‘Twentieth Wife’ Comes to Life Through Dance

Farah Yasmeen Shaikh as Mehrunnisa, gazing lovingly into the eyes of Prince Salim. (Brooke Duthie photo)

By Amrita Kaur Khojman, Special to India-West/www.indiawest.com| Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 5:00 pm | Updated: 5:56 am, Wed Jun 18, 2014

Kathak dancer-choreographer Farah Yasmeen Shaikh transported her audience to 16th-century Mughal India with her performance of “The Twentieth Wife,” the acclaimed novel by Indian American writer Indu Sundaresan.

The three-night solo performance opened with a sold-out show Apr. 11 at CounterPULSE in San Francisco.

Shaikh’s Kathak rendition of Sundaresan’s novel brought to life the epic story of Mehrunnisa, famously known as Noor Jahan, the wife of India’s Mughal emperor Jahangir.

“I want the impact of the story, told through this medium, drawn from Indu’s written words, to continue to lend power to the unique and powerful woman Noor Jahan was,” said Shaikh as she tugged on the strings of her ghungroos before making her way to the stage.

While playing several different characters, both masculine and feminine, Shaikh transformed herself into the embodiment of the struggles and triumphs Mehrunnisa faced during her life, before she became the Mughal Empress of India.

The dancer was accompanied by Salar Nader on tabla, Ben Kunin on sarod and Pankaj Mishra on sarangi, along with narration by Irum Musharraf. The dramatic performance showcased the complexity of the rhythmic composition that is Kathak, interwoven with a timeless story.

Shaikh’s full-length premiere of “The Twentieth Wife” will be in 2015 with Sundaresan performing a live narration.