Valour, honour, friendship, and a production par excellence

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‘Guards at the Taj’, a play written by Pulitzer Prize nominee Rajiv Joseph, was beautiful in story and execution

Poornima Koonath

I grew up surrounded by theatre. Both my parents are talented stage artists for whom participating in dramas/ plays was a serious hobby. There were late night and weekend rehearsals and though my sister and I carried our homework with us, we were busy lip syncing with the artists for we knew all the dialogues by heart. Unfortunately, we were not engaged as back-stage prompters!

My passion for theatre still burns bright and I know a good play when I see one. The evening of Sunday, 9 December I watched ‘Guards at the Taj’, a play written by Pulitzer Prize nominee Rajiv Joseph. While the world feasts her eyes on this marvel created by man, it is believed that this mausoleum of love is shrouded with many tales of horror and inhumanity. Whether these are pieces of fact or elements of fiction is a question that has dogged historians and commoners alike for years. Rajiv has picked on such episode to create his storyline for ‘Guards at the Taj’. When we lay eyes on a beautiful piece of art or architecture, we get so involved and engulfed by the visual grandeur that we fail see the sweat and the tears. This play touches on those finer human sentiments and emotional nuances.

The Monkey Baa theatre came alive as director Jyotsna Sharma presented the play with artistic finesse. In her debut directorial venture, Jyotsna chose to cast novices Rushi Dave and Akshat Gupta as the two protagonists in the story and the actors did not disappoint. Jyotsna is a seasoned theatre artist with a very impressive resume. Not only has she has honed her acting skills in the company of some well-known artists like Sohaila Kapur, Padma Shri Aamir Raza Hussain, Meeta Vasisht, Dolly Ahluwalia Tewari, Danish Hussain, Barry John, to name but a few, but has also taught drama in some reputed institutions and done dubbing and voice overs for channels like HBO, Fox Prime, National Geographic and NDTV among others. Jyotsna says she met Rushi and Akshat while rehearsing for ‘Shadi ka Laddu, Laddu ki Shadi’. Though she knew immediately that their personalities and temperaments suited that of the two characters, it was their “passion, dedication and hunger” that eventually bowled her over. “I knew this would be a win-win situation for me as a director and just like that I cast them in my play,” she said.

The play revolves around the two imperial guards who are at the gateway of the Taj that is almost complete. Their duty is to ensure that no one other than the people working on it, lay eyes on the completed architecture before the Emperor himself. The two characters represent two different emotional stratums. While Humayun raised by a father who has served the emperor for many years wants to be everything that the imperial guard should be, Babur is a dreamer, who does not fathom the full range of the Emperor’s ultimate power. From arriving late to his duty at the gates, to engaging Humayun in incessant chatter and conjuring up fancy inventions, Babur seems far removed from reality, which includes dreaming of the joys of guarding the imperial harem. Humayun’s awe for the Emperor and everything he personifies and Babur’s lack of it is evident from their dialogues.

The play throws light on how incidents in life affect different people differently. The two imperial guards were assigned the horrendous task of severing the hands of the 20,000 people who worked on the Taj. While both are devastated and scarred by the incident, it is Babur who takes it to heart and feels he has killed love. When he is presented with the opportunity to guard at the imperial harem, the euphoria of the fruition of his dream momentarily overwhelms him, but soon he sees it as an opportune chance to kill the Emperor for his atrocities. Though Humayun considered Babur his brother and comrade in arms, his allegiance to the emperor could not accept the thought of treason and he arrests Babur. Ironically, he is assigned the task of taking his friend’s hands. The tragedy of this dark comedy reaches its crescendo in the final scene, when an aging Humayun is seen standing guard at the same spot, this time alone, visualising a beautiful lush green scenery with chirping birds and in conversation with his mate, Babur, until reality dawns and he gets back into position, standing upright, sword up, standing guard… alone!

Rushi Dave and Akshat Gupta in the roles of Humayun and Babur respectively, portrayed their emotional outbursts, their trials and tribulations, their moments of ecstasy and their idiosyncrasies perfectly with their impeccable acting and stage presence. They surprised and delighted the audience with their ease, for these newbies were no less than the pros. Their acting was natural and engrossing, they oozed confidence and shared a great camaraderie. The director used the minimal stage props very effectively and the presence of an artist, Shaun Premnath, providing live music added another dimension. The lights by Tushar Bose and the sound by Kamal Krishna completed this perfectly presented play. Jyotsna was very ably assisted by Taufeeq Ahmed and the production team of this yet another classy jewel from Heart and Soul Productions included Avantika Tomar and Hemal Joshi.

The theatre loving audiences of Sydney are eagerly looking forward to the team’s next play next year, and more immaculate plays in the future. Together let us bring back the era of theatre!

 

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