Sunday, December 06, 2009

Our film makes it to Sundance

To all our friends and well wishers

We are very happy to inform you that the film that Mahmood, Danish and I have been working on is now complete and has been accepted as an entry to the world cinema competition section at the Sundance film festival 2010. Previously our film was called The Falling... the name has now changed to PEEPLI LIVE.

Anusha Rizvi

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Come November

This has been a very satisfying month for me, with two major gains. One, the induction of new Dastangos and two, the performances we put up for children at the Bookaroo festival in Delhi.

The October workshops in Bombay threw up seven serious apprentices with whom we worked closely in November. Rasika Duggal and Rajesh Kumar worked on the Mehtab Jadu story as a pair and Rana Senger and Sheikh Usman prepared the Aazar Jadu story. Meanwhile Stuti, Sunil and Manu Dhingra continued to rehearse. Rajesh and Rasika debuted at the Prithvi Festival on the 12th as part of the Platform performance and acquitted themselves wonderfully. It was their first performance and I think they did better than Himanshu and I had done on our debut way back--on 4th May 2005 to be precise. It was a good house at Prithvi, about a hundred and twenty five people and the first time for many of them. I am grateful to the legendary filmmaker Kamal Swarup, Shama Zaidi, Atul Tiwari and others who turned up to encourage them.

Then on the 15th Rana and Usman, along with Rajesh and Danish, made their debut at the Bandra Festival in the soon to be transformed Pioneer Hall. There were some eighty to hundred people there in what is a challenging space for a performance. In spite of the chaos and the last minute preparations the show went off quite well. So well in fact that those who have not seen a previous performance had the same wondrous response as the one we are used to. A documentary filmmaker Mini Vaid who saw it for the first time was so taken up that she wanted to make a film on it and there were others who thought it was fabulous. Bandra festival in fact then asked for a repeat performance and Rasika and Rajesh performed the Mehtab Jadu story on the 25th last. To my immensely greater satisfaction they did this when I wasn't even around.

So three shows by debutants in one month. And now we have just finished with two back to back shows in Delhi taking the total count for shows this month to six, the maximum that Dastangoi has achieved in a month so far.

Our two shows at Bookaroo were a nerve wracking time for me. We were performing for children in this manner for the first time (there have been two shows before this, one for the Spastic Society which I did on the steps of Jama Masjid, way back in 2005/6 and one for children of an Old Delhi school) and I was very apprehensive about how they would receive it. The first show, on the 27th morning, at the Sardar Patel Vidyalaya was aimed at children from classes tenth and eleventh of four schools, Amity, Vasant Valley, Bluebells and Sardar Patel. We chose the Dhobi story, where Amar wreaks havoc at Hairat's city, because it was in a simpler language and not so 'adult.' It was a huge cavernous space, more like a hangar than an auditorium and we had only one floor mike, but it went off alright. Of couse they shuffled and chatted and were slightly restless but a fair few of them were with the story and seemed to enjoy it well enough. It was actually a big success. At least six hundred more people got to learn of Amar Aiyyar and Amir Hamza and Dastangoi and a large number seemed pretty thrilled at it.

The show today, on the 28th this being Baqrid, was at Sanskriti Anandgram and I was actually shitting bricks when I reached there and saw the toddlers and the anarchic young spirits who were gambolling about. How would we hold them, with our Urdu and with their English! We had chosen to perform a story from the one volume Hamza Dastan, not the usual Tilism-e Hoshruba, relating to Amar and Hamza;s Madarsa days. Mulla, Madarsa, Alif-Bey, nothing was familiar to them. The good thing was that of the hundred and twenty people there, the majority were parents and distractedly, some very pretty mothers. The children were mostly five six years old, though and I doubt if anyone, other than television and Shinshan, can hold their attention for very long. So I started very skeptically and like at Sardar Patel, tried to crack a few joked to get their attention. The mikes got in the way because the lapelles started going off but we chugged along. We had decided to dash through the whole story and not worry too much about the response. While the adults were having a gala time at Amar Aiyyar's cruelty to his Mulla, the children were a bit listless. There were a couple wandering around the stage, while one started talking in the standmike as we were narrating. Bloody anarchists. People meandered in and out but we did manage the undivided attention of about twenty children, who were there right through the story, and of varying ages. Then towards the end when I started making noises and playing the shrill wife we got our first unadulterated (I mean un-adulted) laughter from the bunch. That was very thrilling.

The trick was to enthuse them about Amar Aiyyar and it is a pity that we could not get his picture going in time. But I think that by the end of it we did manage to introduce Amir Hamza and Amar Aiyyar to a large number of them and for some, I hope, memorably so.

This should open new vistas for us. Performances for children, for schools so that hopefully instead of merely growing up as better citizens they should grow up as better listeners to the Amar and Amir stories, as better patrons for Dastangois.

Lovely I say.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


We return to Delhi with a special tale of Amir Hamza and Amar Aiyyaar's childhood at the Bookaroo Children's Literature Festival. The venue is the amphitheatre at the Sanskriti Anandgram, Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road, New Delhi at 4 pm on Saturday November 28, 2009. For more details and other festival activities please visit http://bookaroo.in

Hope to see some of you there.

Thanks and best regards,
D

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Bandra Feast Continues...

Our performance at Bandra Festival on November 15th was appreciated enough to merit a recall. Please drown yourselves in Hoshruba tales today at 7pm at Pioneer Hall, St. John Baptist Road, Near Barista behind Lilavati Hospital, Bandra West, Mumbai. And our brand new dastangos Rajesh Kumar and Rasika Dugal will not disappoint you. :-)

Thanks and cheers

Anusha, Mahmood and Danish

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Jalsa-e-Bandra aur Dastaan


Well if Prithvi Platform performance gave you joy then watch two more Dastangos, Sheikh Usman and Rana P. Senger, debut today at 7 pm at the Bandra Festival at Pioneer Hall, St. John Baptist Road (Near the Barista behind Leelavati Hospital), Bandra, Mumbai. We're grateful for your support and encouragement till date but the party has just begun and surely you'd not like to miss the fun.

So, please please join us for some unabated fun. If you have an issue finding the place then buzz me on 099306 52070.

Thanks and warm regards,

Danish

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Dastangos

Tomorrow, 12th November 2009, two new Dastangos make their debut

At the Prithvi Festival, Prithvi Theatre Juhu, at 8.15 pm.

Come and watch Rasika Duggal and Rajesh Kumar perform the 'Tale of Amar Ayyar and Mahtab Jadu.'

