Dastangoi performer looks for new talesMarch 24th, 2010 - 9:20 am ICT by IANS
By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, March 24 (IANS) Dastangoi - the ancient Islamic tradition of oral storytelling - is looking for new tales to recount to keep itself afloat as an art, says India’s leading performer Mahmood Farooqui.
“I am constantly trying to tell new stories from the ‘Tilism-e-Hoshruba’ (the 18th century Indian version of the adventures of ancient Middle Eastern warlord Hamza that runs into eight volumes comprising 8,000 pages),” Farooqui told IANS in an informal chat in the capital.
“We have been able to perform 150 pages in the last five years. I want to narrate more stories from the volume to add to the repertoire.”
A scholar, actor, writer and historian, Farooqui breathed new life into dastangoi in the early part of the decade with performances in the capital and Mumbai, placing it in the mainstream theatrical and literary genre.
Farooqui, who has performed dastangoi with associate Danish Husain and even actor Naseeruddin Shah in several cities across India and Pakistan, and in New York, “usually tells his stories in jugalbandi (duets)”.
Farooqui’s dastangoi act “requires two people who usually listen to each other’s stories and then relate to the audience through the rendering of their tale”.
“Sometimes, I also work with three partners,” the narrator said.
“I remember that Naseeruddin Shah called me after reading one of my interviews in Tehelka magazine and expressed his desire to collaborate with me,” Farooqui recalled.
Also a Bollywood actor, he has been training freshmen in the art.
“In Mumbai, I have a dastangoi repertory of 10 people who perform in smaller cities when I am busy. Some of them are actors while others are newcomers,” Farooqui said.
An act requires a dastango who is fluent in speech and has a “flair for acting”. A dastango, the performer said, “developed by itself during rehearsals”.
“It has no definite text,” he said.
Farooqui is also trying to tell new stories. “In 2007, I wrote a ‘dastangoi’ about the horrors of partition when Urvashi Butalia of Zubaan told me to perform on the 60th year of Indian Independence,” he said.
Farooqui has also performed the “Tales of Four Darvesh” and the “Fasana-e-Azad”, a famous Urdu novel. “I am trying to develop a more original script,” he said.
Dastangoi, which traces its roots to the Persian words “dastans” (long epic like story) and “goi” (the act narration), is a 16th century tradition that emerged in the Islamic courts of the Deccan when the early versions of the adventures of Amir Hamza began to be narrated in India.
The tales of the warlord fighting evil forces became popular during Muslim rule and scaled the heights of glory during Emperor Akbar’s reign when specialised storytellers or dastangos narrated episodes from Hamza both in courts and outside. They either sang the verses or recited them, often accompanied by theatrical gestures. But over the years the art died a slow death as stage theatre became popular.
Recalling his introduction to “Dastan-e-Amir Hamza”, Farooqui said, “In August 2002, S.R. Faruqi, an Islamic scholar, told me to help out somebody who was interested in making a film on it. I read the first volume of Hamza. But it was not until 2004 that I actually attempted to engage seriously with it,” Farooqui said.
He recalled that the “lines were literally crying to be read aloud”. The India International Centre offered Farooqui the stage “to present a lecture demonstration on the form around the time”.
“It was while devising the lecture demonstration that I explored the possibility of performing the text. Traditional dastangoi was restricted to a single performer, the only innovation I made was to rope in another actor,” he said.
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Tags: bollywood actor, chatterjee, duets, farooqui, flair, freshmen, hamza, husain, india and pakistan, islamic tradition, literary genre, mumbai, narrator, naseeruddin shah, New Delhi, newcomers, oral storytelling, rehearsals, repertory, warlord