Rajiv Joseph shares how Guards at the Taj parallels today's society
Written by acclaimed award-winning playwright Rajiv Joseph, Guards at the Taj will premiere in Singapore from 14 Nov 2018. After having won Best New Play at the 2016 Obie Awards for Guards at the Taj, Rajiv Joseph won the award again this year for his new play Describe the Night. GQ India called Rajiv Joseph a “rising star on literature’s global landscape”, and he was praised as a playwright with “a striking originality of mind and a truckload of talent” by the Boston Globe. We managed to grab some time out of Rajiv Joseph’s busy schedule for a quick chat to find out more about the play and what we can expect.
Guards at the Taj is set in the 1600s, but you have chosen to use contemporary vernacular, and have insisted that the actors not speak in accent. Why so? How do you balance the context with the contemporary? Does authenticity become an issue?
Two Imperial Guards in the 1600’s in India would most likely be speaking Urdu or Arabic. So that’s not going to be an option for me to write that play. The next step would be having actors use an accent. But this feels like fakery to me. It seems less authentic. The magic of watching a play is that so much belief can be suspended. We understand that these two are good friends who are also co-workers for an extremely strict boss. Their language will drift from formal office-speak to the deeply personal. The most important issue for me is to communicate the truth of that.
Can you draw any parallels from the themes in the play to what is currently going on in today’s society?
There are people in every country on earth who feel threatened by powers above them. There is scarcely a place to look where the “Rules of the King” aren’t being somehow imposed on people who cannot fight back. People are routinely victimized by the Patriarchy, Communism, Capitalism, Religion, Democracy, Globalization, Nationalism, Racism, Xenophobia, Sexism, and Homophobia, to name a just few threats. The Guards of this play must make a decision to join the King or reject him. These are decisions we all have to make.
You were in Singapore in 2015 for the American Writers Festival. What are your views on Singapore and how do you think the audience here will react to your play?
I loved Singapore and felt very welcomed there. I certainly would like to return. In my short time there, I felt a hunger for theatre and political storytelling, and I hope that my play can fuel conversations about politics, art and power.
Do you have a favourite line in the play? Could you tell us more about it?
Babur, near the end of Scene 1 says this:
We are as small as that, Huma.
And further away from that, we are smaller.
And further away from that… we don’t exist. There is no proof of us, or this place, of Tajmahal, or Shah Jahan or Hindustan, or the razai of candlelight above our heads.
Far enough away… is another world, with different Kings, and different Imperial Guards.
Different Gods, even.
I don’t know why it’s my favorite, but I love the idea of someone looking into the sky and speculating on their smallness.
Do you have any advice for aspiring playwrights who need help coming up with the first idea?
Keep a journal. Write down at least one thing a day that you found peculiar, disturbing, humorous, or emotional. An idea will come.
Guards at the Taj won the Obie Award for Best New Play in 2016, and will make its Singapore premiere from 14 Nov 2018 at the KC Arts Centre – Home of SRT. Click here to book your tickets today.