A big occasion for Dastangoi, come and support us.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Dastangoi at Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur on Oct 12, 2008



This clipping is from our performance at Jaipur last year and was uploaded on You Tube by a certain Mr. D.P. Agrawal. Further, we have a performance at 6:30 pm on Nov 08, 2009 at the Dastakar Nature Bazaar at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA), Dr. Rajendra Prasad Marg (Near India Gate), New Delhi. Please feel free to join us there. There are few more performances lined up in Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai in Nov and Dec. We'll keep you posted about the same.

Thanks and best regards,

DH

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dastangoi lecture demonstration for Delhi University Hindi Department

Here is a report and an audio stream for the lecture demonstration we held for the post graduate Hindi students at Delhi University. I am very grateful to Apoorvanand Saheb for bringing Dastangoi to a class room, where it should have been long since. It is also fitting in a way that it should be a Hindi department that should organise the first event of its kind.

One of the most thrilling and validating moments for me was when one of the students from Ghazipur, Rahi Masoom Raza and Danish' terrain, remarked that he found many similarities between our presentation and what he had seen of LORIK, a form of local song based-storytelling, performers in his village. We are on the right lines it seems...

Also I am very excited about the new Dastangos whom we hope to see in action next month.

दास्तानगोई पर कल महमूद फारुकी और दानिश का दूसरा दिन

दीवान के साथियों
हिन्दी विभाग दिल्ली विश्वविद्यालय की पहल पर दास्तानगोई के फनकार और जानकार
महमूद फारुकी और दानिश को दो दिनों के लिए( अक्टू 15 और 16) को आमंत्रित किया गया है।
आज पहले दिन उन्होंने दास्तानगोई की परंपरा,ऐतिहासिक संदर्भ,विकास और फिर धीरे-धीरे इसके गायब होते
चले जाने की विस्तार से चर्चा की। उन्होंने बताया कि एक समय महीनों चलनेवाली इस दास्तानगोई को लोग बार-बार सुना
करते,लोग इसे समझते थे और आनंद लिया करते लेकिन आज है कि इस ओर किसी का बहुत ध्यान नहीं जाता। लोग
भूलते चले जा रहे हैं।..
साथियों लगभग ढाई घंटे तक चलनेवाली इस चर्चा के दौरान हमने कच्चा-पक्का जो कुछ भी अपने लैपटॉप पर नोट किया उसे
आपके सामने रख दे रहा हूं। इसमें संभव है कि वर्तनी संबंधी कई अशुद्धियां हों। इसकी बड़ी वजह है एक तो कि मुझे उर्दू की बिल्कुल
भी जानकारी नहीं है और दूसरा कि जल्दी-जल्दी टाइप करने के चक्कर में कई शब्द गलत टाइप हो गए हैं। मैंने उन्हें बोलने के दौरान ही नोट किया है।
आपको ज्यादा असुविधा न हो इसके लिए मैं इसका ऑडियो वर्जन भी डाल दे रहा हूं। आप सुनकर भी इसका आनंद ले सकते हैं। कल 11 बजे इस संबंध
में आगे की बात होगी।.
स्थान- हिन्दी विभाग,कमरा सं- 15
फैकल्टी ऑफ आर्ट्स, दिल्ली विश्वविद्यालय
संपर्क- 9811853307

सेमिनार के दौरान महमूद फारुकी के कथन


15 अक्टूबर, हिन्दी विभाग दिल्ली विश्वविद्यालय,दिल्ली

किसी ने सुना है दास्तानगोई के बारे में,इस कथन से अपनी बात की शुरुआत। दास्तान लंबी कहानियां होती हैं,ऐसी कहानियां जो महीनों चलती थी। जो इसे सुनाता साथ में अपनी दास्तान भी गढ़ता जाता था। वो जुबान पर ही दास्तान बनाता जाता था। ये उस समय की बात है जब हमारी संस्कृति मौखिक थी। हमारे शास्त्र जुबानी चलती थी,किताबें याद रखते थे।

रज्म,बज्म,तिलिस्म,अय्यारी ये चार चीजें जरुरी होती हैं इसमें। नायक हमेशा तिलिस्म को तोड़ने की कोशिश करता है अपने अय्यार के साथ। ये मोटी-मोटी बातें हैं।

दास्तानगो बात से बात बनाता जाता था। राजस्थान में एक परंपरा है बातपोशी,बस बात से बात बनाने की परंपरा। कोई थीम नहीं बस,जुबान से बात बनती चली जाती है।

तिलिस्म का बयान-

अफराशियाब(जादूगर का बादशाह) का वर्णन,रायमिंग प्रोज का इस्तेमाल किया जाता है जिससे कि याद करने में आसानी हो। 1880-90 में ये सबसे ज्यादा उठान पर थी।प्रिंट के आने पर इसे छापने की कोशिशें की गयी। 46 जिल्दों तक छपा,इतनी बड़ी कोई स्टोरीहिन्दुस्तान में नहीं लिखी गयी। लोगों ने इसे सिर्फ जादुई दास्तान के तौर पर आलोचना की गयी,उन्होंने फिक्शन के फार्म के तौर पर नॉवेल को अपनाने की बात की। यही कारण है कि ये फार्म 1930 तक आते-आते लुप्त होती चली गयी। फिल्मों के कारण लोग बताते हैं कि ये लुप्त हो गया लेकिन ये कोई मजबूत बहाना नहीं है। लोग सिर्फ भक्ति भावना से नहीं सुनता बल्कि उसके भीतर के आर्ट और शब्दों के इस्तेमाल की वजह से सुनता है। हमारे यहां ये माना गया कि चीजें बद से बदतर की ओर बढञती जा रही है लेकिन होता ये है कि हम बद से बेहतर की तफ बढ़ते हैं। नाकीश बनाता है दास्तानगो अपने आप को। एक बात ऑथऱशिप को लेकर,रचयिता को लेकर। रचना किसकी मिल्कियत है।

हमारे यहां लिख दिया जाता और नीचे नाम लिख दिया जाता-कबीर।. दोनो परंपरा एक पुरानी चीजें खोजकर ये कहने की अब हम इसे समझ रहे हैं औऱ एक नाम डाल देने की।

एक और उदाहरण अय्यार को लेकर -

अय्यार जादूगर के खेमों में घुस जाते थे। कैसे? इतना बड़ा जादूगर है तो फिर अय्यार को आता देख नहीं पाता। हमारे देश की जनता को तमाशे में बहुत ही ज्यादा दलचस्पी है। तमाशा देखने का जो जौहर है वो हमें हर जगह दिखाई देता है। ये हमारा पॉलिटिकल कल्चर है,ये दंगों में भी होता है,वो दंगा करने नहीं जाते बल्कि वो देखने जाते हैं।

