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“He was the one who invented SMS and text messages 180 years ago,” says M Sayeed Alam, during our phone interview. We are talking about his upcoming shows, Ghalib in New Delhi, and Salman Khurshid’s Sons of Barbur, which will run as part of Mughal Night at Shaikh Rashid Auditorium in Dubai on October 12. The idea is to see a period of time with a change in perspective.

The director and Ghalib actor is explaining why the Urdu poet makes for the perfect character to reanimate in the 21st century.

He was a modern thinker, says Dr Alam, explaining; “when people used to write long letters, he wrote one paragraph long letters”.

And when he’s bedecked in Ghalib-like robes and a beard, he says, it’s an easy transition to make. But to transport an old man from a different time to a contemporary setting is a bit of a woozy. “Once you are in Ghalib’s customary cap and beard and robe, it is easy to play his character, but to remain Ghalib without his customary [attire] is very, very difficult. And to see to it that an audience accept[s] you as Ghalib without a beard — that is the most challenging thing for a director as well as an actor,” he says.

After about 450 shows or so though, he thinks he’s got the formula right. Delve into the essence of the man.

And he was a man of progress. “My hypothesis is if he takes rebirth in 21st century subcontinent, he would adapt to the ways and means in his time,” he says.

In the case of Sons of Barbur, the time travel comes with a bit of a babel-filled situation; a Delhi University student from Bengal finds himself face to face with the Mughual Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Their ability to communicate is limited not least because of their language barrier. [The student cannot understand the king’s Urdu; the king cannot understand his smattering of Bangla-Hindi.] But it’s this lack of understanding that prods them to delve deeper to find common ground. In the end, “Bahadur Shah Zafar starts liking Bangla speaking and that Bengali student from Delhi University develops a taste for classic Urdu and poetry.”

The shows, which explore unity in diversity, target the shared heritage from the subcontinent, says Alam. And it reminds us that the chimes of the past leave reverberations even in the now.

However, this is NOT a history discourse. “Both these plays educate but more than that they entertain,” he says.

“Humour is a tool we [used] to show how we are the best of the plural society, where a new language has come up which we call Hindustani or Hinglish or whatever; it is the interaction of people with different linguistic backgrounds. But despite these things we are one. We understand each other,” he concludes.


Don’t miss it!

Tickets to Mughal Night, which runs from 5-9pm at the Shaikh Rashid Auditorium in Dubai on October 12, start at DH75.