Group: Trialogue Company

Dramatists: Mohammad Faheem and Sudheer Rikhari

Director: Sudheer Rikhari

Recommended: ★★★★


It has been a long wait—for productions from the metros to visit Kolkata again. We thank Sanskriti Sagar for recommencing their well-curated invitations to acclaimed plays with Tansen, the debut of Trialogue Company (New Delhi). This riveting biodrama studded with live singing, narration, enactment and dance simply wowed the audience on November 5.

The life of Tansen has become the stuff of many unverifiable stories over 400 years, so we cannot fault the Trialogue dramatists, Mohammad Faheem and Sudheer Rikhari, who rely on Girish Chaturvedi’s eponymous Hindi novel. The uninitiated get to know Tansen’s fascinating journey (literally) from his birth near Gwalior in a Hindu family to spiritual and musical training under Swami Haridas in Vrindavan, tutelage of the Sufi master Muhammad Ghaus back in Gwalior, selection as a court musician by the Raja of Rewa, and summons at old age by Akbar, joining his “nine jewels” in Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. His love as a young man for Tani in his village, leading to the conflict between ibādat (worship) and ishq stressed in the play, and the contest “to death” with Baiju Bawra in late life seem iffy inclusions. The writers should also control their tendency to over-explain, present moral lessons and connect to contemporary conditions.

The same duo of Faheem and Rikhari shared the singing fluidly, interchangeably and superlatively, their voices often creating sonorous and harmonic echo and reverb effects. They delivered Tansen’s dhrupad (for example, “Tero bal pratāp”) and khayal compositions pitch-perfect while acting—a formidable task—as well as the commoner qawwali and hori songs. Fortunately they did not sing Raga Dipak to set Birla Sabhagar ablaze, but they certainly fired up all listeners! Ridhima Bagga, Trialogue’s third member, also sang flawlessly, taking the women’s roles, but as director, Rikhari should increase her dancing contribution because of her prowess in Kathak, which remained under-utilized.

The trio received great percussion backing, local artist Arghya Dutta demonstrating the highest standards of pakhawaj accompaniment, along with Sudip Chowdhury on tablas. As readers of my criticism know, I do not favour the harmonium as a supporting instrument, striking a particularly discordant chord for Tansen’s times because it arrived in India from Europe much afterwards. Although the invention of the sitar (played here by Rashmi Dutt) also dates later, to the 18th century, I can still accept its sound of strings compared to the well-tempered fixed scale of keyboards for Indian classical music or, for that matter, Rabindrasangit too.

But to end on a positive note: when do we get to see and hear Trialogue’s second production, Meera?