........ मुहावरे से ही बात बनती है। बातों-बातों में,बात बिगड़ना आदि। एक लब्ज जो है वो कई मुहावरे को नज्म देती है।

1शब्दों से बढ़कर अर्थ निकालने की कोशिश। गालियों और शायरियों में इसका बहुत ही अधिक प्रयोग होता है।

2. हर मुहावरा जो है एक एट्टीट्यूड है जीवन के प्रति भा

षा के प्रति। हर मुहावरे का नुकसान एक वर्ल्ड व्यू का नु नुकसान है। मुहावरे को बरतना ही जुबान का खेल है।

कहने को तो गप्प है ये दास्तानगोई है लेकिन इसमें सबकुछ आ जाता है।

एक और अमर अय्यार का उदाहरण

लेखक किसी के दिल के अंदर झांकता नहीं बल्कि उसके मन में ख्याल आया। यहां मन का भेद जानने वाली बात नहीं। उसके अंदर बैठकर सबकुछ जाने लें ऐसी बात नहीं। ये अब के लेखकोंवाली बात नहीं।

दास्तानगोई को लेकर एक ब्रीफ

दास्तान-ए-अमीर हमजा जो दास्तान हम सुनाते हैं। नवीं-दसवीं सदी तक आते-आते सुनाई जाने लगी अरबी फारसी में। 14-15 शताब्दी में भारत में भी शुरु हो गया। अकबर के जमाने में ये बहुत पॉपुलर हो गया। बादशाह ने तो इसे लेकर एक बड़ा प्रोजेक्ट लिया। तस्वीरें बनायी जाती और उस पर काहनियां लिखी जाती। उस समय भी फारसी में ही सुनाई जाती । 1200 में अब केवल 800 तस्वीरें मौजूद हैं। बाद में 18 वीं में उर्दू में सुनाई जाने लगी। जामा मस्जिद की सीढियों में,चौक पर,महलों में भी सुनाई जाने लगी कॉफी हाउसों में भी।

दास्ताने लंबी होती है,किस्सा जल्दी खत्म होती है। प्रिंट में आने के बाद फोर्ट बिवियम से वही एक जिल्द में छपी। लखनउ में रामपुर में दिल्ली में इतनी फैली कि एक जिल्द की दास्तान 46 जिल्दों में बदल गयी। गालिब को बहतु पसंद थी ये दास्तानगोई। 1870-80 तक आते-आते..मुंशी नवलकिशोर की चर्चा की. ये नवलकिशोर प्रेस अपने आप में बहुत महत्वपूर्ण है जिसने एक ही चीजें उर्दू,फारसी,संस्कृत आदि में छापे । इसी ने 46 वॉल्यूम में छापे। इसी ने 18 वाल्यूम में चन्द्रकांता भी छापी। लेकिन इसे किस तरह से छापा बोला या लिखा ये मालूम नहीं।

दास्तानगो के साथ कितने लोग होते थे,वो हाथ खड़ी करके सुनाता था,बैठकर सुनाता था ये हमें पता नहीं। इसका फार्म मर्सिया मुहर्रम की तरह रहा होगा। कुछ डांस के जरिए पता लगा सकते हैं। बहुत ज्यादा पता नहीं। जामा मस्जिद की सीढियों पर खड़े होकर कैसे सुनाता था क्योंकि इसमें तो औरतों और शराबों को लेकर खुलेआम जिक्र है।

दास्तानगो की फैंटेसी लिमिटलेस हुआ करती थी,कितनी चीजें हम अल्फाज से खड़ी कर सकते हैं,जुबान पर कितनी कुदरत रखते। मीर आकर बली अंतिम दास्तानगो।..शहंनशाह बनते तो कमरा हिलने लगता। हमारी ऐसी आवाज नहीं है,हम मार्डन आवाज को लेकर जी रहे हैं। हमारी आवाजों में ऐसा नहीं है। कबाड़ीवालों की आवाज में जो खुश्की है वो हममें नहीं है। कई बार दास्तानगो एक्शन रुक जाता लेकिन बयान जारी रहता।..

एक उदाहरण देते हैं...

एक और उदाहरण..एक दास्तान गो का

दास्तान में कोई बूढ़ा नहीं होता,बीस-पच्चीस साल के बाद वैसा ही हो जाता है। वो फानूश,वो पर्दा...इसे कहते हैं कहानी को रोकना। जो कहानी को रोककर भी आपको बांधे रखे वही सबसे बड़ा दास्तानगो है।

क्यों जिक्र खत्म हो गया दास्तानगोई का ?

एक जमाने में हुआ करता था पारसी थिएटर।..इसके भीतर पैसे की चर्चा। लोग टिकट लगाकर क्यों जाते थे? शहरों में दस हजार लोग टिकट खरीदकर देखा करते। बहुत लंबा-चौड़ा कारोबार था। बहुत ही डेमोक्रेटिक किस्म का थिएटर हुआ करता था। कोई मुल्ला या पंडित ये नहीं कहता कि आप ये जुबान इस्तेमाल करो। दास्तान जुबानी फन था,जहां लगता कि ये अच्छी टेस्टवाले लोग हैं तो अच्छे-अच्छे अल्फाज लगाने लग जाता। जिस तरह के लोग होते उस हिसाब से भाषा का इस्तेमाल करने लग जाते।...निगाहें जादूगरों ने जहरीली बनायी थी।..

हमारे आज के तौर पर बहुत ठेठ उर्दू आती है दास्तानगोई में। बहुत कुछ ऐसा है कि हम आज भी सीख सकते हैं पहले की जो जुबान हुआ करती थी। उस जुबान में हमारे कल्चर का एक बड़ा हिस्सा हुआ करते थे। जैसे औरतों के हुस्न का बयान। उसके लिए सौ चीजें हुआ करती थी..उर्दू और संस्कृत में। अब बहुत सिम्पल हो गया है। अब हम नहीं कर सकते। एक-एक अंगों का बयान उस तरह से नहीं कर सकते। ये जो लिटररी टेस्ट बदला है उस पर अलग से चर्चा करेंगे।

एक और उदाहरण औरत के हुस्न को लेकर-

नख- शिख वर्णन,उर्दू में सरापा

हिन्दी में उदाहरण-

लाखों ने जान उस पर निसार किया..

