Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tughlaq and Shatranj Ke Khiladi

The movie “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” was released way before my movie-watching years and I must confess I have not watched the entire thing from beginning to end. However, bits and pieces of this movie have returned to my mind often throughout the years. I have visions of sunlight seeped royal bed chambers with music in background, hookah within convenient reach, and endless rounds of Sharbat and Avadhi Kababs being served where Saeed Jaffrey and Sanjeev Kumar play game after game of Chess and devise grand (unimplemented) schemes to combat the East India Company. I imagine Shabana Azmi and Amzad Khan eating Paan and delivering perfectly enunciated lines out of the side of their Betel lined mouths. I imagine the dialogue having several onion layers, which the audience delightfully peels off one by one to reveal one diabolical plot after another.

When I first heard of this play Tughlaq, that movie was the first thing that came to my mind. I do not know how similar the play is to the actual movie, but so far, it has several similarities to my childhood memories of the movie:

  • Yes there is no Sharbat and no Avadhi Kababs involved, much to the chagrin of my palate.
  • However, there is lots of Hookah, Paan (even Supaari and Nusvaar) being consumed and passed around. Yes, the substance use is all pretend. However, who doesn’t love to hear someone speaking eloquently with a Paan filled mouth?
  • The plot is layered with several complexities which make for a tense and interesting storyline. Sultan Muhammad Bin Tughlaq is compassionate yet cruel yet childlike and eccentric. He is an innovator and a visionary, yet a fool. His step-mom in turn is fond of him, yet scared of him. Azeez is overly slimy and greedy, yet with a conscience. Shabuddin is......I could go on and on but you get the idea and it would spoil the suspense. Pretty much every character in this play has two (some even three) sides to their personality, which the actors are trying to surface for the audience.
  • Finally, and I think this is where the analogy to my version of “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” really comes through, there is no end to the diabolical Schemes and “Aha!” moments for the audience. The play provides lots of suspense, drama and double-crossing when you least expect it (the best kind of double-crossing, of course).

Play practice has definitely been fun, entertaining and inspiring. It is a great experience to be able to learn emotion, projection, modulation and of course, the all-important skill of pretending to eat Paan (hey, its tougher than you think). I look forward to the show and hope that the audience enjoys the story, suspense and idiosyncrasy of the play. Once the show is done and I have a little bit more time on my hands, I will have to put “Shatranj Ke Khiladi” on my Netflix queue and see if it matches up to what I’m sure will be a great production of Tughlaq

Video Snip-it from Shatranj Ke Khiladi

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