"The underlying theme of the musical play was ‘ibadat’ (worship) versus ‘ishq’ (love)," writes Arun Bhatia .
Audience interactions were some of the highlights in the musical play ‘Tansen’ at Ranga Shankara recently. The actors began by asking the audience what the word ‘Sangit’ meant to them. Various members answered ‘sur’ ‘gana’ ‘maza’. On one occasion, the audience was asked to sing a few notes of sargam as instructed and a few timidly obliged. Too few.
“Mai Delhi-se Bangalore aapki pariksha lene’ nahi aaya hoon.”
The audience was thus goaded by waved hands and instruction to go “la la la” if pa ma ga re was difficult. Till gradually a chorus – perhaps a besura one! – emerged, full throated, loud and clear.
Having successfully warmed up the audience, the cast plunged into an enthralling performance. The underlying theme was ‘ibadat’ (worship) versus ‘ishq’ (love). Trialogue Company is Delhi based and I was happy they had been invited by Ranga Shankara to come to Bengaluru for the first time. Both their shows were house full. Some people even sat in the aisles.
The story of Tansen, the musician in Akbar’s court unfolded on stage. Tansen was a Hindu named Ramtanu, born to Parvati and Makarand in Behab, near Gwalior. He was brought up by Gaus baba, a fakir, who sent him to Swami Haridas to learn music at Brindavan.
The play progressed with his teenage muse and first love Taani (the ishq element) while his worship (the ibadat element) was music. The ishq-ibadat conflict underlined and ran through the play.
Tansen did intense riyaaz in the forest. The King of Rewa Ramachandra Singh spotted him, brought him fame, till Mughal Emperor Akbar forced him to leave Rewa and over time, Tansen became one of the navratan (nine gems) in the Mughal emperor’s court, and was called ‘Mia Tansen’. He married Hussaini, became vainglorious, and eventually lost in a musical contest to Baiju Bawra, also a shishya of Swami Haridas who had indeed groomed Baiju to be the nemesis of Tansen.
The unacknowledged Taani, first love and guiding spirit attended Tansen’s funeral and breathed her last there. Her soul lamented that her role in Tansen’s glory went completely unnoticed.
This sixteenth century life in the Mughal court is vividly portrayed by three lead actors Mohammad Faheem, Sudheer Rikhari and Ridhima Bagga – all three singers and dancers who held the audience through 110 minutes.
Playwrights Sudhir Rikhari and Mohammad Faheem being accomplished singers and actors also weaved in classical music in this period play. This portrayal of Tansen gives a new light. It revealed to me many unknown facets of the 16th century musician.
Apart from the three lead actors, there was continuous background score while musicians sang live. Percussion player, a pakhwaj maestro had sawal-jawab sessions with the singer actors. The harmonium player also had similar sessions, to the delight of the audience. With superb singing of 16 songs (dhrupad, quawwali, thumri, hori, even khayal gayaki), the story of Tansen’s journey through life was enacted.
The see saw of emotions was portrayed with music, dancing, acting, slap stick comedy and sutradhar like talking to the audience.
There were ten characters in the play and three actors. Seamlessly, Tansen would slip in the role of Akbar, and Taani would become Hussaini, Raja of Rewa would become Gaus Baba and in the next scene he may be Akbar. Sometimes Taani would become sutradhar and narrate and Tansen as sutradhar would become music conductor or rib the audience in other ways. One such instance was with one in the audience – isn’t there always at least one who forgot to switch off the mobile phone? – by ‘Tansen’ on stage waving his hand in the manner of a conductor of an orchestra to direct the mobile’s ring tone tune. The embarrassed offender was quick to switch off.
The set was minimal, the lighting was superb, there was a standing ovation and I do hope they will be back.
Arun Bhatia is a resident of Bengaluru and an avid reader, writer, and photographer. He has also modeled in TV commercials.