हमारे सामने कोई कम्युनिटी नहीं है जिसे सुनाते हैं उन्हें उर्दू तक नहीं आती। ये हमारे लिए चैलेंज है। हम लतीफ नुख्ता नहीं समझ पाते हैं। जो संगीत नहीं जानते उनके बीच मो.रफी के गाए और राग दीपक में क्या फर्क आएगा। दास्तानगो पहले इस कॉन्फीडेंस से अपनी बातें कहा करते थे कि सामने वाला समझ रहा है। हम समझाने लगें तो शाम तक तो एक पेज भी नहीं पढ़ पाएंगे। इसलिए हम कुछ नहीं समझाते,पहले ही कह देते कि हम समझा नहीं सकते। आप हमारे हाव-भाव से जितना समझ सकते हैं समझिए। फिल्मों के जरिए जितना समझा है उसके जरिए समझने की कोशिश कीजिए।

एक और उदाहरण जादूगर और सांप को लेकर

तूल देना ही मजा है। तूल देना ही किस्सागो की खूबसूरती है। क्या मकान शब्द की सारी सच्चाई मकान में समा सकती है। क्या परिवार की सारी सच्चाई परिवार शब्द में सकती है। हम एक तरह की मान्यता में चलते हैं,ये रिप्रजेंटेशवन करने का दावा करता है। इसी तरह दास्तानगो पूरी जिंदगी को रिप्रजेंट करने की कोशिश करता है,दावा करता है। कला सिर्फ जीवन की सच्चाई को बताएं ये एक नजरिया है जो कि पिछले डेढ़ सालों से चला ए रहा है। हमारे यहां वर्णन करने की परंपरा है। हमारे यहां डिस्क्रीप्शन फार्मूलाइज्ड हुआ करते थे। स्पेसिफिक नहीं हुआ करते थे। एक पैटर्न बनकर हुआ करते।

यहां वही है जो एतबार किया,सुननेवाले के एतबार के बाद कहानी की हकीकत बन जाती है। ये फर्क है लिखनेवाले और कहनेवालों के बीच।..

शफशिकन बटेर का एक उदाहरण

एक और उदाहरण( दोनों उदाहरण ऑडियो के जरिए)

ऑडियो वर्जन सुनने के लिए नीचे के लिंक पर चटकाएं-

Monday, October 12, 2009

Most recent article on Dastangoi

This article was based on interviews conducted after a show at the Kamla Nehru College, New Delhi on 19thh August 2009. You can go to the link and read more if you like,

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/28788/RFe

Sunday, October 04, 2009

IMPORTANT NOTICE FOR WORKSHOP PARTICIPANTS

Dear All,

A wonderful oppurtunity has come our way in form of the Prithvi Platform performances, which takes place during the Prithvi Theatre festival. We have been asked to showcase our new Dastango's. In October, when we continue with our workshop, we will also be choosing two people to perform for half hour, as part of the platform performances. The date slotted to us is the 12th of November. Who all will be ready by then?

Please watch this space for information on other festivals.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

NOTICE- Dastangoi Show in Delhi

Dastangoi performance today, 19th September, 2009, at Kamla Nehru College, Khel Gaon Marg, New Delhi at 4 pm.

Episodes include 'The slaying of Azlam, the Dragon by Barq Firangi Aiyyar' and Partition Dastans.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

NOTICE: Dastangoi follow up workshop

The follow up dastangoi workshop will be held on the 16th of September, at Prithvi House, between 4pm and 8pm.

Ibteda-The Beginning


Among the various cultural legacies of India, there is one extremely rich and colorful which is the art of story-telling. All of us love a good story, but good story –tellers are hard to find. As an attempt to de-mystify story-telling, the story, legends, histrionics of the Dastangoi performance, Ibteda a workshop was held in Prithvi House on the 10th and 11th of September.

The workshop started off with Mahmood talking to the participants about the various ways there are of story –telling. There is an abundance of various forms of story –telling in our country, as none of us has actually seen a real dastango perform, drawing on parallel forms we can try and visualize what the real dastangos must have been like.

There are various ways of telling a story and there are various facets which are associated with each of these forms. The stories can be told in the form of kissagoi, which is the shorter version of a dastan, katha-vachan etc. It’s possible to sing a story aloud, it’s possible to read, but not every story is meant to be ‘performed’, as there isn’t always that element in them.

Mahmood mentioned that in Dastangoi, the story is incomplete without the visuals. The story is an extension of the story-teller who becomes a part of the drama himself. Talking about Dastangoi, the stories in Urdu weave around magic; have devilish wicked characters who are the winners of the story -the Ayyars and the poor dumb magicians and sorcerers who get outsmarted all the time. The versatility of the Ayyars is that they can take on various disguises and since they only rely on their wit and cunningness to get the better of the more powerful magicians, a variety of characters come into the picture. It’s the skill of the performer as to how beautifully he can breathe life into them and involve the listeners. Fortunately, for us these various stories are available to us in a written form, we do not need to be relying on our imagination to be weaving them. But we need more awareness among listeners and intriguing performances to take back Dastangoi to the heights it once attained.

As a part of this workshop Mahmood also talked about language influences and cultural influences of Urdu. There is hardly any Hindi film song which does not use a smattering of Urdu words and to a large extent the formulaic movies of the 70’s and 80’s drew upon the stories that were part of folklore, for the influence. For instance, we might have a prince, who only hears about the beauty of a princess and becomes enamored with her, there is the Grand Vizier Jafar(think Aladdin)/ scheming manager/ best friend and his son (usually played by Pran in oldies :D) who wants to become the king himself and is the bad element. So there are various themes- the distance between the lovers, the sadness associated with it, the bursting of flowers when lovers meet. They are literally and figuratively all drawn from the mystic stories that are part of the country’s psyche

Mahmood was attempting to try and show that the language wasn’t a show-stopper this way, the performance, the stories were enchanting enough to lead the way and you did not have to be anybody who spoke chaste Urdu to perform these stories, because people hardly speak that kind of Urdu, it was not necessary that they understood or could visualize everything that was written about in the book but what was important was to have a connection with the story, to be involved with it. Since the audience today is very different from the ones time past, the performer might gesture with his hand, emphasize words, or use voice modulation to deliver the significance of the passage, the dialogue between the characters.

The icing on the cake was the lovely Dastans that we got to see Mahmood and Danish perform. Balle Balle Danish! O Balle Balle Mahmood. The various audio and visual oratory forms that we got exposed to and the discourse that Mahmood gave on the influence of language and stories were extremely educating. It is also worth noting that Mahmood said that these stories with their various elements tell us that we are not the only ones who inhabit this world and in a way sensitize us to the things around us. Keeping this in mind would be a return to innocence for the man who is bereft of sensitivity with his technological advancements.

