Dara — The National Theatre
Adapted into English from Shahid Nadeem’s play originally performed by the Ajoka Theatre in Pakistan, Dara tells the true story of two Mughal princes Dara Shikoh and Aurangzeb, the eldest sons of the great Mughal emperor Shah Jahan.
Set in the 1600s in Agra and Delhi, the story centres around family feuds, loyalty and sibling rivalry, one brother favoured by his father and the other shunned, but ultimately it is a story of jihad — struggle. It shows the personal struggle by the main characters Dara and Aurangzeb. Dara to find God and understand Him, and Aurangzeb to be liked and accepted. The tale describes how Aurangzeb began to despise his brother Dara through events in his childhood. Desperate to get rid of Dara, Aurangzeb put him on trial for the ultimate sin of apostasy. Dara Shikoh was never interested in the throne though, he was a spiritual being who was influenced by Sufism — a mystical, more holistic branch of Islam, and to Aurangzeb a deviation from pure Islam. The play really questions our perspective of Islam, from a literal interpretation like Aurangzeb to a softer more open minded view like Dara. Most Muslims fall somewhere in between. I admired how emphasis was put on the more humane and compassionate side of Islam and the Prophet’s message which is really the essence of the faith.
For Muslims and non Muslims, it’s certainly thought provoking and will definitely make you think about what Islam really stands for. It also shows how faith is used for political and personal gain as it always has been and still is. Although set in the 1600s, this play is as important to us today as it was in the time the events took place. Every word is relevant and the parallels from that era to modern day are striking.
The highlight of the play is the incredibly powerful court scene where Dara is on trial. The acting is phenomenal by Zubin Varla who plays Dara. It’s nail biting courtroom drama, cleverly scripted and sensitively played out. It’s emotional, profound and completely believable.
I also enjoyed how the play switched between different time periods, keeping the audience engaged. The strength of this production lies in it’s script and delivery of dialogue. The costumes were elaborate just like you would imagine the Mughals to dress, and the music really set the mood.
I felt the character of Shah Jahan was weak given that history depicts him as a man of great stature and grandeur, he was small and slightly comical. It could be to do the with the fact that the part was played by Vincent Ebrahim aka Mr. Kumar from The Kumars at No 42 and it was hard to shake this off. I also felt more could have been explained about the good things the Mughals did for India, like the amazing literature, poetry, art and architecture that flourished at the height of their rule.
Overall a brilliant production based on an important part of history, a serious subject played out with conviction by the whole cast.
Essential Info: Suitable for ages 12 and above due to minor scenes of a sexual nature. Dara is running until 4th April 2015 at The National Theatre. Food & Drink can be purchased in the interval but I would advise buying before as the queues can be very long. Running time : 2 hours and 50 minutes long with a 20 minute interval.
Tickets: £15 – £50 per person.
Address: National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 9PX, Nearest station: Waterloo, Embankment
A bit of history
The Mughal empire which began in 1526 ruled most of the Indian sub continent until the mid-19th century. Shah Jahan famously built the Taj Mahal which is the most visited tourist destination in India today. The Mughal reign when it began was the centre of religious tolerance and fairness. Great emperors like Akbar, Jahangir and Shah Jahan generally had a harmonious rule and were known for their just manner and kindness towards all beings. Hindus and Sikhs were appointed to high positions in the court, and there was peace between all the different faiths in India. After Aurangzeb’s reign the Mughal empire began a slow decline and with this display of weakness it became susceptible to colonisation by Britain and remained under the British rule until 1947. The Mughals were certainly not alone when it came to ruthlessness, British, French and all empires were built on this.
Dara Shikoh was a famous sufi poet who also translated many Hindu scriptures into Persian so it could be read by Muslim scholars. He was also a patron of fine arts, music and dancing. I was really interested in seeing this play as my ancestry traces back to the Mughals. My paternal grandmother grew up in Shikohbad, a town named after Dara Shikoh. My father went to school for some years in Shikohbad but mainly grew up in Agra, the location of the beautiful Taj Mahal.
Thank you to The National Theatre for providing me with press tickets for the purposes of this review.