Tere Mehfil Mein...Hum Bhi Dekhenge
My contemplative reflection after watching the extravagant Mughal e Azam production.
Like so many [South Asians] around the US, I attended the spectacular Mughal-e-Azam, this summer. It was truly exactly that, SPECTACULAR!
When Aziza Noor (my now 12-year old) was a baby, the music from this film, and others of the same genre, filled her room, our drives in the car, what she would dance to, what we would watch on YouTube. Let's just say we were a bit obsessed - in the best way possible!
(Side note/fun fact: my husband's name is Salim, and with my slight immersion in all things Kathak, we even incorporated some aspects of this time period and this story (not the tragic parts) into our wedding.)
All of this said, when the chance to see a theatrical adaption of this film, and under the direction of the illustrious Feroz Abbas Khan, I was super excited. Admittedly, I was turned off by the insanely high ticket prices, but we settled on balcony seats to ensure the FOMO would not kick in.
Arriving at the venue, the theater was oozing with an energetic nostalgia, and I loved seeing attendees representing the rich diversity of South Asians. Throughout the show, I could hear audience members, including my own mother along with my daughter and I, singing along, and even repeating so many of the lines from the movie/show.
Did I love the show? Yes, absolutely!
Did I love seeing the art of Kathak so warmly and enthusiastically received? Oh my goodness, YES!
And yet, with all that was so wonderful, I still found myself feeling a sense of bitter sweetness in my mind and heart - both while at the show, and in the days that followed.
The coming together of a large cultural community in celebration of this film and story in particular, made me think of what I’ve been seeing on social media about the Mughal period being erased from the history books in India. Are these rumors true? In full admission, I have not looked into this, but even the thought of this makes my heart heavy. Just look at how art can unite?!
It was heartwarming to see, at least at the Bay Area performances, that there was likely an average of 2000 people that attended each of the 4 shows (with the venue holding 2600). And again, those tickets were not cheap. It was such a beautiful display of appreciation for the arts, or at least, this particular artistic endeavor. I of course especially loved the scenes that included the wonderful Kathak choreography, and hearing the audience erupt into applause.
Again, the overall enthusiasm and response was deeply moving. But I have to ask… where are such audiences, even a decent percentage of them, when the many artists and groups who have tirelessly been performing dance and music of South Asia, are presenting their work? The Bay Area is rich with such artistry, and yet, the artist community does not receive a fraction of the response via ticket sales that took place for Mughal e Azam.
The production value of this show was just phenomenal! From the sets (stationary and through projection), to the costumes, the singing, the dancing, the acting, the lighting - all of it was awesome! What I would love to know is that we, the audience members, can reflect on this and acknowledge the scope of what can be produced when there is financial backing for such high production value. I realize that this is all relative - size of org, type of project, number of people involved, etc. But just imagine, if South Asian artists and arts organizations could get this kind of backing from the numerous wealthy South Asians in Silicon Valley? We could create experiences like over and over again to ignite this same kind of excitement in our arts and culture for our larger community.
Perhaps I should have more of a “glass half full approach” rather than being so critical. However, I believe that my greatest sadness comes from a feeling of what could and should be.
I am certainly walking away from having watched this show with so much gratitude for its existence. And though perhaps with not as much grandeur,I am also walking away with a hope that I can continue to work towards making these kinds of experiences the norm for all of us - artists and audiences alike - and with a renewed commitment to cultivating a more supportive, appreciative and involved South Asian community of patrons to ensure that this can happen.
Photo credit: Farah Yasmeen Shaikh, The Forgotten Empress, Asia Society Texas Center, Lynn Lane Photography