All of us got to perform a page which was handed to us, the participants ran wild with their imagination, voice modulations and it was lovely to see what all they could make of the story and add their own elements to keep us enthralled.

An aspect of Dastangoi also touches upon poetry, as its always with the Saqi (the wine – bearer ) that the Dastans begin with. We got exposed to a form of Urdu poetry called the Masnavi. The Masnavi is a long poem which details the description of an event, any event for that matter and it can go on and on, on and on and extend to pages.

We have got an episode each to practice and perform before the next session. It will be very interesting to see what all the participants do with it. Details of the event eagerly awaited.

Cheers for the lovely session

:-)
Stuti

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Mere Actors

Actors are a highly overrated form of artistes. It would be interesting to track the etymology of the changing status of actors down the centuries but the term originated with performers who enacted dramatic and narrative productions, especially in the Western stage. Over the last century, the glamour of movies brought a new sheen to the profession.

When one examines the craft a little more carefully, it emerges that actors are performers, one among many that have thrived in the medieval and modern world. Consider just the following, clowns and acrobats in circuses, stand up comics, television show presenters, quacks and hawkers at market place, beggars and mendicants, musicians, dancers of many kinds. What one finds is that many of them using their bodies, faces and voices to create a specific and particular impact at their audience. To be effective they need an affective response. This is a very cursory list of different kind of performers only in the modern era.

If you decide to go back further, you find, in India alone, Nats, Bhands, Bhagatiya, Kathavachaks, Naqqals, Qissagos and of course Dastangos. Moreover, in India dance and music are not just an integral part of narrative and performance traditions, dance and music itself is difficult to imagine without their own narratives. Therefore it is difficult to deny the fact that most musicians and almost all dancers are using tools and modes that are usually only associated with actors. However, they are often using their voices, bodies and gestures with much greater finesse and sophisitication than any mere actor could command.

What do actors have that exclusively distinguishes them from these other performers. They enunciate prose, often dramatic prose. But what is prose before a much longer, older and more vibrant tradition of poetry?

So how come actors have become so glorified and privileged among performers? And is it really such an overrated profession-at least in terms of what it achieves artistically?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dastangoi Workshop--Bombay 10th, 11th Sep 09

A two day preliminary workshop for budding Dastangos--

Venue- Prithvi House, Prithvi Theatre, Bombay

Time-10th/11th September 2009, 10-6

How to Apply-Write a mail to mahmood.farooqui@gmail.com stating why you want to join the workshop, in as many words as you please. Entries first received will be given preference. Maximum number 30.

Workshop Plan--First session, general intro, a demo performance of a story by myself and Danish Husain.

Second session-Reading audition for the entire group. Sample page will be provided on the spot.

Second day-First session-Selected candidates will read longer passages.

Second session-Plan ahead for those selected, stories will be handed out and finally a creation based on the form will be performed to provide a direction for creating and performing your own stories.

Meanwhile those coming in should start preparing to enunciate Urdu alphabets. Ask around and get your KHES and QAAFS and GHAINS going...

Get the correct pronunciation of the following words--

Khatm, ghairat, sabaq, qissa, khana-kharab, takalluf, aqriba, khatm-shud.

See you there

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Rare Urdu review

The Voice of America Urdu journalist Zafar Syed had interviewed us when we went to Washington earlier this year and has written a very well informed piece on Dastan-e Amir Hamza. This is one of the few occasions when we have been reviewed by the Urdu press. There is no point blaming them really, it is a kind of third world condition...


http://www1.voanews.com/urdu/news/arts-entertainment/dastan-12july2009-50586522.html

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Meeting with Tim Supple

Tim Supple was here this morning to talk about his new project, a stage adaptation in English of Firdausi's master epic, the Shahnameh. He has been bringing stories on stage for almost a decade, (for more go to http://www.intermusica.co.uk/artists/stage-director/tim-supple/biography).

So what is the difference between his storytelling and ours? There is drama and there is telling. Drama is inherent to telling and all drams are acts of telling. So we get at actors who are adept at telling and performing. Adept at telling prose and poetry, blank verse and rhymed prose. But actors who must inhabit a remote, even discredited medieval world, whilst necessarily avoiding the appeal of quaintness. The medieval stories, even when they seem lighthearted and single layered, are not without their gravitas. There is nothing more serious than transporting people to a make believe but different world. Success at that, to my mind, supercedes any hardcore realistic topical production.

So how does one orientate people to a world that is now familiar. Does one employ a prologue, is an explanation required for telling stories that are now old, sometimes unfamiliar? Do we need to justify what we are doing? Must we turn them topical, make them 'useful' to our own world?

Besides that there is the question of Persian and the question of Iran? For about a hundred years Persian was an ecumenical, world language. Spoken, used and understood from Morocco to Indonesia, from Samarqand to Bosnia. Does it belong to any single country? Does Latin belong to any one country in Europe? By sheer volume of production the Indian subcontinent produced the largest amount of Persian scholarship for about six hundred years, larger than any other country in the world. Histories, poetry, epic stories, essays, moralistic tales, memoirs, religious literature, there is no genre of Persian scholarship where the Indian output is lesser, at least in quantity, than any other part of the world. So does the Shahnameh belong to India or to Iran.

While it specifically narrates the peculiar history of old and ancient Iran, and glorifies it, the Shahnameh was known and celebrated in many parts of the medieval world. But what of Sadi's Bostan and Gulistan, or Rumi's Masnavi, they are not specifically about Iran, they are still taught to school children in India, do they belong to Iran or to India or to both. The nationalisation of language is a nineteenth century phenomenon and today, as we aspire to a multi cultural world, we must retrun this heritage where it belongs: equally among Indians, Bangladeshis, Malaysians, Central Asian, Asia Minor, the Caspian Sea countries, to all of us.

Bedil, a poet born in Patna and bred in Delhi is the national poet of Afghanistan. The Thousand and One Nights, known today as a purely Arabic text, was first printed, in Arabic and in Urdu and English, in India in the nineteenth century. Aladdin is our story as much as anybody else.

So let us own what is ours but let us not be exclusive about it.

More on the Shahnameh as we get to it. Meanwhile I am reading and researching another Masnavi, the poetic form in which the Shahnameh as well as Goswami Tulsidas' Ramcharit Manas is composed, from eighteenth century India. Another master text which took its author Mir Hasan twenty years, like Firdausi's thirty, to compose and for which, again like Firdausi, he felt that he did not get an adequate enough award.

