Plot Construction of The Play Tughlaq

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      Girish Kamad, doubtless a multi-dimensional personality, has been primarily a man of the theatre. The particular aspect of his dramatic genius is that he has displayed an uncanny skill and imagination in manipulating the plot construction of his plays for theatrical success. With his dramatic creations and achievements Kamad today stands supreme among other playwrights of the age, as one of the creators of a national theatre for modem India.

      An intensive study of Tughlaq reveals the fact that this play was intended to be a tragedy of intrigue with alternate scenes of comic relief. Shakespeare’s tragedies must have been in the playwright’s mind while writing Tughlaq. Moreover, the influence of the company Natak is also discernible which Kamad himself acknowledges when he says, “The play was deliberately written in the convention of the company Natak. In a company Natak what used to happen, at least in the company Nataks I had seen, all scenes were divided and alternated between deep scenes and shallow scenes. The shallow scene was usually a street scene and was kept for comedy. While the shallow scene was on, the deep scene was being prepared, for a garden, a palace, a dance, whenever the sets were being changed. While the set change was going on, in the shallow scene you had the comical characters. This is what I attempted here because in a shallow scene you have comical crowds. It is actually degeneration from Shakespearean kind of play writing really. And then the curtain opens and you are in a palace. The characters of the play are clearly divided into those which came into shallow scenes and those which came into deep scenes”.

Influence of Company Nataks

      The playwright has thus followed deliberately the tradition of the company Nataks which is again a kind of Shakespearean model and yet in Tughlaq, Kamad has done something original. The plot here can be divided into two; the main plot and the sub-plot as we analyse a Shakespearean play. The main plot deals with the history of the last five years of Muhammad-bin-Tughlaq’s reign in India in the fourteenth century. In it, the story of Muhammad Tughlaq is developed how he made ambitious plans to shift the capital from Delhi to Daultabad, to introduce copper currency equal to silver dinar, to bring about equality, peace, progress, order, and above all communal harmony in his kingdom. It also deals with his character that Muhammad is a great scholar, able administrator, kind and virtuous, religious and yet not a fanatic, instead secular and broad-minded in outlook. He is also sensitive and intelligent and full of idealism and romanticism. But the tragic story of this great historical protagonist is that he is misunderstood and maligned. He is deceived by his own trusted nobles. Even the Amirs indulged in dirty politics of intrigue and deception. He is called “Mad Muhammad” and his schemes, utopian. For want of cooperation and due to undue advantages of his liberal and secular policies taken by his own officers, the Sultan fails. All these factors add to his frustration and Muhammad suffers an acute sense of existential alienation. His faith in the strength of prayer is shaken to its foundation when the Amirs led by Shihab-ud-din conspire to kill him at prayer time. This must have reminded him of his own guilt also of having murdered his father and brother like that. He is so enraged that he stabs Shihab-ud-din times without number, in a frenzied manner. His anger makes him a tyrant. He gives up all his idealism and ends up as a tyrant. What a fall! What suffering! He emerges as a disillusioned romantic-an existentialist, realising ultimately the ‘nothingness’ of his existence. The entire tragic developments in Tughlaq’s degeneration constitute the main plot that can be termed as ‘deep scene’.

      On the other hand, Karnad has introduced a sub-plot to be enacted as a street scene or the ‘shallow scene’ for producing comic effects. Some relief has to be given to the audience to lessen the tension caused by the grim, tragic scenes of murder, sickness or death. In all there are six comic scenes in this play, out of which ‘five’ take place in the bazaars, only the sixth one is staged in the palace. The last one is that when Aziz appears on the stage disguised as Ghiyas-ud-din Abbasid after having murdered Ghiyas-ud-din Abbasid.

      The sub-plot is meant for dramatic relief, and also for satirizing the follies of Muhammad while exposing his utopian schemes, and futility of his liberal policies. A dhobi by caste Aziz deceives the eyes of others, including the Sultan under disguise. His disguise creates so many ironical and humorous situations that provide entertainment and relieve the tension caused by the horrible scenes of intrigue and murder in the main plot.

