‘Eight Kings’ and a princely performance

New Delhi, Oct 3 (IANS) As history has it, no city in the country would have witnessed the power struggles and bloodshed that Delhi had under its many dynasties. And the tussle still continues, according to the historical play “Eight Kings”, which was staged in the capital this week, supported by the India Harmony Foundation.

Directed by Vikramjeet Sinha, the play traces the rule of eight successive kings of Delhi during the time of famous Sufi saint Nizamuddin Auliya. Told through a dervish, it explores the dichotomy of Delhi, where saints and emperors peacefully co-existed through the centuries and became an intrinsic part of its historical and cultural landscape.

“I was always interested in the political history of Delhi and I wanted to explore the dichotomy of the capital where turmoil and spiritual quest co-existed. There is also love in the middle of the political chaos. The play is very relevant to our time too. Delhi has seen political instability and constant power shifting.” Sinha told IANS.

The play opens with the visit of famous traveler and writer from Morocco, Ibn Battuta, to Delhi during Mohammad Bin Tughlak’s time. There, he meets with a Kalander (Sufi saint) at the Nizamuddin Dargah, and the story of the eight sultans is unraveled by the Kalander’s version.

The Kalander speaks about the fickleness of fate and transient nature of political power, and ultimately how only love has triumphed over the centuries.

“All these Sultans ruled Delhi in a particular way and they died in a particular way. As they say, history repeats itself and one can see that only love has triumphed at the end,” said Sinha, who debuted as a playwright with this production.

Sinha said that though he was inspired by an upcoming book “Nine Nights and A Million Stars” written by his friend Dhritabrata Bhattacharjya Tato, the storyline of “Eight Kings” is not the same. “The book sparked the idea but the story line is entirely different,” he added.

It was Sinha’s interest in material theatre that led him to experiment with “Eight Kings”, where he uses props like turbans and visuals of heritage structures to denote a particular Sultan and his era.

“I was always fascinated by the material theatre, which very popular in Germany. Not many haven’t explored it here,” said Sinha.

Interestingly, the transition of each Sultan is depicted through different turbans and mannerisms adopted by the solo actor, Farhad Colabavala.

As Colabavala effortlessly slipped into the characters of the eight rulers of the Slave, Khilji and Tughlaq dynasties with bilingual dialogue delivery, it offered a different experience for the audience.

Colabavala enacted the Sultans – Ghyasuddin Balban, Qaikobad, Jalaludhin Khilji and Allaudin Khilji along with Malik Kafoor, Mubarak Shah, Khushrau Khan and Ghyasuddin Tuglaq – with different mannerisms and slang with ease.

“It was challenging,. But interesting at the same time, to enact many characters. Though I had done solo acts before, being a historical play, it needed a little more work. I had to work a little on my Urdu,” Colabavala told IANS.

The actor is a product of a conservatory of actors at Yale and has done over 100 shows in India and Britain, mostly in leads.

With a masters in social anthropology from the Delhi School of Economics, Sinha, writes, adapts and directs several plays for children in various schools across the country, including in Kashmir and Manipur. His next production, based on George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” will be staged in the capital this month.

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