More on that soon...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Beyond Prithvi

Barq dressed as Sarsar Aiyyaara entraps Azlam Jadoo
Dastangos revel in Amar's Aiyyaari
These photographs are courtesy Athiran Santhosh Soman. Any usage requires his explicit permission. The photographs are from our recent performances at Prithvi Theatre on July 13 and 14, 2009 as part of the Motley Festival. A possible line up of our future performances as of now is listed below. These dates are tentative and we'll keep revising this post as and when we get more information. Thank you for supporting us and hopefully there'll be many more Dastans to fill our lives.
  • Aug 03, 2009 at 1.30 pm at St. Stephens College, University of Delhi.
  • Aug 04, 2009 at 7 pm at National School of Drama, Delhi. The performance will be followed by a lecture and Q&A session.
  • August third week, Lucknow. We'll fill in the details later.
  • Sep 07, 2009 at 6.30 pm at NCPA, Mumbai as part of the Motley Festival.
  • Oct 02-03, 2009 Bangalore. Sponsored by India Foundation for Arts.
  • Dec 03, 2009 at Park Festival, Chennai.
  • Dec 12, 2009 at Park Festival, Kolkata.

Meanwhile, we'll keep you informed if more performances get thrown in.

Thanks again and keep savouring the Dastans,

The Dastan Team


Saturday, July 25, 2009

NYC Redux


Afrasiyaab questioning Aafat Jadoo's allegiance

Amar dressed as Mallika Hilal Sehar Afghan Jadoo declaring her intention for Sati
Afrasiyaab falling prey to Barq's tricks
A moment to pause and reflect


These pictures are courtesy Kamran A Hashmi. For more pics visit his Flicker page. And now enjoy the video...


video


This video is courtesy Muslim Voices Festival organizers. Any transmission or usage of this video requires explicit permission from them. We have only posted this video for demonstrative purpose. They are excerpts from the Dastangoi performances on June 7 and 8, 2009 at Lila Acheson Wallace Auditorium, Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue, NYC.




We'll post more pics from the Motley Festival performance at Prithvi in Mumbai on July 13 and 14, 2009 and also information on our forthcoming performances at Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata. So please actively visit our blog.


Thanks and warm regards,

Danish

Monday, July 06, 2009

Dastan at Prithvi

Afrasiyaab livid at Aafat Jadoo's insubordination
Aafat Jadoo pleading for his life
Naseeruddin Shah and Danish Husain agog at Amar Ayyaar's tricks
Mahmood Farooqui bringing Azlam Jadoo alive

We'll be repeating our New York Performances as part of the Motely Festival at Prithvi Theatre, Juhu, Mumbai on July 13 and 14, 2009. The show timings are 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm on both the days. Would be lovely if most of you present in Mumbai could join us there. Please contact Prithvi Theatre or Motely (Jairaj Patil +91-982.015.4838) for more details. Meanwhile, enjoy some pics from our New York performances. Photographs courtesy La Frances Hui.

Thanks and best regards,

Danish

Monday, June 22, 2009

An earlier review

For the Pakistani, presumably, blogger Ayesha Hoda's response to Dastangoi-written before the New York shows-go to:

http://ayeshahoda.blogspot.com/2009/06/lost-art-of-storytelling.html

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Reviews of New York--continued

Of all places here is a review in Kuwait Times--a delicious irony for Urduwallahs when the writer, Fatima al Qadri (I really want to contact her but the paper has no email) wonders whether common words have travelled from Urdu to Arabic or vice versa...


The story of the Islamic Warrior

Spectrum News

The story of the Islamic Warrior

Published Date: June 13, 2009
By Fatima Al-Qadiri



Every once in a while you have a dream where you're capable of speaking a language other than your own, like the time I dreamt I spoke German, as a composer in a vaguely renaissance setting. That imaginary feeling of fully comprehending another way of vocalizing life, of penetrating another cultural realm, became real in one instance, during a performance in New York City. It came to me this very night while witnessing Dastangoi: the Adventures of Amir Hamza, at the Asia Society's headquarters in Upper Man
hattan.

Before I delve into how this momentary linguistic delusion took hold, I should offer a brief explanation of the evening's performance and the venue.

In a nutshell, Dastangoi is a narrative adaptation of the 'Tilism-e-Hoshruba,' dealing with the exploits of Amir Hamza, the Islamic warrior, against the emperor of sorcerers, Afrasiab. One of many exciting cultural events to take place this week during the 'Muslim Voices' festival, the evening's performance, adapted and directed by Mahmoud Farooqui a Delhi-based writer and performer, was truly a marvel.

The headquarters of the Asia Society, one of the organizers of the festival, was the perfect venue for this masterly exercise in storytelling. It's no easy feat to transform a modern stage into a setting so intimate that a sensation of ease and warmth is present as in one's living room. The stage, a low wooden platform with a mattress and pillows, two candles on either side, two books, two silver cups and a water pitcher, was elegant as it was humble.

Before the performance began, here's a quick excerpt from the accompanying booklet, which provided an excellent summary of the history of these tales:

The word Dastangoi literally means storytelling. It is a form of oral extempore composition and narration, which deals principally with war, romance, adventure and sorcery. Dastangos [storytellers] were expected to be efficient in the arts of literary composition...and performance. Popular in India, following Persian and Arabic traditions, since at least the sixteenth century, the form reached its apogee in Urdu in the nineteenth century. Building upon the one-volume legend of Amir Hamza the eponymous Ara
b warrior's adventures, the Urdu dastangois, through repeated oral tellings over generations, so expanded the story that it took a wholly new life and color. It became wholly indigenized, Indianized, in spirit, details and context.

And so the performance began with a generous introduction by Mr. Farooqui on the art of Dastangoi, who explained how the dastangos were basically a living oral encyclopedia of language and history. He told us that saying "Vah!" is an Indian form of applause, a tradition which the audience was encouraged to engage in. A synopsis of the story was given, our tale being "The Dragon Army and Barq (the Frank) Ayyaar." Ayyaar? Hold on a minute. Any native speaker of Kuwaiti Arabic knows exactly what an ayyaar is
- that is, a trickster.

Which, coincidentally, corresponds with the Urdu meaning. I was amazed by the number of words I understood during this performance, which was recited entirely in Urdu. Words like asli (authentic), mashhoor (renowned), 'ajeeb (marvelous), ghareeb (strange), jooti (shoe), jasoos (spy), khali (empty), sharaab (drink) and so on. I wondered whether these words were borrowed from Urdu into Arabic or vice versa...

