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Into the world of storytelling

Shweta Sharma, February 4, 2016, DHNS 0:09 IST

Old-world charm

Much before there were books, there were stories which were narrated by storytellers in their unique styles. However, with the coming of books and other forms of entertainment, this art form soon lost its charm, including in India. But, an upcoming festival aims to revive the ancient art, find it new audience and practitioners and get children interested in reading.

Presented by Nivesh and the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), Kathakar - International Storytellers Festival will bring the best from the world of storytelling to India. First organised in 2011, Kathakar is part of Ghummakkad Narain – a travelling literature festival.

“Kathakar came about when we were trying to reach out to young children who were first time learners, and had to be initiated into reading. Getting the children interested in books so that they pick it up and read was very important for us. Just donating books and setting up
libraries was not enough, we wanted children to get the hunger for reading. That’s when we resorted to the age old tradition of storytelling,” says Shaguna Gahilote, festival advisor.

With a target audience ranging from seven year olds to 90-year-olds, the festival this year features puppeteer Puran Bhatt, who will perform Rajput nobleman Amar Singh Rathore’s story in long form though puppets; a session on the story of Satyavan and Savitri through popular folk dance-theatre form Swang, and a session where an Indian storyteller will perform the story of Hiranyakashyap and a Cuban will retell it in Indian context. As regards international storytellers, the festival has master storyteller Tim Ralphs; UK’s only blind professional storyteller, Giles Abbott; and Emily Hennessey.

“We try to bring the best storytellers to India. What people still don't understand is that storytelling is not reading from a book, which most authors do. Storytelling is part theatre, part music, and sometimes also involves dance. It’s basically a performing art form and in the traditional sense has nothing to do with books. It still remains a novel concept in India,” Gahilote tells Metrolife.

She adds that each year the festival tries to introduce a new flavour, and this year it focuses on disability and has special sessions for the differently-abled.

“For discussions, we try to take up themes which are relevant to the audience, and not just inform them also make them learn. Other than promoting disability, we have also added an open mic session this year where we will host new storytellers to come on the stage and share their stories. We are also hosting workshop cum Q&A sessions for people who are interested in learning more. A panel discussion would also be hosted,” she says.

But, with the advent of globalisation and the Internet, how prevalent is the culture of traditional storytelling in India?

“Surprisingly, people look forward to such events. If we had this as a monthly feature, we surely would have enough audience because such sessions are far more interactive than the Internet or TV. People feel very involved and we have senior citizens to young children coming to the festival. They sit through the harsh winter evenings asking for more. Some are even reminded of their grandparents who would tell them stories when they were young, while others are reminded of professional storytellers who came to tell stories in their cities or villages,” she says.

Kathakar will be held from February 5 to 7 at the Amphitheatre, IGNCA.

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