A phenomenal canvas, an immortal legend, a brilliant team of protagonists and singers combined with the epic vision of director Feroz Abbas Khan make ‘Mughal-e-Azam’, the musical running at Dubai Opera, a must-watch extravaganza.
To Bollywood lovers, ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ will always be sacrosanct, the labour of love of K Asif who immortalised it on celluloid. The tales of how he overcome millions of hurdles to translate his dream that took him eleven years, are legendary. So it seemed an impossibility that anyone would even attempt to recreate a live three-dimensional version of it on stage.
Yet Khan dared to do it and at its 150th successful flawless performance on Thursday night, one could see why.
The team breathed life into a historical and cultural legend and made it relevant to the current generations. At the auditorium, while the older generations were seeing lip syncing to the memorable dialogues and songs and applauding at cue, the younger generations watched awestruck. The play not only furthers the cultural legacy of K Asif, but has added another dimension of immortal gravitas to the legend of Salim and Anarkali, the love-torn protagonists.
The perfection in technical execution that brought to life the fantastic visuals and histrionic spectacle, the flawless choreography, mellifluous vocals and unimpeachable soundtracks make it a par excellence show.
However, a word of caution for those loyalists who might want to go there looking for a Madhubala, Dilip Kumar or Prithviraj Kapoor (stars of the iconic film) or even expect a Lata Mangeshkar and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (the voices behind the original soundtract) encore. You might be tempted to do the inevitable comparison but don’t. The quintessential difference between the movie and the play is that in this version the sum is greater than its part. One must not forget that the musical is a different genre.
There were a few irritants. It was, for instance, impossible to discern the features of Neha Sargam playing Anarkali or measure the rancour and disillusionment on the face of the brilliant Nissar Khan essaying the role of Akbar. The voices of artistes were flawless but I occasionally winced at the tempo of songs, especially the sequence. ‘Jab Pyar kiya to Darna Kya’. I couldn’t help remembering the audacious expressions of Madhubala and her defiant moves. But here, it is important not to forget the challenges of a live performance. If Anarkali was a bit wooden in that dance sequence, one must remember that while Madhubala was only lip syncing, Sargam was singing live to a pre-recorded track, even as she emoted the whole court scene. So kudos to her grace and poise.
Full marks to Nissar Khan, who brought regality with his rich baritone as Emperor Akbar and perfectly essayed the nuances of an embattled monarch caught between duty to nation and justice and his love for his star stuck son. Dhanveer Singh as Salim was a bit lukewarm in the beginning but post intermission, more than made up the deficit. Sonal Jha, as Jodha, had a limited potential but gave a skilled performance as a mother and wife caught in the cross fire of a father-son conflict. The Sutradhar (narrator), marking the end of each scene and lending his logical voice, was not just a technical formality, it reminded the audience that this was a play and also clearly delineated scenes, facilitating the rhythm and flow in progression of events.
A special word of praise for the brilliant choreography and dedicated team of talented kathak dancers who brought life to numerous court scenes, especially the ‘Mohe Panghat’ and ‘Jab Rat hai aisi Matwalli’ sequences.
The special effects and lights was what really translated the epic landscape of the celluloid movie to stage. The movement of scenes and shifts of scenery was as smooth as silk. It would be difficult to even imagine that a Sheesh Mahal could be projected on the backdrops with such authenticity. Keeping mounted tele-monitors translating dialogues simultaneously in English on either side of stage, might have seemed an aberration to Urdu lovers but was a great help to the younger generation in helping them comprehend the gist of the archaic and flowery dialogues
‘Mughal-e-Azam’ the play has a life of its own, separate from the film. It’s incredible, awe-inspiring and unmissable.
Don’t miss it
‘Mughal-E-Azam’ runs at the Dubai Opera until January 12. Tickets, starting at Dh250, are available at dubaiopera.com.