In any case, the story itself, despite its conventional framework of good triumphing over evil, was littered with surprising moments of plot twists and gorgeous, otherworldly settings. For a start, it takes place in the Tilism-e-Hoshruba, a magical realm between the earth and sky, obscured by a river of fire. In one tale Amir Hamza's best friend Amar and the ayyaar Barq battle Azlam Zadu and his dragon army. In another, Amar saves the sorcerer Aafat's life disguised as the latter's wife Hilal.

But turning back to linguistic delusion, several times during this performance I really believed that I understood Urdu (and the ten words that are shared with Arabic). An unlikely occurrence, since there was literally a super title (the opposite of subtitle for those who do not frequent the theater) every five minutes, the rest of the monologue was only understood by speakers of Urdu. In other words, the dasntangos had cast a multi-layered spell on me, like the sorcerers in their epic tales.

A spell of time-travel transported me to the jasmine-scented court of a Mughal monarch where I was the lowliest servant, where too ignorant to comprehend the linguistic niceties of court tales I stood in desperate enchantment at the raw skill of the storyteller. Living proof that the performative elements of storytelling are a universal language: one of tone, gesture and, last but not least, talent. The lack of adornment, whether musical or visual, highlighted the real oral virtuosity of the performers. Sadly, I could never fully comprehend the delight felt by native speakers of Urdu that night, but for a moment in the breakdown of time and space, I believed I did.

http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=NjU4ODgzMjkx

Friday, June 19, 2009

Reviews of New York Performances

For an insider's view read the blog--

Muslim Voices Festival: Story-telling For a New Millennium
By Hussein Rashid
June 10, 2009

The story-telling tradition may be a dying art form but a performance by Mahmood Farooqi, with star-power lent by Naseeruddin Shah, made a strong case for the future.

One of the more popular genres of stories in the Islamicate world is the dastan, or tale. The tales of Amir Hamza are a favorite set of stories. Purportedly about the exploits of an uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, they are a collection of fantastic stories chronicling his deeds and exploits. In Urdu, the tradition appears to be tied to the poetic tradition of the masnavi, which involves the creation of fantasy worlds where the heroes battle their foes. Although we now conceive of the dastan as a printed tale, like much Islamicate literature, it has a strong oral component.

The dastangoi, or story-telling tradition, is a dying art form according to Mahmood Farooqi, who organizes dastango , story-tellers, to revive the art. He recently staged a production for the Muslim Voices Festival in NY, featuring Danish Husain and renowned actor Naseeruddin Shah. Shah seems to have been brought for his star appeal for the festival, but he was very good, as were both Farooqi and Husain.

Rachel Cooper of the Asia Society began the evening with a short, informal introduction to the tradition, followed by Farooqi's more formal introduction. He cracked a joke that while the East was developing stories, the West was developing technology, and he wouldn't have it any other way, showing the deep cultural impact of stories. Both Farooqi and Husain talked about the etiquette of the performance. In a traditional setting, there would be more performer-audience interaction, but in this setting, they had to get through the stories. In addition, rather than clapping at good lines, they encouraged the audience to cry out "vah vah," the equivalent of a "bravo," and normative for oral performance settings. Farooqi also comments that the dastan offers us a way to see how being Muslim has changed over time; he pointed out that in an earlier time Muslims had no qualms about mixing the sacred and profane, with the Prophet's "uncle" appearing in a fantasy tale.

When the performance began, there were only two actors on-stage, Farooqi and Husain, seated. They played all the roles of the tale, which did not include Amir Hamza, but his companion Amar Ayyar, a trickster character. One of the striking things of the performance was it's fluidity. The dastango rarely looked at one another, they were telling the audience the story, and as their passions increased, we were brought into the tale, breaking the fourth wall. We were part of the magical world they conjured, not as active participants, but as actors still.

One of the key questions I had was "why should we care about a dying art form? why should we revive it? what is the value?" Being drawn into the performance helped to answer these questions. The written text is fixed. The meaning is given, and rarely is it discussed. One walks away with a fixed understanding that usually reinforces the reader's view of the world. In a performance, the text is liquid, it changes on context. It is inherently communal, creating a sense of belonging and contested meaning. The set-up is simple, with two dastango sitting and spinning the tale, with no music, props, or real acting outside of the face and some simple hand gestures. While we think of religious texts in this way — does Qur'an mean "reading" or "recitation" for example — but popular texts are different matter. However, any culture is made up of more than religion, and the popular must also be contested space.

The second act sees actor Shah replacing Farooqi on the cushions, and Farooqi retreating to a dark corner of the stage. With Shah's appearance, there is far more interaction between the two dastango, reintroducing the glass wall. However, the performance was still engaging, and while the first act possessed some archaic language as befits an old story, the second act introduced some modern terms and English loans, highlighting the living nature of the material.

The inclusion of Indic material with Islamicate material hinted at a rich cultural collaboration that I wish was further explored in notes or on the website. Terms like "sati," or bride immolation, were used for Muslims, a practice that is more closely associated with Hinduism. There also seems to be an undercurrent of Islamic supersessionism involved, where the heroes' mythic adversaries are problematic parts of Indic cultures. These are relatively minor complaints. Perhaps the biggest problem of the evening was the poor super-titles for the performance. They was almost non-existent. While a direct translation may have been difficult for a text that seems to change slightly each performance, better real-time summaries were needed.

Farooqi's vision for reviving the dastangoi tradition is an admirable one, and his expert staging and acting show the value of the art form in a way simply reading about it does not. The performative aspect of the night was powerful, even if one could not follow the language, as many in the audience could not. With continued shows like the one in New York, and Farooqi's success in South Asia, he is well on his way to reviving this tradition.

copied from:
http://www.religiondispatches.org/blog/mediaculture/1546/muslim_voices_festival:_story-telling_for_a_new_millennium/



Aninidita Ghose, a new york based freelance journalist reviewed the new york performance in her blog-http://aninditaghose.blogspot.com/ and for a Bombay newspaper here: http://www.mumbaimirror.com/article/123/20090610200906101355404463f2acfd6/Finding-Magic-in-Lost-Poetry.html


For an effete and unengaged comment here is Amitava Kumar: http://www.amitavakumar.com/?p=2645

Reviews of New York Shows

Muslim Voices, Western Ears


There's no doubt that the 10-day Muslim Voices festival staged around New York City that ended on Sunday featured some highly superior expressions of Muslim culture past and present -- or, one should say, expressions of culture from Islamic countries, because the organizers did not intend the festival to provide a coherent impression of what constitutes Muslim culture. Indeed, they explicitly intended the reverse. Americans have a monolithic, negative and superficial view of Islam that the festival was meant to correct, the organizers repeatedly said and wrote.

