It was a captivating start to Anarkali, The Musical.
As the curtains opened to the fragrance of incense meandering from the stage and a striking silhouette of dancers, the mood was set at once for an iconic and enchanting story.
Ruchi Sanghi Dance Company’s latest production, an extravagant and aesthetic Kathak presentation of a story etched in our history, attracted a packed audience at NIDA’s Parade Theatre in late February 2022.
The well-known narrative is based on a love that did not fear death – a story of love and ambition, of power and passion, of courage and sacrifice.
Yet it would not be remiss to say that the show was also about the courage, patience, perseverance and resilience that brought and kept a hundred artists together, working towards a common goal for three years.
Ruchi Sanghi, producer, artistic director and choreographer, confessed that her partiality to Anarkali as a dramatic narrative for a dance production was due to the ‘larger than life’ possibilities with the narrative and characters. As a story of love and loss, a servant girl and a prince, of power and ambition, of opposing forces that separate rather than unite the lovers, it remains an evergreen concept that can take on many shades in the hands of an expert choreographer such as Ruchi Sanghi. Be it the court ladies vying for young Prince Salim’s attention, or the magical transition from a scene in their childhood to their youth, or the competition between Anarkali and Bahaar, the directorial touch of Ruchi Sanghi was enthralling.
The musical boasted several groups of dancers, flawless and in such perfect synchronisation that despite so many on stage of different abilities, they moved as one. Take a bow, Ruchi Sanghi, for training these dancers, and the performers for putting in the hours to reach that level of perfection.
When asked about how the young performers Niharika Sanghi and Nikhil Anand (as leads Anarkali and Salim), and Gargi Bellave (as Bahaar), related to characters of the late 1500s, Ruchi replied, “Certain characters are universal in their appeal and that is what makes them epic. Anarkali and Bahaar are women one can relate to even today. They stood by what they believed in, and were passionate about their goals.”
Indeed, Salim’s love and his refusal to be a pawn in the hands of his father’s political ambitions is something every teenager and young adult can empathise with today, having to live, or live up to the dreams of their parents. Understanding this essence of human nature helped the three lead characters present their roles in a powerful and convincing manner. Niharika gracefully transitioned from an eager but submissive servant girl to a strong woman, well aware of her rights. Nikhil Anand, as Salim, portrayed the passion beneath the calm exterior, sailing through the narrative with a self- assured presence.
Bahaar embodied the self-centred power-driven young woman with panache. The majestic Akbar played by Pushpal Ray, the helpless Jodha caught in the web of politics (played by Sangita Hathi) and the ever-scheming Rukhsana played by Meena Mahanty Kumar brought these characters to life. The young actors Mokshada, Chinmayee and Arnav who played Anarkali, Bahaar and Salim as children, set the tone of the key characters for the others to follow.
From the word go the production was a spellbinding experience, presented with alluring music, spectacular backdrops, eye-catching costumes, and synchronised dancing. Music forms an integral part of a production like Anarkali as it requires intense and soulful as well as vibrant and dazzling arrangements – to present the emotional roller coaster on one hand, and the grandeur of the Mughal court on the other. Music composer Abhijit Dan achieved this balance appropriately, creating an inspirational score, immersing the dancers on stage and enthralling the audience.
Special mention needs to be made of the lighting and production designer Sagar Agashe and the artwork of Duane Leewai who brought the magnificent splendour and glory of the Mughal empire alive through the set design and lighting. Make up designer Shabnam Ahmed must certainly have had her hands full literally and figuratively to create the ambience of the Mughals through her presentation of the dancers.
Things do fall into place when the intent is genuine, as was reflected in the poetry that shaped the narrative. Ruchi reminisces that Viral Hathi the script writer, lyricist and director had written the script in verse which was an accident at the beginning. “But it seemed so fitting that we decided to keep that flowing, and the sheer beauty of the poetry transported the audience to a world long gone by.”
Niharika Sanghi pointed out, “Being one of the choreographers along with playing Anarkali, the multiple postponements of the show were very hard. However, during our tech rehearsal, when the curtains opened for the first dance, with the low-lying fog rolling across the stage and all the dancers in position, I remember sitting in the wing and finally letting myself believe that we had made it after three long years.
‘Made it’ is perhaps an understatement; they blossomed with flying colours. The entire performance seemed like a series of lavish paintings mounted on to the stage, precise in its detail and picturesque in its presentation.
READ ALSO: Dancing with the mind