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Displaying The Theatrical Effectiveness: (Re) Cording Through Techniques in Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq

Displaying The Theatrical Effectiveness: (Re) Cording Through Techniques in Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq

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To present the inner landscape on the stage is a challenge before the playwright who with his dramatic imagination makes it possible through the actors as his fertile mind offers the techniques that conduce in making the performance theatrical effective. To such category belongs Girish karnad who has revolutionized the Indian drama by writing first in the regional language and then translating the same to make it world wide popular. The comment from India Today on the jacket of Collected plays clearly revels karnad’s multidimensional personality ---an all rounder. He is “playwright, poet, actor, director, critic, translator and cultural administrator all rolled into one…Karnad is renaissance man.?

Jacket). The Particular aspect of his dramatic genius is that he takes history and shapes it into a dramatic piece. Writing historical plays is a difficult task for a playwright, as he has to keep in his mind the particular atmosphere of that time in his mind. Here dramatic imagination plays a great role in the creation of historical plays. Dharwadker writes: “the history plays draw extensively on printed sources, combine real-life individuals with fictional characters, and recreate, particular places at particular moments in time. More than any of his contemporaries, karnad therefore possesses a dramatic imagination that ranges widely in time and space, and allow him to ‘speak through’ a remarkably diverse cast of characters (CP One: XI).

Tughlag is Karnad’s first successful experiment and after Tughlag he has used his skill miraculously in translating history on the dramatic pages of Tele-Danda and The Dreams of Tipu Sultan. The Dreams of sultan differs from other two historical plays as it was first written in English and then was translated into Kannada. Tughlaq, the play for study was first written in Kannada in 1964 Girish Karnad was persuaded to translate it into English by Alyque Padamses. The play was an instant success on the stage. It was produced in Kannada in 1965 and was also done about the same time in Hindi by the national school of drama, Bengali and Marathi productions followed, and in 1970 there was an English production of it in Bombay. The dramatist has exploited almost all the techniques in making it a grand success on the stage. Ranjit Hoskote in ‘The free press journal’ comments; “tughlaq is a play about the inevitability of corruption…showing up tughlaq cruel side. The play is full of allusions, resonant with Shakespearean situations and Ibsenian modes. It combines a historical flavor with a contemporary relevance” (CP One: II). Tughlaq has become the classic of the contemporary age thought it highlights the Sultanate era of fourteenth century. But its universality makes it a text-book of present day relevance.



Regarding the subject matter, Girish Karnad himself writes: “My subject was the life of Muhammad Tughlaq, a fourteenth century Sultan of Delhi, certainly the most brilliant individual ever to ascend the throne of Delhi and also one of the biggest failure. After a reign distinguished for policies that today seem far-sighted to the point of genius, but which in their day earned him the title “Muhammad the Mad” the Sultan ended his career in blood sheds and political chaos. In a sense, the play reflected the slow disillusionment my generation felt with the new politics of independent India, the gradual erosion of the ethical norms that had guided the movement for independence and the coming to terms with cynicism and real politik”(Karnad: 27).

Tughlaq is a return to Indian history to the historical figure of Muhammad Bin Tughlaq, the most infamous Mughal emperor.

Here again Karnad confesses that he must have been attracted to the fear of failure in Tughlaq “And I think basically as a person struggling against failure and failing more, somewhat must have found an immediate echo in me” (Paul: 3). However, the play has been perceived to be contemporary, particularly in its political analogues to the Nehru period of disillusionment. Karnad has himself testified to the political contemporary of Tughlah in his interview with Rajinder Paul. He comments on this issue. “Whastruck me absolutely about Tughlaq’s history was that it was most contemporary.

The fact here was the most idealistic, the most intelligent king ever to come on the throne of Delhi…. and one of the greatest failures too. And within a span of twenty years this tremendously capable man had gone to pieces. This seemed to me both due to his idealism as well as shortcoming within him, such as his impatience, his cruelty, his feeling that he had the only correct answer and I felt in the early sixties India had also come very far in the same direction…the twenty year period seemed to me very much striking parallel” (Murthy: VIII).

P. Bayapa Reddy has highlighted the specialized techniques employed by Girish Karnad in Tughlaq to uphold the theatrical effectiveness of the play for the spectators. He says: “Tughlaq experiments with a verity of theatrical techniques to create visual and auditory images, thereby producing the desired dramatic effect on the stage. By employing a variety of theatrical devices –spectacle, quick shift of scenes, blackout – he tries to control the movement of the play and its impact on he audience. Spectacle refers to all the visual aspects of production, scenery, costume, make-up and the business and the movement of the actor….the very appearance of Tughlaq in his striking costume adds a lot to the element of spectacle in the play” (Bayapa: 153).

