September 22, 2014

"Ishq-e-Dilli" Light and Sound show, Old Fort, Delhi

Characters bigger than life and constituting numerous legendary tales are whom you get to meet in history – megalomaniac emperors, cunning conniving ministers, simplistic peasants, sorcerer conjurer saints, warmongering generals and powerful loyal eunuch lords – there is no dearth of such fascinating characters in the unimaginably vast Indian history. And Delhi’s territorial history and the stories of its sultanates and dynasties are only a fraction of the gigantic thread that defines the entire Indian chronological lore. It would reasonably take over a lifetime to collate and study only Delhi’s tumultuous history that stretches several millennia back to ancient citadels and near-mythical kingdoms, to gaze through it in one hour is near impossible – but that is exactly what the renowned “Ishq-e-Dilli” (“Romancing Delhi”) sound and light show at the magnificent medieval citadel of Old Fort attempts to achieve. 


The imaginatively titled show takes a viewer through a whirlwind tour beginning from the Hindu Emperor Prithviraj Chauhan whose defeat, capture and subsequent execution by Afghan-Turk Muslim armies is the stuff of legends and bardic traditions, most notably Chand Bardai’s “Prithviraj Raso”, to the establishment of the Islamic rule in Indian subcontinent and the dramatic game of musical chairs that was played in rapid succession by numerous intervening short-lived emperors, and finally the advent of British colonial administration just before India’s freedom struggle and division into two separate sovereign entities. The stunning and well-calibrated utilization of visual scenes drawn from numerous chapters of Delhi’s history, portrayed on the massive “Humayun Darwaza” gateway of the fortress are indescribably captivating – so endearing is the depiction, brilliantly combined with vibrantly colorful theatrics, timely narration and the overall direction, that for an hour viewers are literally left spellbound and captivated by Delhi’s enchanting history.

Welcome to Delhi, the city of cities

The ruined gateway, with its numerous associated arched chambers and surmounting chattris, appears eerily ominous in the starless cloudy night with only the bright moon for company and brings to mind the numerous stories about it being considered cursed following Emperor Humayun’s demise here, but frames, with a finesse, the interesting array of scores of kings, numerous bloody battles and the rise and fall of several of Delhi’s medieval citadels. Most of the visual depictions are emphasized by the gateway’s architectural features, especially the initial dance sequences where the dancers convincingly appear to whirl and hide behind the pillars.

The majestic capital of scores of Sultans

The history and the characters are at times celebrated and at times rued, the battles described mournfully and the tragic loss of several thousand lives deplored (in one case, by showing huge glittering doe-eyes arising from an expanding blood splatter framed by deep blue – it takes a few moments of silence to hammer in the conception that the fortress has literally disappeared behind the astounding visuals), the several cities that make up Delhi are adoringly described as if the narrator longs to reside in each of them at different times of their being – in fact, to my surprise, there is even mention of Kilokheri, the small short-lived fortress capital of Sultan Muizuddin Kaiqabad (ruled AD 1287-90), that was ruined and recycled by later Sultans to furnish building materials for their own capitals and now only survives in stories and legends. Rapidly hastening towards the present, visitors are introduced to almost every facet of Delhi’s history, from the legendary feud between the mighty Ghazi Malik Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq and the adorable saint Hazrat Nizamuddin to the less interesting later Mughals and including a brief stopover at the mythical city Indraprastha that existed at the site of Old Fort almost 5000 years ago, and all this while the radiant laser projection show flashes hundreds of images and animated movements of emperors and armies, elephants and horse-mounted warriors, dancers and common men, daggers and fire, rainfall and vegetation, rise and collapse.

A city that has fallen and risen from its own ashes numerous times like an immortal phoenix

The visuals pertaining to the freedom struggle and its heroes are exceedingly realistic and for a few seconds it appears that the ruined walls of the fortress have been imprinted with actual photographs. If that’s not enough, the monotony is broken by two songs, slightly long in my opinion – one a beautiful Sufi number “Nizamuddin” by Kailash Kher, and the other, one of the most touching renditions of Amir Khusro’s “Chaap Tilak Sab Cheeni” that I have heard by Rekha Bhardwaj – and it is scarce believable that long after the show was over, the images of the protagonists of the song, a Sufi dervish draped in red and white beseeching Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya and a beautiful singer-dancer with Kohl-rimmed eyes and gold adornments, continued to flash in front of our eyes. 

The city of devotees, lovers and beauty

Though photography was a bit of an issue given that it is extremely difficult to get superior photographs in such low light conditions and there were numerous scenes where a cityscape was revealed only as an outline or a major historical event was depicted with nominal lightning, but Mr Adarsh, the show’s manager, was extremely cooperative and permitted our club, Delhi Instagramer’s Guild (DIG), to organize the fortnightly instawalk in the fort premises and bring tripods within (which are otherwise prohibited at all monument complexes unless one pays an exorbitant charge). A very polite man, extremely well-spoken and understanding of the needs of photographers and history writers, Mr Adarsh made us begin to love the show even before we had stepped into the fortress compound. The superbly-researched show was to be prepared for the Commonwealth Games that Delhi hosted in 2010, but could only be readied by January 2011 – it has mostly been scripted with collaboration from history professors at JNU and is run by Indian Tourism Development Corporation’s (ITDC) Ashok Hotel Group. 

Also the hub of education, learning and instruction

It was nearly house full for the Sunday evening Hindi show (7-8 pm), but we saw only a couple of foreigners lining up for the English installment (8:30-9:30 pm) and if that’s the situation on a weekend, it appears that weekdays would be even worse off, which is rather sorry since the impressive show has been so thoroughly researched and innovatively designed and directed, and the visuals incredibly creative and unbelievably grand, that one couldn’t stop wishing that more people took an interest and the daily event was better marketed and advertised (even though the entire video and the individual songs have been made available on youtube) – where else would one get such amazing and highly informative value for their money? The best part is that the entire visual scheme has been so painstakingly calibrated that the entire fortress gateway appears to be one gigantic magical screen and nowhere does the highly varied texture of the walls prove to be a hindrance for the surrealistic viewing pleasure; the acoustics are equally remarkable, especially the heavy baritones that seem to ring in the ear and permeate all sounds even days after the show. 

Hallowed by its numerous saints and their monasteries and tombs

The event is considered amongst the foremost in the country, and is highly recommended by the Delhi Instagramer’s Guild team who remain indebted to the “Ishq-e-Dilli” team for the permissions and cooperation they heartily extended.

Show timings: September to October: 7.00-8.00 pm (Hindi), 8.30-9.30 pm (English); November to January: 6.00-7.00 pm (Hindi), 7.30-8.30 pm (English); February to April: 7.00-8.00 pm (Hindi), 8.30-9.30 pm (English); May to August: 7.30-8.30 pm (Hindi), 9.00-10.00 pm (English). The Hindi show is far superior in my opinion.
Entrance fees: Rs 80/person (Rs 40 for children up to the age of 12 years, differently abled and senior citizens). Tickets are available from the fortress’ ticket counter and can be purchased up to an hour before the show’s start.
Nearest metro station: Pragati Maidan
How to reach: The fortress is connected to different parts of the city by a regular bus service – the bus stop is located immediately opposite the ticket counter. One can walk/avail an auto/bus from the metro station if coming by metro. Parking facility is also available.
Photography/Video charges: Nil. Flash prohibited.
Contact: 011-24307539 (for information)
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