Mughal E Azam in New Jersey: Staying true to its inspiration

Banner photo on website of New Jersey Performing Arts Center. PHOTO:

On June 30, the onstage adaptation of the timeless and captivating story Mughal E Azam graced Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Centner. Directed by Feroz Abbas Khan, the highly anticipated production made its way to New Jersey after successful runs in London, New York, and, most recently, Chicago.

The plot follows the epic and forbidden love story of Emperor Akbar I’s(Nissar Khan) son Salim(portrayed by both Dhanveer Singh and Shahab Ali), the heir to the throne of Hindustan, and Anarkali(Priyanka Barve/Neha Sargam), a learned, beautiful courtesan.  Akbar’s disapproval of the undying love between the two causes Anarkali to be imprisoned and even sparks a war between father and son.

The show stayed true to its inspiration, K. Asif’s 1960 acclaimed epic Indian film of the same name, masterfully reprising classic songs like “Jab Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya” and “Mohabbat Ki Jhooti Kahani,” while also adding three original songs.  The auditorium was filled with the enchanting and powerful singing of the cast.  The voices of Bahar(Rupsha Mukherjee/Aashima Mahajan), the rival dancer who strives to be Salim’s wife, and Anarkali reached new levels of grandeur when it was revealed to the audience that they were performing live without the aid of pre-recorded tracks.

The elated crowd, many of whom were adorned in traditional clothing and “Anarkali caps,” were met with the hospitality and warmth of the NJPAC ushers and staff.  You could feel the pride in the audience with every clap, cheer, and exclamation of “wah wah” that resonated in the theater.

Each character, no matter the magnitude of the role, was portrayed flawlessly.  From the grace of Anarkali, to the passion of Salim, to the majestic presence of Akbar, the cast left a lasting impression on the audience.  One of the best roles, in my opinion, was that of Jodhabai(Sonal Jha/Pubali Sanyal), Akbar’s wife and Salim’s mother.  She had all those watching emphasize with her as she underwent the painful struggle of being torn between her husband and son.

The real unsung heroes of the play were the background dancers and courtiers.  Each worked immensely hard to create the harmonious and captivating dance performances that majorly contributed to the show’s surreal ambiance. Whether it was a short interlude between scenes or a display during a musical number, the meticulously choreographed Kathak dances left all spectators in awe.

Possibly the most astonishing feat was the set design of Mughal E Azam.  The technology, animation, and decorations employed perfectly represented settings such as the opulent court of Akbar, the terror-filled battlefield, and the starry nights that served as the backdrop to the epic love story.  In addition to the lavish set, everyone on stage sported intricately crafted outfits which were so luxurious that they projected literal twinkles in the eyes of theatergoers.

On the topic of stage design, an amazing aspect of the show was the two screens bordering the stage with the English translation of the dialogue performed.  For those who are not as proficient in the proper Hindi/Urdu that the play was performed in, the subtitles helped make the show a more enjoyable experience.

This extravagant portrayal of one of the most iconic Indian films is an amazing opportunity to bask in the magnificent ambience of Bollywood in America.  The New Jersey performance was so successful that a previously unscheduled fourth show at the NJPAC was added on Sunday, July 2.  The next stop on the glamorous show’s North American tour is Toronto from July 7-9.



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