Plays are like ‘the cry of the human spirit trying to understand itself and make sense of our world.’ (L M Elliott) Yes, even those plays that resort to humour. Even slap-stick humour makes the chaotic world a tad simpler for us. But ‘Taj Mahal Ka Tender’, a comedy play in Hindustani seemed to transcend all these definitions and literally yawned on the stage. It looked as if the play, the script, the actors and the concept had forgotten that a play needs to connect and not disconnect the audience from this art. Those like us who were too timid to walk out had no option but to squirm restlessly on our seats and wait for the formal ending and the opening of the exit doors.
I have been told that this play has been staged for ages now and people on my Facebook list did mention that some of them had watched it even twenty years back… and sitting in the hall I wondered if there was something wrong with the play-sensibilities in me. There was this gentleman sitting right next to me who was whistling and doubling up with laughter even as I stifled a surprised yawn. How can people laugh at cruds… but I guess he must have been a close friend or a relative of someone up there on the stage.
The funniest moment
Yes, there was finally a funny moment at the end when Anil Sharma, the founder-director of MITR Cultural Society was introducing the cast and the backstage talents. At every introduction, the applause from the stage was louder than the applause from the audience! This was the first time that I laughed and the gentleman next to me nudged me affectionately.
The play is all about Shah Jehan and his entourage of courtiers from contemporary India wanting the Taj Mahal constructed in New Delhi. There was no explanation of what happened to the real Taj in Agra or why only a few from the Mughal period happened to have been transported to a modern day Delhi… but I guess if Ajay Shukla, the playwright, wanted to call it a ‘hilarious burlesque’ there are a lot of facts that can be turned off. Bringing in the construction agencies, contractors, the PWD, the DDA, rampant corruption, a bit of politics in land transfer, and giving it all a Mughal flavour was surely the recipe for a great play… but the hilarity was nowhere to be heard or seen. The words fell flat as the dialogues were insipid… the dialogue delivery was punctuated with superfluous and rather unnecessary antics that interfered with the entire concept, and even mimicking a corrupt official, politician, gangster and lower staff was inadequately done.
My first advice goes to Ajay Shukla who must have added all the contemporary punches (if they can be called that at all) and I quote Tom Stoppard who wrote: ‘Words are sacred. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones, in the right order, you can nudge the world a little.’ Listen buddy, when you write you need to pack your words with energy and not make them roll like lazy porcupines on a moonlit night. Well, I do not mean the absolutely gorgeous porcupines any insult but the dialogues were just not willing to take off… which is almost like drunk porcupines who have forgotten that their spines can fly hard and jab harder! So if the dialogues are bad, can the actors be blamed?
Yes, of course… there are innumerable examples where a good actor who is involved with the central theme, has gone beyond flaccid writing and converted it into a fine piece of memorable acting. But you cannot do this if all you do is prance about as if prancing is what makes the audience laugh. A good and discerning audience will never laugh at inane prancing… and this is probably the reason why a lot of regular play-goers got up at different times and walked out.
This is serious. When a good and reasonable play idea gets massacred, I am troubled. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the quality of the ideas that prop the play but the execution is a perfect zero!
Shah Jehan is hardly persistent, Mumtaz hobbles in a few times with an old lantern and adds to our misery, the excuses of the sarkari architect and the construction agency are lacking the punch that even a mediocre writer could have infused, and the acting on the stage is pedestrian. One got the feeling that group members were asked to take it easy and just be on the stage and do whatever they wanted. This is what I’d call stage anarchy. I’m sure the actors were having a ball of a time as they had no distinct and clear agenda to follow.
Relatives and friends of the group were probably issued free passes and they came and occupied seats that were to be taken by people like us who had bought legitimate tickets. There was obviously a chaos all around and finally someone did have the good sense to request the free-loaders to get up and give the seats to those with real tickets. These free-loaders were the only ones who were thoroughly enjoying the nonsense going on there on the stage and had their personal bouts of laughter and ROFLs besides unrestrained and bizarre spells of whistling. Did the director feel that commotion in the hall will be mistaken for excitement? Well, these tactics may be the ones that the founders of IPL have devised but they don’t work in plays.
I must also add here that Sriram centre is getting closer to an archaeological rubble than a buzzing cultural hub. There were bats inside the hall and for the first fifteen minutes I thought this was a prop and that the bats were paper-somethings remotely controlled… but they went on and on and on and some of us were actually afraid.
Forget Mitr Cultural Society and whatever else they think they are planning to stage. The play does have the genetic structure of being a hit… but probably with some other group, some other script-writer, and some other actors. For us it was 600 rupees and one evening completely wasted.
16 June 2015