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The Prince and the Philosopher

For more than three hours on Sunday evening,a serpentine queue of people wound down Copernicus Marg

Dara and Bullha,two plays performed by Pakistan-based Ajoka Theatre,left audiences gobsmacked

For more than three hours on Sunday evening,a serpentine queue of people wound down Copernicus Marg,while an equally long line of drivers circled around Mandi House,desperately looking for parking space. The scene was repeated the next day,too. The epicentre of the excitement was Kamani Auditorium where Routes 2 Roots,an organisation attempting to build cultural bridges between India and Pakistan,was staging the plays — Dara on Sunday and Bullha on Monday. Performed by the Lahore-based Ajoka Theatre,the plays were an attempt to revive memories of Shah Jahan’s forgotten son,Dara Shikoh,and the 18th century mystic poet Bulleh Shah.

“Dara was the rightful heir of the throne,which was snatched by Aurangzeb. Unlike Aurangzeb,Dara propagated a peaceful Islam. Unfortunately,his name has almost been eliminated from history,” said playwright and director Shahid Nadeem. In the two-hour-long play,actor Kamran Mujahid brought Dara alive on stage as a quiet man,an accomplished poet and a devoted Sufi.

Live qawwali and songs based on the lyrics of Amir Khusrau,Sarmad,Bhagat Kabir and Dara Shikoh himself helped transport the audience into a bygone era.

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On the other hand,Bullha,a two-hour-long play directed by Madeeha Gauhar,highlighted poet-saint Bulleh Shah’s call for for tolerance and love in times of bigotry and hatred. In one scene,the poet— Ansari in another stellar role— confronts Banda Singh Bahadur (played by Malik Aslam),the warrior who had vowed to avenge the killings of the Sikhs at the hands of the Mughals,by saying,“Will violence give you peace? After killing hundreds of innocents,will you be able to face your dead comrades in heaven?” In reality,however,Banda and Bulleh Shah had never met.

While Dara was presented in chaste Urdu,in keeping with the prevalent language of the Mughal empire,Bullha was in Punjabi,the poet-saint’s own language. “It took us around seven years to research the language for the two plays. The dialogues for Dara were inspired by the language in the diaries of Jahan Ara,the daughter of Shah Jahan,and letters by Dara and Aurangzeb,” says Nadeem.

While the audience gave the actors a standing ovation on both days,the theatre troupe also took home a memorable experience. “The theatre scene in Pakistan is rather dormant,so it was encouraging to see a packed house in Delhi,” said Gauhar.

First published on: 02-06-2011 at 10:47:36 pm
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