As a result, theirs was a scattershot approach, offering what the program called "kaleidoscopic richness" from 20 countries and presenting everything from calligraphy to music, movies, video, theater, film, interviews and the like produced by more than 100 artists and performers. The festival took three years to produce, cost $2.5 million and was a collaborative effort of three main organizers: the Asia Society, Brooklyn Academy of Music and New York University's Center for Dialogues, a post-9/11 think tank dedicated to fostering understanding between Islam and the West.

Richard Termin

In the opening two-day conference, the organizers laid out their agenda with the recurrent mantras that such occasions produce. Diversity: good. Clash of Civilizations: bad. And it's usually the U.S. that gets tainted with responsibility for the "bad" side. Sure enough, Mustapha Tlili, director of the Center for Dialogues, noted that cultural exchange could do only so much when real policies caused real problems. He cited, among other items, the "the pain of three million displaced Pakistanis, the exertions of Iraqis longing for peace, the frustration of Iran in the nuclear arena" as "acutely felt grievances in the Muslim world." He added that "these are not issues that can be addressed in this event."

Nevertheless, the seemingly unexceptionable nature of the festival's premise -- to enhance mutual understanding between cultures -- had its own problems. For one thing, such painstakingly well-meaning projects often produce achingly dull results, more earnest than entertaining. The festival offered several such examples, among them the Youssou N'Dour documentary "I Bring What I Love," a portrait of the Senegalese performer as he made his Grammy-winning album "Egypt" that proved dismayingly inchoate and overworshipful. And, as always, there was a musical-fusion event offering painful why-can't-we-all-get-along music. This time it was an "evening of musical exchange between Christian/African-American gospel music and qawwali, the 700-year-old tradition of Sufi praise music."

The festival did bring to audiences several examples of true cultural artistry for which the organizers should be warmly congratulated. Only, one doubted that many Muslims attended events like these in their home countries. How typical of broader Islamic culture were such events and how much should they alter American impressions of prevailing cultural standards in Islam? In the area of theater, for example, BAM featured "Richard III: An Arab Tragedy," an outstanding cultural achievement by any standards -- but how many in the Muslim world would be affected by it?

The "Richard" project was originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company and is the creation of renowned Kuwaiti dramatist Sulayman Al-Bassam. In Arabic with English subtitles, it's a startlingly original retooling -- at times kitsch and macabre; at others, farcical -- of the Richard III story around a Saddam-like figure. In the program, Mr. Al-Bassam points out that Iraq under Saddam was a Republic, whereas this story is set in a kingdom not unlike one of the Gulf states. It came as a surprise to me to learn that the play had been publicly performed in Kuwait and Syria, altering my view of what was possible in such countries. But did it alter the views of many citizens or their rulers in those countries? And what about Yemen or Somalia, where no one would see it? How many Muslims world-wide go to the theater as opposed to fundamentalist mosques?

To take another example: At the Asia Society, "Dastangoi: The Adventures of Amir Hamza" was performed simply by two storytellers in white silk outfits sitting on a low wood platform with cushions. They were joined by Naseeruddin Shah, an Indian film actor and celebrity, who provided the evening's star turn. As they explained with fluent poise in perfect English in the introduction, these were centuries-old oral tales derived from Persian epics that relate the near-occult adventures of Amir Hamza, a purported uncle of the Prophet. The traditions attained a peak in 19th-century Lucknow, India, when thousands would turn up for days to hear the verse-epics of love, war, betrayal and sorcery. The last old-time Dastangoi, or practitioner of the art, died in Delhi in 1920.

Faced with two hours of nonstop Urdu, I expected the worst. But the performance proved riveting. The perfectly pitched musicality of the voices, by turns lyrical and humorous; the astonishing plasticity of facial expressions; the infinitely varied hand-gestures -- suddenly, I was staring down the centuries at a civilization's golden moment. This, I thought, is how all those figures in miniatures would sound and act if they came to life.

Unquestionably, Islam produced great culture -- and if Americans don't know that, they should. But how many Muslims are exposed to this art form today, and therefore why should it change anyone's "monolithic" view of contemporary Islamic culture?

I had similar thoughts about the extraordinary new IMAX film "Journey to Mecca" at the American Museum of Natural History. The visually magnificent movie features a dramatization of 14th-century Muslim savant Ibn Battuta's religious pilgrimage, bookended by vistas of the hajj in progress, for which the (Western) filmmakers got special permission to shoot footage in and around the holy site. The museum's 800-seat auditorium was sold out -- and, indeed, the film sells out wherever it gets shown, even in the West. As a form of cultural diplomacy, "Journey to Mecca" can hardly be bettered -- it comes closest to plugging some of the holes in the festival's premise: Here is the heart of Muslim culture; this is a glimpse of what all Muslims share, highbrow or low, African, Arab, Asian or European.

Yet nothing in the festival could ultimately fulfill the organizers' agenda, because they presented as examples of Muslim-culture artforms that mostly Western or Westernized Muslims consume. How many Americans will believe -- and why should they? -- that any of this reveals the prevailing culture of the vast majority of today's practicing Muslims? That monolith, rather than the one of American preconceptions, would most benefit from exposure to the festival's finest offerings.

Mr. Kaylan writes about culture and the arts for the Journal.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page W11

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009







Coming Up

It has been a long time. Almost six months since we did a show. Never happened to us since we started performing Dastans, almost four years ago. We had offers of shows in this period but we are all, Danish, myself and Anusha, stuck in Barwai village in Madhya Pradesh where we were working on Anusha's first feature film, The Falling.

But we are back now, hopefully with a redoubled purpose. We travel to New York, to perform at the Muslim Arts and Voices Festival with Naseeruddin Shah, in the second week of June. For details go to, www.MuslimVoicesFestival.org

In July we perform at the Motley Festival in Bombay. And in early August we have been asked to perform at the National School of Drama's orientatin program. There are plans also to conduct a workshop with the second and third year students of the National School of Drama in the coming calendar year. Thus Dastangoi, cast out for a century from the canon of modern performing Arts in India, marks a comeback to the fold. Of sorts.

In September, October, workshops are planned for new initiates. Until more people join us all we have is a show, a successful one alright, but no pretence at a movement. But before that we will bring out easy to read and understand versions of the stories we perform from, in Urdu and in Hindi. Along with audio CDs of our performance. This should help new entrants access the texts and modes of rendition more easily. Some of these initiatives are being supported by the India Foundation for the Arts and we are grateful for their uncomplaining and silent support.

Join us then...
MAFA