Weaving a poetic tale

Weaving a poetic tale

Revisiting Dastangoi

Since 2010, writer and storyteller, Ankit Chadha has been working with filmmaker Mahmood Farooqui to revive Dastangoi, an Urdu story telling tradition. His writing varies from biographical accounts of personalities like Kabir to modern folk tales on corporate culture and the internet. The artiste, who also works for young audiences and has worked on Urdu storytelling of a few children’s classics, talks to Shweta Sharma ahead of his upcoming performance (along with Poonam Girdhani) about the art form and what got him interested in the world of Dastangoi.
Excerpts:

How did your association with the storytelling form begin?
The zero-enjoyment level of songs we were taught in music class in school made me write my own. And then, street theatre happened in college. I loved the concept of going to people and entertaining them through a story.

After graduation, I worked in corporate marketing — still writing but mostly promotional stuff. Then two years in that job, after having unsuccessfully tried to gather some college seniors and make a play, I stumbled upon an event page on Facebook — the first Dastangoi workshop conducted in Delhi by Mahmood Farooqui (June 2010). And four months from that, I debuted as a dastango.

Like street theatre, here was an art form that did not require a team, or lights, sounds, properties and stage to be arranged.

It was just me and my story that caught me. This minimalism is what got me interested in this form. To begin with, it was the “convenience” of the form, that I could practice it with my job that made me take it up.

What is your performance, ‘Dastan Little Prince Ki’, all about?
We believe this dastan will be about different things to different people — just like the book is. The text is so subtle and layered that one derives different meanings from it with every read. For us, this is a story about loneliness, friendship, remembering,
loving, longing and letting go.

On what basis are the texts selected?
‘Dastan Little Prince Ki’ (an adaptation of Antoine de Saint Exupery’s 1943 classic, The Little Prince) is part of the vision of our director, Mahmood Farooqui, to take Dastangoi to children. The idea is to introduce the form to the audiences from a young age through content that is accessible.
He says, “The outstanding success of our adaptation of (Lewis) Carroll’s classic into ‘Dastan Alice Ki’ validated our efforts to do more work on the same lines. Like Alice, The Little Prince is also a fantasy tale. Although it is extremely philosophical, the language is simple. We are hoping that both children and adults will listen to this story together, in their own ways.”
The Little Prince is the fourth most translated book in the world, and this will be our tribute to the story by telling it orally and in the process, learn and unlearn as grown-ups.

Are they absolute adaptations?
The adaptation varies from story to story. The text of The Little Prince has been edited for performance, but we have tried to retain the lyrical tone in the adaptation.
Some drawings made by the narrator are essential to the story, so we will be using those visuals in the performance. Given the nature of the book, we have attempted to keep the performance engaging for all age groups.

How challenging is to hold children’s attention with a form of storytelling in Urdu that has no visuals or elaborate sets?
When performing for children, we do make our telling more animated and sound-rich. Kids are more open to learning new words.
Unlike adults, they are not stuck on the concept of ‘the other’ about the language. That said, we keep a lot of commonly used Urdu words, which many people think are Hindi words.

What changes has the form undergone to suit the contemporary days?
The form evolves with every dastan we tell, but we try to stay as true and close to our roots — the classical text of Dastan-e-Amir Hamza. The idea of a magical land that comes from Tilism-e-Hoshruba is what gets transpired when we tell ‘Dastan-e-Sedition’, ‘Dastan Alice Ki’ or ‘Dastan Digital India Ki’.Dastan Little Prince Ki, directed by Mahmood Farooqui
and produced by Anusha Rizvi, will premiere on July 23 at Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre at 7 pm.

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