Girish Karnad has corded the poetic elements to exploit the sentiments of the spectators who feel with Tughlaq when they heed to his visionary and convincing utterances. Sample the speech: “My beloved people, you have heard the judgment of the Kazi and seen for yourselves how justice works in my kingdom—without any consideration of might or weakness, religion or creed. May this moment burn bright and light up our path towards grater justice, equality, progress, and peace—not just peace but a or purposeful life” (CP One: 7). He plays with the emotions of the people when he says: “Come, my people, I am waiting for you. Confide in me you worries. Let me share your joys. Let’s laugh and cry together and then, let’s pray. Let’s pray till our bodies melt an flow and our blood turns into air” (CP One: 16). But when he fails to translate his visions and ideals, his poetic imagination gets shocked and he himself realizes that he does not need a rose garden. He built it because “I wanted to make for myself an image of Sadi’s poems. I wanted every rose in it to be a poem. I wanted every thorn in it to prick and quicken the sense. But I don’t need these airy tapings now; a funeral needs no separate symbol” (CP One:76). Along with poetic element Karnad has exploited disguise in order to make the drama more effective. It seems to be exciting to see Aziz in the guise of Vishnu Prasad and later in the guise of Ghiyasuddin Abbasid. A dhobi deceives all and even Taghalq who is known for looking through fails to see. To see Tauglaq falling before Aziz is something thrilling. Suspense throughout the play keeps the spectators spell—bound and they anxiously wait for the next occurrence. The episodes of Aziz and Aazam show Karnad’s skill and imagination as they though are not the part of history, contribute in understanding the character of Tughlaq. Aziz offers a parallel line to the character of Tughlaq. Aziz’s filling the skin of the dead with straws, his working in the camp, his role of robber and his disguise of the saint after killing the saint etc, are the instances that make the drama appealing to the spectators who love to see such incidents on the stage.


Girish Karad has also used irony in order to have the desired effect on the stage. Irony is the difference between what happens (reality) and what appears to happen (appearance) . Irony in all manifestations –of situation, of dialogues and of characters etc. is used successfully. The element of irony regularly enhances the theatrical appeal of the play; it also contributes to a dramatized manifestation of Tughlaq’s own tortured divided self. Both Tughlaq and his foes initially carry the illusion of being idealists. Yet in the actual pursuit of the ideal they strike its opposites giving the occasional impression that the ‘way to hell is paved with best of intention’. The whole play is stylobated on these ‘opposites’ the ideal and the real. Tughlaq is what he is his self-cognition and deep desire for divine mercy not withstanding. In the end, Mohammad Tughlaq and his kingdom become inextricably identified with each other vis-à-vis the chaos that grips them uniformly. The techniques of shifting the scenes work on the mind of the spectators, who though enjoy others things as well, focus on the tragedy of Tughlaq.

Symbols speak themselves. Girish Karnad knows how to exploit technique of symbol, which reveals the inner landscape of the dramatic persona. The characters of Aziz and Azam have been presented as symbols. They stand for opportunistic and unprincipled people who take undue advantage of the liberal ideals and welfare schemes of the democratic government and fill their own pockets. Karnad has presented chess as symbol. In the play it symbolizes that the whole kingdom is as complicated and full of problems as the game of chess. Karnad has presented Python as symbol. The python is a symbol of increased brutality and blood thirstiness of the Sultan. It symbolizes the complete degeneration of his personality. In some books prayer has also been told as a symbol. But the writers do not make it explicit of what symbol it is. What does it symbolize? The manner in which prayer is exploited as an instrument of murder against the same of man who has made prayers mandatory in the state and the role played by Aziz. Tughlaq’s asking Barani not to cover the bead body of Shihab’s dead body, the presence of the witty Aziz pitied against the gentler Aazam all stand out as striking examples of situational irony. Lying alongside the situational irony are the example of verbal irony represented through Barani(the historian) who is interested in “playing chess with the shadows of the dead”.


The prayers offered by Tughlaq are ridden with disease and his sins have become “shadows that entwine round his feet.” In the words of B.P. Bayapa Reddy, “at the micro level, prayer symbolizes the religious idealism of Tughlaq. At the macro level, it connects man’s unconscious need for divine protection and guidance in an hour of anguish. In the beginning prayer is made compulsory but later it is banned for a few years and again it is revived. It is reduced to a mockery when the Sultan’s life is threatened at the time of prayer. ‘Sleep’ on one level represents the need for rest in man’s life. At the macro level it becomes symbolic of peace, which eludes man often. The rose is a symbol of the aesthetic and poetic susceptibilities of Tughlaq. It later on becomes a symbol of the withering away of all the dreams and ideals of Tughlaq. At the macro level, the game of chess is an ordinary game, which is popular in India. It also symbolizes a political game in which the most intelligent and clever politician is checkmated by an ordinary washer man. Through this symbolist technique, the playwright has succeeded in creating the right political atmosphere” (Bayapa: 155).

In a very real sense, Karnad has recorded history in the play Tughlaq with a new look cording all the aspects together in order to have a desired effect on the stage. The techniques of symbols, disguise, spectators, irony, poetic utterances, imagery etc., are corded in one piece and being corded they have the strength to cord the head and heart of the spectators. We can conclude the discussion with the remark of Veena Noble Dass: “Tughlaq is not only good literature but good theatre, a play in which the intellectual symbolic-allegorical levels harmonize with the level of external dramatic action by a proper balancing of theatrical and literary concomitants. The play is essentially modern, may be more modern that most Indian plays written in English, despite being called a historical play”(Veena: 94).

Works Cited: 1. Aparna Bhargava Dharwadker, “introduction”, collected palys: Girish Karnad Volume One, (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005): VII-XXXVI.
2. Collected plays: Girish Karnad Volume one, (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005).
3. Girish Karnad, “Introduction to Three Plays”, The Plays of Girish Karnad Critical Perspective, (ed.) Jaydipsinh dodiya. (New Delhi: Prestige: 1999): 21-37.
4. P.Bayapa Reddy, “The Theatrical Representation of history : Girish Karnad’s Tughlaq”, the plays of Girish Karnad Critical Perspective, (ed.) Jaydipsinh.

Contributed By:  Dr. Ram Sharma, Lecturer in English, Janta Vedic College MEERUT, U.P. dr.ram_sharma@yahoo.co.in  

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