The Gulab Nautanki Company was founded by Gulab Bai: The Queen of Nautanki Theatre. Nautanki is a folk theatre tradition peculiar to the North India region. Nautanki can be considered a precursor to Bollywood as entertainment for the masses. This particular production of Sultana Daku was directed by Madhu Agrawal, daughter of the legendary Gulab Bai.
The tale itself is quite straightforward - Sultana Daku is a desi Robin Hood who shares the wealth he steals from Zamindars with the poor. This also buys him their loyalty and makes it impossible for the Indian police to catch him. Mr Young a British detective/inspector visits the area charged with capturing Sultana Daku which leads to a cops & robber (chor police) chase.
For me this was my first experience watching Nautanki and I was quite fascinated for the most part. My inlaws who were with us have watched more performances and my Father-in-law had the privilege of watching Gulab Bai herself. According to him, in Nautanki the whole performance is sung and there is very little dialogue. This particular performance was split 50-50 across songs and dialogues.
When it started off, there was high energy, but this began to flag half way through. With hardly 45 people in the audience (unexpected rains and not enough promotion) it must have been a dampener for a cast used to larger audiences and continuous audience response.
The scene where one of the dakus on guard relays messages between a mysterious woman and Sultana Daku could have flowed better with a split stage rather than entire sets of characters walking on and off to change the scene setting every 3 minutes.
The script could have done with a little tighter editing and the episode with the zamindar and his daughter could have been avoided completely without losing track of the story.
Some performances were brilliant - The actor who played Sultana Daku for one and the person who played the bumbling policeman - was an absolute stand out.
There were some really funny dialogues and the script itself was quite amusing and entertaining. Just a little tighter editing would make this play completely outstanding.
The accompanying orchestra
The daku hideaway
Sultana Daku and his girlfriend - played by Madhu Agrawal
The guy who played the chaddi clad policeman was excellent!
Mr Young appears on the scene to begin his machinations against Sultana Daku
Sultana Daku and the Zamindars daughter