Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dara

3.5/5 rating
Dara | National Theatre



I'm very ignorant about history and that's something I've been trying to correct but the vastness of it all is a bit overwhelming. So when K and I booked tickets to a play called Dara, it was only because we found the marketing summary interesting - that Dara was one of Aurangzeb's older brothers and that it's a Pakistani play adapted in English for the NT. The only history we knew was that Aurangzeb imprisoned his father and killed his brothers to ascend to the throne. When I mentioned to my mother, who has a bachelor's in Indian history, that I was going to a play titled Dara, she told me he was a poet and a painter, and a patron of Islam art in the golden Mughal era. With the downfall of the Mughal empire not long after Aurangzeb, there were many discussions of an alternative history of the country had Dara become the ruler. So what I originally expected, a little known and well imagined rivalry between brothers was then altered by my mother's input into a rivalry of lifestyles - Aurangzeb with his rigidity and shunning of luxury and Dara with his love for poetry and music.
I must say, I was a little disappointed. Yes, it was a clash of lifestyles but not a very new one. I had imagined they would portray Dara as a man who loved beauty and poetry. But he was shown as a fakir stuck in a warrior's role who has been commanded to kill, an act he finds despicable. Even so he was his father's chosen heir (as was the case with the Mughals where the king chooses his heir who is not necessarily his eldest son). He was benevolent, open to religious ideologies and understands that all religions are different means to the same end. He appreciates art as a part of culture. His poetry is mostly philosophical. Aurangzeb of course was the exact opposite. He was blinded by his faith and comforted by his righteousness.
Many smaller plots, like a fakir's predictions of Aurangzeb's betrayal of the family, the sisters Jahanara and Roshanara taking sides, added fuel to the rivalry. Brothers so different and so self-righteous each in his own way would eventually grow to hate the other. But that did not develop much in the plot. In fact, Dara and Aurangzeb barely shared the stage together. Most of the clash was depicted as the trail of Dara's religious allegiance in a court room scene - the easiest  form of ideological clash is any theatre play. And even then, Aurangzeb hid from Dara's view.
Much of the argument is valid today. I can see why it is compelling and very contemporary even though it's a few centuries old. But haven't we heard the argument a few too many times?
The play also shows us that Aurangzeb doesn't understand another perspective except his own. He is shown to repent in his old age, but only for the murders of his own blood and the corruption in the system that he once perpetrated for power. He does not show remorse of his religious intolerance.
May be I'm missing something, a context, like where and when and how it was originally written. But for me it showed the futilely of the argument rather than raise awareness of it.
I dwell too much on the plot.
The sets and production were incredibility detailed and the simplicity of the use of stage was astonishingly beautiful. A regal marble Mughal palace was turned into a court, a fakir's poor patio and many more, all by the gentle movements of intricately carved metal dividers. Dara was fabulous in his role with a strong voice and an imposing personality. Aurangzeb blended beautifully into his role of a mild mannered yet ruthless emperor. Roshanara's character was a bit odd, with her emotions less subtle than the rest - childish I thought but I also thought it was much like Lakshmi in Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and then I find it's the same actor. It was nice to spot a few more in the cast from the earlier play including, Emperor Shah Jahan.
It's a strong play supported by a composed production and I would definitely recommend it. Only, it's not extraordinary.