The Government College University’s Dramatics Club has staged its annual play “Shair-e-Mysore” on the life and legacy of Tipu Sultan. While Tipu Sultan is celebrated as a freedom fighter against the East India Company, the GCU play presented a much more nuanced, personal and darker side of Tipu Sultan. That is precisely what becomes the most refreshing aspect of the play.
Vice Chancellor Prof. Asghar Zaidi attended the opening show and called it a historic occasion signalling the rebirth of student theatre.
“I am so happy that we have put on such a powerful show. The best part is that it is an original play. GCU has produced many wonderful playwrights like Imtiaz Ali Taj and Asghar Nadeem Syed. This play is a homage both to Tipu Sultan, and to our wonderful playwrights.” Prof. Zaidi also said it was important to remember our heroes like Tipu Sultan, but also analyse their legacy with critical hindsight. “Tipu is our champion against British colonialism, but he was also a human with his own flaws. We should see him as a human and not a saint. That is what this play does.”
In “Shair-e-Mysore”, Tipu Sultan is shown as both a fierce and determined warrior but also as an insecure, superstitious individual battling circumstances beyond his control. There is a clear parallel to be drawn between “Shair-e-Mysore” and works of classical European dramatists. Like most Western dramatic tragedies, “Shair-e-Mysore” presents the story of a man who suffers both because of his mistakes and forces beyond his control.
“Shair-e-Mysore” begins at a museum exhibit where important characters from Tipu Sultan’s time are shown. These characters come to life and begin to relate the events that led to the fall of Tipu Sultan on May 4, 1799. The rest of the play is in flashback.
We get a glimpse of Tipu’s childhood under the watchful eye of his stern father Hyder Ali Khan. Tipu’s mother, Fakhurunissa, his notorious ministers Purniya and Mir Sadiq, wife and kaneez all try to convince Tipu to be mindful of regional Indian princes gathering around the British Governor General Lord Wellesley. Everyone is against the war with the English East India Company, but Tipu refuses to listen, believing that if the British are not thrown out, all Indians will become trophies in British museums. This is a clever pun because of the fact that the play begins in a museum.
The most intense scene of the play is between Tipu and his wife Ruqqaya. Tipu has lost the war against the English and they demand half of his kingdom and two of his sons as hostages until he pays 3 million pounds to the English. Tipu finds it difficult to face his wife who has accepted the British as a permanent presence in India. Some of the audience members were brought to tears as the wife Ruqqaya Begum left the stage saying: “You can have your way, but the next time you have to send my sons as hostages, don’t come to me!”
A curious presence throughout the play is Tipu’s favourite tiger “Bahadur”. This is the most ferocious beast in Mysore and refuses to be tamed by Tipu’s keepers. Bahadur has grown up with Tipu but does not seem to be happy in confinement. The entire play is punctuated with Bahadur’s snarling which gradually coincides with Tipu’s mental breakdown.
An interesting twist is provided in the rivalry between opposing symbols of tiger and lion. A captured English soldier hears Tipu’s officer call him “Shair-e-Khuda” and translates the phrase as “Lion of God”. This is the same phrase the English use for Lord Wellesley. The English officer predicts that the British lion will defeat the Indian tiger. That is precisely what happens, but before the play ends, Tipu meets Wellesley in his dream where Tipu is attacked by Wellesley, the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the Maratha chieftain. Every time they subdue him, Tipu refuses to give up, leading a frustrated Wellesley to say: “Why do you persist? When all you have left is a day before the dawn of a glorious British century.” Tipu comes back with the iconic reply: “Because it is better to live a day as a tiger than a century as a jackal.” This is the climax of the play.
The play ends on a high note. The British have entered Tipu’s fort. His ministers have betrayed him. He now has to decide his course of action. With a handful of followers, he decides to go down fighting. In the final showdown, he is joined by his favourite tiger Bahadur, who attacks the English even before Tipu does.
The play has been written by Sameer Ahmed, an English teacher at GC. It has been directed by Muzzamil Shabbir and Zohaib Naqvi. The title tole was played by Salman Bhatti, who is chairperson of Urdu Literature at the University of Education, Lahore. The traitor Mir Sadiq was played by Mohsin Masood, and the wily Purniya by Abbas Salotra. Tipu’s wife was played by Anamta