls for the lowly ‘kaneez’ (maid) Nadira aka Anarkali. Their love is unacceptable to the father, who will not stop at killing the son he desired so much just to preserve the dignity and future of the Mughal Empire.

A word also about the choreography – ballet-like in its mammoth coordination and daring vision, we are enthralled by the rhythm and the perfection in the conceptualization and execution. The way the Kathak dance form is used to carry the flow of the play is truly poetic. Mayuri Upadhya is the genius who stuns us here.

The performances are properly “stagey” but we must put in an extra pat for Priyanka Barve as Anarkali for her lovely voice and expressive singing, which must be quite a strain when dialogues too have to be said for over two hours. Rajesh Jais as the narrator and sculptor is superb, and Ashima Mahajan (Bahar) is especially of note among the rest. Of course, Nissar Khan (of Sony Televison’s “Crime Patrol” fame) and (another TV actress) Sonal Jha as Jodha stand out for their sheer majesty.

Kudos finally to the man – Feroz Abbas Khan – who made this seemingly impossible dream a reality and put it all together into the finest stage experience Indian theater (as in drama) will ever have. He has transcended mediums, paradigm generational and cultural changes and every challenge and difficulty in giving us on stage what K. Asif gave in 1960 – an astounding amalgam of art and craft.

Rating: *****

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