Tansen: Theatre Review from the Hindu

Watch a play covering the various aspects of this 16th Century musician’s life

In a little less than two years, The Trialogue Company has had 30 shows of its Hindi play Tansen. It was first staged in July 2017 at NSD, in New Delhi. It took playwrights Sudheer Rikhari and Mohammad Faheem six months to hone the script and meticulously sew classical melodies into this period musical that portrays Tansen in a novel light.

“I was inspired by Girish Chaturvedi’s 1973 novel Tansen which revealed many unknown facets of this 16th Century musician’s life in the court of Mughal Emperor Akbar. It speaks of several aspects of his persona and life, and to present it on stage became my dream,” says Sudheer Rikhari, who is also behind the design, direction, music and production of the play.

The play has three lead actors — Mohammad Faheem, Sudheer Rikhari and Ridhima Bagga — apart from musicians singing live. “We will have the pakhawaj maestro Roman Das, a student of Gundecha Brothers, and Daksh Raj Sharma on the harmonium, travelling to Bengaluru for this show. We believe in live instruments and live voices on stage for this play,” shares Sudheer, a science graduate with a Masters in Hindustani classical and a passion for theatre.

Tansen, born in a Hindu family as Ramtanu to Parvati and Makarand in Behab near Gwalior, is brought up by Gaus Baba, a fakir who sent him to Brindavan to learn music from Swami Haridas. Even as Tansen’s first love Taani makes poignant entries into his life often, he journeys into the forests for a musical riyaaz before being spotted by the King of Rewa Raja Ramchandra Singh, where his musical expertise gains widespread fame. His music gains the attention of Emperor Akbar and Raja Ramchandra is forced to send him to the Moghul court where his melodious aptitude earns him the title ‘Mia Tansen.’ “How he marries Hussaini and his high appraisal of his self-worth sees him lose to the young musician Baiju Bawra, closes on a story infused with worldly lessons,” says Sudheer, who adds the play would also have an audience interaction.

As many as 16 songs will be presented in the course of the play, which has a duration of nearly 110 minutes and an almost continuous background score. “We have compositions by Gundecha Brothers, Pravesh Mallick and Vinay Chandra Mudgal sung by singer-actors Sudheer and Mohammad. It also includes melodies ranging from Dhrupad, Qawwali and Hori to Khayal Gaayaki accompanied by instruments,” says Ridhima, a Kathak artiste, who curated the choreography and costumes for Tansen.

“Although we have performed at the Theatre Olympics at Kalagram in Bengaluru in 2018, we are looking forward to the theatrical performance at Ranga Shankara on June 1 where we have two shows slotted,” she adds.

The play is a ruminative and absorbing journey of an artiste. “A portryal of the see-saw of emotions in the life of Tansen,” says Sudheer, going back to his dialogues in the play which are an introspection of what made Tansen great. What was the musician’s life-long quest — worship of his art or the ever-elusive emotional bond of true love? “The play begins with a dilemma over ‘Ibadat’ and ‘Ishq’ – what is worship and what is love?” he adds.

There are a few historical accounts of Tansen’s life on record. “We culled facts from Chaturvedi’s book for this musical. Many are not aware of his affair with his teenage muse Taani and subsequent marriage to Hussaini. This gripping tale mirrors Tansen’s persona,” says Sudheer, adding that the play is a metaphor on the rigours of life.

(Hindi musical ‘Tansen’ June 1, Ranga Shankara, 3.30pm and 7.30 pm, tickets at the venue and bookmyshow)

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