Noor Jahan and Jahangir might look pleased as punch in the promotional pictures, but if you had seen Yatrik’s Noor Jahan – An Empress Reveals, you would have wondered how the Mughal Empire tolerated such lacklustre rulers running the country for so long. For an august imperial couple to exhibit zero charisma takes some doing, but Yatrik’s lead pair achieved that unenviable distinction, shaking the Delhi group’s reputation as a pioneer of post-Independence English theatre.
The fault lay as much in them as in the writing. Avijit Dutt’s original script gave them precious little to build on (80 minutes cannot possibly do justice to an eventful 40 years), featuring many brief, disconnected monologues that supplied the narrative background but kept snapping our attention spans, and not in any deliberate Brechtian manner. The character of an older Noor Jahan merely related past incidents, though one expected that, once introduced, she would also enact episodes from her later life, which she never did. Moreover, not a single scene gave us reason to believe their legendary love; this, too, not anti-romantic by intent.
Vidushi Mehra tried in vain to depict her as a proactive and independent lady. Arjun Faujdar portrayed Jahangir so inertly that we discerned no difference when later on he takes to opium. Cynics would be forgiven if they joked that he must have been on the stuff from the beginning. Only Anhad Anand showed some acting skills as the rebel Mohabbat Khan. Directorially, Dutt gave short shrift to the sparse set, while the costumes, which expressed more than the cast, reminded me of the Emperor’s new clothes in reverse.
Another kind of historical reconstruction occurred in Drama Queen’s Lady Anandi, where the Bangalore performer Anuja Ghosalkar presented a solo work in progress from her research on her great-grandfather, the Marathi actor Madhav Tipnis, who founded the path-breaking Maharashtra Natak Mandali with his brothers in 1904. We were surprised to learn that despite their long-lived fame, she has unearthed only scanty primary material about him. She projected some while recounting his initiation as a female impersonator, peaking with his lead role in Kichaka Vadh, banned by the British for sedition.
Ghosalkar spoke in the first person and impersonated Tipnis as well, but often read from hand-held papers, which she defends as demonstrating her process. However, by constantly making her break eye contact, it disrupted our focus on her. She should memorize all those lines and, not dispensing with the props, simply pretend to read from them instead.
(From The Telegraph, 13 August 2016)