“Aurangzeb” played to a full house at Shri Ram Centre on 18 April 2009 and was Natwa’s fifth production of the same. Translated from Tamil to Hindi and then English, Indira Parathasarthy’s weaving of the story of Aurangzeb’s rise from an unloved and unwanted child to a despot and tyrant who brooked no disagreement, was marvellous.
As Shah Jahan relentlessly pursues his dream of having a Seeyahi Mahal made from black marble dedicated to him, right opposite his beloved, uncaring of the burden the public would need to shoulder and the cost the kingdom would have to bear, his children split on lines of loyalty and ideology. While Dara and Jahanara are with their father, Aurangzeb and Roshanara are united by a common feeling of neglect and jealousy. The other sons are shown as equally irrelevant for Shah Jahan. As Dara proclaims that he is no different than Akbar and declares all religions as equal and fair, furore arises among the fundamentalist Muslims in court, which includes his brother Aurangzeb.
Driven only by dreams of his palace, Shah Jahan divides his empire, only to ignite a battle, which Dara loses as his followers desert him in opportunistic moments and is reduced to the life of a fugitive. Aurangzeb, whose suspicion spares no one, is tormented by his father’s indifference and wavers towards reconciling with him, till his sister Roshanara advises him against it. Finally, when he is beyond enduring more suspicions, he has his father imprisoned in Agra, such that he can see the Taj Mahal, and speak with their beloved mother. For him this is no cruelty, rather he considers this as the life of a bird in a golden cage.
As Dara watches his loyal supporters leave him for the aegis of Aurangzeb, he loses his belief in the nation and its citizen’s ability to be free. His attitude moves towards being that of a defeatist and Aurangzeb’s call for one nation, one religion and one language, no longer seems incomprehensible. Finally betrayed by the royal courtier who was to help him flee Hindustan, he is presented in front of Aurangzeb and Roshanara. While he and Aurangzeb spar at several points, Aurangzeb still shows some fraternal feelings as he declares he will forgive Dara if he was to acknowledge and apologise for his sins. As Roshanara worries about this, Dara declares he has no intention of doing so and that he is ready to die. Soon enough he is beheaded.
Imprisoned, Shah Jahan can only comprehend his Seeyahi Mahal, and continuously bothers his daughter with questions about his palace. News that Dara, the son he had favoured, is to be beheaded has no effect on him, as he had long declared him to be a lame horse in the race. He declares his children ungrateful and seems to have no comprehension of how he was at fault. Jahanara finally sees him for the selfish person he was and denounces him but to no avail. He has lost all mind and reason.
The play ends with Aurangzeb’s conscience haunting in the form of a nautch girl. The music becomes unbearable to his ears and her questions keep burning him up. He realises that his hands are bloodied with the blood of any. He lies on the floor and is not seated on his peacock throne. Finally he sits on his throne, attired in all regalia, and looks stubbornly ahead, haunted by the question whether he was a fanatic or a devout Muslim.
A splendid set, where the moon in the background lent an ethereal touch to the royal proceedings and the costumes added unparalleled authenticity to the ambience. The entire cast acted superbly, right from Dara who believes he is carrying the legacy of Akbar, to Aurangzeb who believes he has been wronged and never taught love, from Jahanara, who stays staunchly loyal to the bitter end to Roshanara who keenly lives in the disappointment of being an unwanted daughter, and the weak-willed, selfish Shah Jahan, the actors were fantastic in both expression and intonation.
Kudos to Natwa for a brilliant production!