Where do theatre directors turn to for inspiration in times of WikiLeaks, Commonwealth scams, 3G and Rajas of con? To Rajas of another era, where else.
When Shah Jahan wants to build the Monument of Love in today's times, he calls upon a contractor. Duped by middlemen out to get their pound of the flesh, the emperor dies before the mausoleum can be completed.
This is the theme for Taj Mahal Ka Tender, directed by Anil Sharma that combines irreverence with theatrical tools such as farce and satire. Actor Rahul Vashisht, who plays Shah Jahan, says the most enjoyable portions of the script were those where the emperor gets delusions of grandeur, egged on by darbaris.
"After the Commonwealth fiasco, this play has drawn the most number of audiences, even more than the serious Jis Lahore Nahi Wekhya, that looks at Partition, a topic close to the heart of many Delhiites."
Sharma is one of many Delhi directors who have used satire to draw in audiences. M Sayeed Alam of Pierrot's, Shyam Kumar of Natsamrat and Arvind Gaur of Asmita are others who've poked fun at corruption through hard-hitting humourous plays.
"A dose of humour to draw attention to serious issues works with today's youth," says Gaur.
"Along with RTI activist Arvind Kejriwal, we would carry out an anti-corruption campaign with street plays," adds the director of Ek Mamooli Aadmi, about a clerk who encounters corruption everywhere he turns.
Delhi is the hub of corruption, says Alam of Pierrot's, whose farcical Ghalib in New Delhi, staged last month, had references to the Commonwealth Games.
"Delhi has the power to corrupt everyone, including Ghalib. In the last scene, a Bermuda-sporting, mobile-totting, Hinglish spouting poet tells his disciple that Commonwealth is aam aadmiyon ka paisa jo khas aadmion ke hisse mein jaata hai (the common man's money that goes into the pockets of the privileged). In dismay, he sells his ghazals to Daler Mehdi."
The challenge for a playwright, says Kumar, lies in chronicling society without caricaturing real people.
"We avoid a self-righteous attitude. It is very easy to criticise the system, tougher to stay outside it," says Alam.
Taj Mahal Ka Tender will be staged today at Shriram Centre, 7pm. For details, call: 9313770131