Taj Mahal ka Tender, written by Ajay Shukla around two decades ago, is a political satire that will be performed by the National School of Drama (NSD) Repertory Company in the city today at IAPAR 2017 (International Association of Performing Arts and Research).
With its take on corruption, red tapism and ‘babudom’, the play holds relevance years after it was penned down. “Also, since Shukla was himself a bureaucrat with the Indian Railways, his writing is full of realism,” says NSD chief Suresh Sharma.
The play begins with Emperor Shah Jahan inviting a CPWD engineer to construct the Taj Mahal. As the process begins, he has to deal with the bureaucracy and red tapism, and the greedy nature of humans altogether in his pursuit.
The fate of the historical monument, had the emperor lived in the present times, is what the audience gets to see through the play. “It is a light play of about two hours with some NSD artists and a few experienced actors too,” explains Sharma, whose Repertory Company also performed the very famous Ghashiram Kotwal at IAPAR yesterday. “Vijay Tendulkar was an exceptional playwright. His total theatre - a form of theatre that has dance, music, play etc - is relevant even today. That was Tendulkar’s speciality. Our class struggles and misuse of power continues and Nana (the central character of Ghashiram Kotwal) is a representation of all these societal evils including womanising,” elaborates Sharma.
Coming back to Taj Mahal ka Tender, he says that today’s performance is more interesting because the play was recently staged in Pune by a local theatre group. “Taj Mahal ka Tender was first performed by the NSD itself in 1988 when the script was handwritten. With time and the digitisation of script, there certainly are some improvisations,” he tells us. The National School of Drama is a theatre training institution set up by the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1959.
The play’s persistent Shahjahan, in no mood to accept excuses for delays, sends the government’s construction department into tizzy. The engineers and contractors are trying their best to fulfill the emperor’s wish, but everything in a typical ‘sarkari’ manner - the issuing of tenders, hiring contractors and the speed of it all. Whether the Taj Mahal is finally built or not, is for the audience to witness in a play full of wit, humour and sarcasm. With the delays and bribes, the play is a reminder of our reality.
Throwing some light on the condition of theatre in India, Sharma says that people have been doubting the life of theatre ever since the first cinema came about. “Even when we had our first movie, people said theatre is dead. Questions have been raised over its existence, but I strongly believe that theatre is here to stay. If the performance is strong and the soul is pure, there is no dearth of good content and good audience,” Sharma believes.
The challenges of surviving, of course, are real, he adds. “But all’s not lost. Government support in terms of funding and boost are good enough. How we utilise these is the question. How honest is our soul? We need to ask ourselves this. In states like Maharashtra, West Bengal, Gujarat and the Northeast, theatre is respected. Unfortunately, that kind of professionalism is somehow lacking in the north. We need to address that,” he signs off before heading for another practice session.