Ishq kya hai, ibadat kya hai?
Kya kisi ki talash ishq hai? Ya kisi ki talash mein fana kardena ishq hai?
Ya darasal ibadat ishq hai? Ya fir ishq
The tiny pitch black room of The Attic in Connaught Place, lit with diyas and lamps, envelopes the audience seated on the floor in a sea of blue light, welcoming them with questions on what is love and worship. The mood transports them to the times when the musical prowess of famous musician Tansen reigned in Mughal emperor Akbar’s court. An exponent of Hindustani classical music, Tansen was one of his navaratnas (nine gems).
Dressed in crisp white jamas and Mughal style overcoats, theatre actors Sudheer Rikhari and Mohammad Faheem took up numerous roles and staged incidents from Tansen’s life in their play Tansen, trying to seek answers to an artiste’s dilemma. Whether love for art is enough to be successful or is it important to lose oneself in the worship of art, are the questions that the play posed on Monday evening in Delhi.
A melange of dance, drama and live music comprising dhrupad, qawwali and khayal gayaki, the play chronicles Tansen’s birth to Parvati and Makarand after many prayers, near Gwalior. Tanna (Tansen) goes on to become a court singer for Raja Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior, and later Raja Ramchandra Singh. The time in between is interspersed with his love for Tanni (Ridhima Bagga), which blooms when he accidentally meets her near a temple. As fate would have it, he is forced to leave her and make her wait until his return, when the 16th-century Sufi saint and his teacher Mohammad Ghaus commands him to visit Swami Haridas in Vrindavan to hone his skills. Tanna gives up all worldly pursuits and personal wishes to excel in music.
Speaking about the play — a mix of fact and fiction — Rikhari, 34, who essays Tansen’s role and is also the director and co-writer of the play, says, “A few years ago, my friend suggested we do a play on Tansen. Tansen is not a new name but he has always been a mystery. Legend has it that he could light up diyas with his singing. Inspired by Girish Chaturvedi’s novel Tansen, the play aims to answer if that’s true and unravels the mystery surrounding him.”
With an MA in Hindustani Classical Vocal from Khairagarh University, Rikhari sought the help of books on music written by Tansen, along with Akbarnama and Ain-i-Akbari. “I was always intrigued by what we are searching for in life. As a musician, when we do riyaz, we are looking for the sur (tune). My guruji used to say when you actually jump into a sur or go in its search, your ego drops. Jis din ‘main’ khatam hojayegi, uss din tasir ajayegi,” says Rikhari, who has served as the lead vocalist for Indian Ocean in the past. The music played during the course of the play include renditions of Gundecha Brothers’ Sur mein rame tu hi and Moorat mann bhaaye, brought to life by accompanying musicians Sudip Chowdhury on the pakhawaj and tabla and Daksh Raj Sharma on the harmonium.
Professionally trained in kathak, Delhi-based Bagga, the third actor in the play, convincingly weaves in Tanni’s narrative with her impressive hand and foot
movements. In Tanna’s old age, Tanni’s ghost haunts him, asking him why his art has gathered dust and now lacks magic. Bagga says, “Tanni is his conscience and an inspiration.”
The highlight of the play is the various combinations of the notes of a sargam that Rikhari urges the audience to sing with him. The resulting chorus is surprisingly in sync. He says, “Our idea was to make the performance an experiential one and not simply intellectual. A lot of people stay away from Indian classical music. We want people to know what sargam is, and what sa ni dha pa is. Is it fun or is it a task?”