Q: Although this script premiered in 2015, the story it recounts is centuries old. And while the play is set in 17th century Agra, the playwright has given the characters a contemporary style of speech. In working on this production, what parallels in themes do you find between the historical context of the story and our modern times, and how do you think this tale is in conversation with us today?
Rahul Joshi answers:
When I first read about the legends surrounding the making of the Taj Mahal I must’ve been in my early teens, but even back then it struck me as a little weird. It didn’t make sense to me why people all over the world were championing this building when the cost of it was so monumentally high, both in terms of finances and human lives. Then as you get older, you realize that things aren’t as black and white as you thought they were. Pretty much everything in our world and our lives is a mixture of good and bad. That’s also why one of my favorite quotes from Star Wars is “only a Sith deals in absolutes.” In this play as well, you meet our two characters who maybe at first seem to be plain opposites, but then you gain their perspective and shed light on how these are brothers divided by circumstances.
Through the lenses of these two guards, we examine our relationship with ambition, duty, and beauty. The cost of ambition for all of us involves some hard sacrifice and an almost warrior-like mentality to just push through no matter what.
That goes a level further when you’re dealing with personnel like military, police, and public leaders who have to make tough choices in favor of the ‘greater good’. At the same time, we find beauty in chaos, in free thought. Our history as a species has shown that we would rather accept death than submit to oppression, and this stands true as we continue fighting against various forms of oppression today. And yet you have to ask, who is this greater good for? Who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed? These are not easy questions, and that’s why we have this play - not to give you answers, but just to give you food for thought, something to chew on. With the help of Rajiv Joseph’s incredible writing, and our own interpretations of the play, I think we’ve managed to create something that successfully boils down all of this to conversations between two simple guards, two seemingly polar opposites that have more in common with each other than they might ever know.
In my eyes, this is what the play and this legend tells us, that everything is beautiful, but that beauty ALWAYS comes at a cost. Taj Mahal is the world’s greatest tomb - there was no rest for its workers. The Terracotta army is astounding - the masons were buried alive. The West is the symbol of modern development - built on the backs of whom? It is a blessed opportunity to be able to share a story like this, and I can’t wait to share all the blood, laughs, and tears with the audience.