      The sub-plot also serves the purpose of a parody of the main plot. With Aziz and Aazam it runs parallel to the main plot. Aziz does the same here what Muhammad does in the main plot. Aziz imitates Muhammad because only he understands him and his policies. Muhammad as an idealist intends to bring about “greater justice, equality, progress and peace” for a “more purposeful life.” He declares certain schemes and policies and tries to implement them in all sincerity. Aziz, as an officer has been sincere enough to follow the policies of the govt., but for his own selfish purposes. Muhammad makes use of his craftiness to deal with his rivals, acts treacherously at times and behaves like a cruel, inhuman administrator.’ Aziz too has been harsh, cruel and murderous to achieve his target and earn money for his living. He even befools Muhammad and when he is exposed he pleads before the Sultan in such a witty manner that he proves himself to be the sincere follower of Muhammad’s policies and orders. He claims that only he has understood Muhammad over these years, only he has implemented the policies of the govt, adequately. Ironically enough, he is rewarded by the Sultan, and not punished for his criminal activities because Muhammad finds his own reflection in him. He is offered a state office as the best punishment. He is asked to return to Arabia after Aazam’s funeral, disappear on the way and then go to Deccan where he will be appointed an army officer. What a caricature of the main story?

Harmonious blending of the Main Plot and Sub-plot

      Though the characters of the play Tughlaq are clearly different for the two plots and are conceived to serve different purposes: serious and comic, with the development of the play they merge together to give the impression of an artistic unity. There is harmonious blending of the two plots. The playwright himself admits - “The characters of the play are clearly divided into those which came into shallow scenes and those which came into deep scenes. At least the first half of the play was written like that, but as I went on writing the play form developed on its own and in the end Aziz, one of the characters meant to be comical, ended up in the palace, which seemed to be right, given the political chaos one was writing about.” Such a growth of the play, thus, was quite natural that results in structural unity of the play. This happens in scene eleven when Aziz, Aazam and their entourage enter from one side and Muhammad and his entourage step down from the fort exactly at the same moment. Muhammad steps forward and embraces Aziz and extends his hearty welcome to his ‘Holiness’, falls to his feet, makes earnest appeal to resume prayer in the kingdom. What an irony! How funny it is! The Sultan falls to the feet of Aziz disguised as the descendant of the Holy Khalif-ul-Mustansir, Amir-ul-Mominin Ghiyas-ud-din.

      The ‘political chaos’ outside of which Kamad talks also reflects symbolically the ‘chaos’ within Muhammad Tughlaq on account of his tortured self. The condition in Daultabad is so grim that people don’t want prayer, they starve and so want food. The external world is chaotic and so is the world within Muhammad - restless, painful and tormented. The news of fresh uprisings shatters badly his mind and body both. He fails to understand what to do. Many a times he expresses his agony to Barani. In a state of utter confusion and spiritual chaos he tries to undo what he has done, however ‘What is done can’t be undone’. He orders to retrace his path, to go back to Delhi, the original capital. He is so miserable that he can’t sleep, can’t pray. He is on the verge of madness. He realises futility of all his actions. He knows people call him ‘mad Muhammad. In the end he stands alienated completely from the rest of the world, his trusted ones had already deserted him or left him alone. Even Barani, the historian takes leave of him and Muhammad, realizing the unreason of his existence, remains dazed, knowing not where he is or even what he is.

      The playwright has thus blended the two plots so beautifully and skilfully that the play Tughlaq is a well harmonised drama based on a well-knit plot.


Write a critical note on the structure of the play.
Show how the playwright has blended the two plots: the main plot and the sub-plot.
What do you mean by ‘Deep Scenes’ and 'Shallow Scenes' ? Illustrate.
Trace the influence of company Nataks on Tughlaq,
Show how the sub-plot in the play is a parody or caricature of the main plot.
Show how the 'political chaos’ in the outer world is also a symbolic reflection of the spiritual chaos within Tughlaq.

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