A psychedelic king. A self-obsessed master. Adorned with a varnished cleverness along with his shiny sword, Tughlaq is a prototype of what a ruler shouldn’t be. Bringing him on to the stage would have meant an arsenal of witty dialogues, emotions and a battalion of characters, who match up to his wits – a venture which The Madras players nailed to the smallest of punctuation.
Directed by Vinod Anand, the play begins with a man, who is a former priest at the mosque, and his grandson discussing about the state of affairs in the country as normal citizens do. Both of them have diversified opinions about the Sultan, and this debate ropes in the audience to the India under Tughlaq, giving them the freedom to unpuzzle their own master.
The impression of the king, ‘The victorious. The mighty. The majesty of the palace, Muhammed Tughlaq’ is etched with each announcement passed by the messenger who walks on to the stage from amidst the audience, making them fight the urge to stop him and ask, what else is the news?
So, now the king wants the capital to be shifted from Delhi to the Hindu-dominated Daulatabad. While the king attributes this move as an initiative to cement the unity between Hindus and Muslims, it is later unearthed as the work of his shrewd and twisted mind – that which would make him powerful and his subjects weak.
While Tughlaq sits with his chess board, self congratulating on his brilliant moves and mounting up the already spilling pride, there are talks about him ‘being a disgrace to Islam’, of killing his parents for power and city being polluted with acts of deceit and impersonation.
The insanity is shone in the eyes – an almost deranged outburst by the king in front of his step mother, politician, Najeeb and historian, Barani, sets the pace of the plot to a spinning speed. The king could no longer be ignored as an insolent fool, as he lays one of the most impressive yet criminally motivated web to bog down Imam-ud-din , the man who spreads the news about his role in his parent’s murder, soothing him with his sugary words and well camouflaged motives.
While Najeeb’s paralysed arms and remarks about Hindusim ‘talking about the soul when the world cried around’ made him an unforgettable character, manipulating the king in every step, Barani’s almost pious and calm attitude was like a beam of goodness on stage.
What follows is another set of absurd decisions by the king as he abolishes prayer and introduces the concept of silver coins. The audience sighs at his absurdity but remains seated with shock as the ones whom the king held close, die one after another – with the reason behind their deaths being even more appalling.
While Azeez and Aazam, the comic pair, might initially seem to be the dousers of heated arguments, their significance in the end is surprising.
While the bold music accompanying the stabbing of flesh, the chimes of the coins, and the red background lit during the bouts of anger, transforming into a divine green during the times of prayer gave an invaluable impact, the darkness in the end with Tughlaq resting his head on his knees succeeded in letting the waves of emotions settle as sediments, that which remind us of an unsatisfied life tortured by the fangs of power and guilt.
The article was previously published in The New Indian Express. Check out – http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/1364916