In its last production, Prayas Theatre charted the course of Indian migration to New Zealand and highlighted a few intriguing stories from our recent past that deserve to be better known.

This time around, the country's first Indian theatre company looks further back in time to Mughal India, 1659. Prayas is the first theatre company in Australasia to obtain the rights to award-winning Pakistani writer Shahid Nadeem's Dara.

It toured India and Pakistan before being translated from Urdu for a major production at the UK's National Theatre in 2015. Nadeem's story is inspired by an epic true-life story that helped set the stage for the modern world.

Indeed, the tale of Crown Prince Dara and his ambitious younger brother Aurangzeb could have inspired a Game of Thrones plot, with Dara's Prayas co-directors Amit Ohdedar and Sananda Chatterjee warning that there is at least one severed head.

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The play Dara considers whether history would have been any different had Crown Prince Dara (played by Prateek Vadgaonkar) not battled for control of the Mughal Empire.
The play Dara considers whether history would have been any different had Crown Prince Dara (played by Prateek Vadgaonkar) not battled for control of the Mughal Empire.

After the death of the princes' mother, empress Mumtaz Mahal, their father, Shah Jahan, was so heartbroken he had the Taj Mahal built in her memory; four years after its completion, Shah Jahan fell ill which set off a war of succession among his sons.

Dara, an Islamic intellectual and religious moderate, and the more puritanical Aurangzeb were left to face off for possession of the Peacock Throne with their older sister, Jahanara, caught in the crossfire. Much of Nadeem's play focuses on the brothers' different interpretations of Islam and how the conflict signalled the start of the slow and bloody decline of the Mughal empire, eventually playing a key role in shaping modern India and Pakistan.

Ohdedar and Chatterjee are amazed that the story isn't more widely known and say that could be because of how history is taught. While Ohdedar learned about Dara and Aurangzeb at school, Chatterjee says the former was all but written out of her history classes.

"What interested me, when we had the first readings of the play, was that we had grown up in India hearing one version of the story in history lessons but in Pakistan, they get a different version of the story," says Ohdedar.

He and Chatterjee wanted to stage Dara because, they say, it does what all great history plays should do: entertain, educate, tell us about the past and our present and spark discussion about what we want in the future. It's also part of their aim to take audiences beyond "cultural notions of Bollywood and butter chicken".

Describing it as a true to life story about sibling rivalry and the battle this sets off for the hearts and minds of an entire country of people, Chatterjee says like many arts organisations, Prayas has strict and limited budgets to meet.

"We wish we could have a Taj Mahal as part of the set, but that's out of the question," she jokes.

However, they wanted to emphasis some of the trappings of power so a Mughal-style crown has been made in Pakistan especially for the production while the Peacock Throne will also be an elaborate one.

Lowdown:
What: Dara
Where & When: TAPAC (The Auckland Performing Arts Centre, Western Springs), Thursday, June 14 — Saturday, June 24