Mughal E Azam: Feroz Abbas Khan’s magnificent play
October 23, 2017
Sometimes I let my impulses get the better of me. And so I landed in Mumbai on Sunday to watch Feroz Abbas Khan‘s play, Mughal E Azam, based on K Asif’s magnum opus, at the NCPA . And I didn’t regret it.
The three hour musical extravaganza is worth every bit of your money. To translate the grandeur of that film to stage is an incredible task. The mellifluous dialogues in Urdu resonate in your heart. When Anarkali is gifted thorns by Salim instead of a rose, she accepts it saying: “Kaanton ko murjhane ka khauf nahin hota”… and the entire audience bursts into applause. Or when defiant Salim responds to his father with “Mera dil bhi aapka koi Hindustan nahi … jis par aap hukumat karein” .. nostalgia stirs within you.
What is amazing is that the actors sing the famous songs live on stage. The version I saw had Neha Sargam, a former Indian Idol contestant and now TV star, play Anarkali. She did a great job. (I hear that other renditions had Priyanka Barve as Anarkali and that she was brilliant.) The recreation of the Sheesh Mahal during the pyaar kiya to darna kya song was superlative. The shimmery glass, the court dancers and the brilliance of Shakeel Badayuni’s lyrics capture your imagination. But my favourite was the qawwali duel (Teri mehfil mein kismat aazma ke hum bhi dekhenge) between Bahar (Aashima Mahajan) and Anarkali (Neha Sargam) – both singing live and the Kathak troupes accompanying them. The play begins with a brief message from Lata Mangeshkar where she recollects how she was praised for her singing of “Bekas pe karam kijiye”.
But the actor who impressed me the most was Nissar Khann (another TV regular) who played Shahenshah Akbar. What I liked most was that none of the actors tried to impersonate the film originals. If Nissar Khann had tried to do a Prithviraj Kapoor he would have definitely flopped. He doesn’t and therefore he succeeds.
Nevertheless, you do tend to compare with Dilip Kumar or Durga Khote. Dhanveer Singh as Salim was underwhelming and I wished the romance between Salim and Anarkali was more intense. I really missed the absence of the moonlit ostrich feather scene between Salim and Anarkali which is touted as Hindi cinema’s most sensuous scene. Sonal Jha plays Jodhabai competently but obviously cannot match the fortitude of the regal Durga Khote. Palvi Jaswal who plays Suraiya is really cute and manages to bring naughtiness into her dialogue delivery. A special mention must be made of the Kathak dancers. There are moments when there is no music being played, and just the sound of the ghungroos rise or ebb depicting the mood of the situation. Very impressive indeed!
Sonal Jha as Jodhabai- the woman torn between her husband and her son
To recreate a battle scene on stage is tough and Feroz Khan manages it successfully- horses, tents, and the colour of blood- with creative lighting and projection. Where the play wins hearts are with the costumes (Manish Malhotra), the magnificent Kathak choreography (Mayuri Upadhya) and the amazing props (Neil Patel). The wow factor is how within seconds, the sparse gloomy dungeon where Anarkali is jailed, turns into the grand Mughal courtroom on stage, complete with the peacock throne.