Tales of storytellers
Sound of energetic Wah Wahs resonated in the main theatre of Film and Television Institute of India. The stage was set, perfectly suiting the era of the Dastangoi- the ancient art of storytelling. The 50 year golden jubilee celebration at FTII was the apt occasion to celebrate this ideal blend of poetry and drama.
Marked by dramatic, loud hand gestures and set on varied pitches, this performance by Mahmood Farooqui and Danish Husain was a visual delight as well. Farooqui has been involved in the revival of this art since 2004. Talking about his first encounter with this art form he says, “In August 2002, I first encountered the Dastan-e Amir Hamza and I was asked to help out somebody who was making a film. Though the film never got made, I got interested in Dastangoi.”
Dastangoi is the art of narration of Dastan (epic narrative) recited by a Dastango (performer)- a compound of two Persian words Dastan and goi which means to tell a Dastan. These were often oral in nature, stories of adventure, magic and warfare read out loud. This art form dates back to the 16th century; in fact legend has it that Emperor Akbar himself would recite them. It involves rigorous practice to perfect every aspect of the performance. Farooqui adds, “We work together on lengthy rehearsal sessions trying to memorise pages of script. We improvise, edit and present it in a form that is enjoyable for the audiences.”
The palpable chemistry between both the artists left the audiences completely engaged in the performance. They time traveled through the pages of history and the audiences attentive throughout the length of the act. “The audiences are kept attentive through techniques like sound of language, illustrations on the stage and so on,” adds Farooqui. Most of Indian and Islamic cinema is influenced by Parsi theatre that uses the same elements of the theatrical forms of nautanki, swang, naqqali.
This art form has an illustrous history and an equally interesting way of presentation. In one of the Dastans about the escapades of Amir Aiyyaar, Husain quickly changes into a role of a beautiful woman. His graceful movements match the masculine performance of Farooqui creating a visual imagery in front of the audiences. With minimal props, they bring to life some of the greatest epics of Persian and Arabic literature. Traditional Dastangoi was restricted to single performer, but Farooqui made improvisations and introduced the system of two performers, to make it more contemporary.
The second part was based on the partition of 1947, drawing attention to the battle through poetry, folk sayings and literature. It was an intricately woven tale of separation, longing and trauma of the partition, something that is so close to our hearts.
Farooqui has studied at the University of Oxford. He has worked over the last four years to revive this lost art of storytelling under the guidance of S R Faruqi, eminent critic and writer. Husain, has been involved with this endeavour for over four years. Farooqui says, “Our Dasatngoi performance is a tribute to these storytellers who lived 200 years ago and are hardly remembered by anyone today.”