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


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?