Danish Husain tells Pheroze L. Vincent about brand Dastangoi and coming back to the proscenium
It started with a vacuum of boring evenings. And, led to a revival of a traditional art of storytelling. The spirit that brought Danish Husain to the performing arts has brought him back to the stage where it all began.
Danish staged Ira Lewis’ play Chinese Coffee at the Old World Theatre Festival last week. The play, also known for its film adaptation by Al Pacino, brought the Hollywood legend back to the stage in 1993. It was the second play for Danish this year, after Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape in March — marking his return to proscenium theatre after almost six years.
Danish, who was a banker, initially turned to theatre to make better use of his evenings. “I had not done theatre earlier, I wasn’t following it. The only name I could recall was Barry John,” he explains.
After a three-month theatre workshop with Barry in 1998-99 at his Theatre Action Group studio in Noida’s Film City, Danish starred in Vijay Tendulkar’s Khamosh! Adalat Jaari Hai. “I could only do two plays a year as I had to balance it with the demands of my bank job,” he says.
In 2002, he quit his last bank job at Standard Chartered and took up theatre as a profession. Then in 2005, he performed in Habib Tanvir’s Agra Bazar at the Virasat festival in Dehradun. There he met Mahmood Farooqui who had just started Dastangoi performances, and ever since, the duo is known for Dastangoi presentations.
Dastangoi — a theatrical and stylised form of telling stories — was an oral tradition popular in Delhi, Lucknow, Rampur and Hyderabad from the 16th to the early 20th Century. Tales of love, war and magic were passed down through generations. Performers dramatically narrate these tales to the audience and bring the story alive through their expressions, tones and gestures.
“In the last seven years, Dastangoi has become a brand. It is recognised, as we wished, as a different form of performance and not just another theatre production. We’ve come to a stage where we don’t need to invite people,” he says.
The duo has added modern tales to the repertoire, like Rabindranath Tagore’s Ghare Baire, Vijay Dan Deta’s Chauboli, stories of Binayak Sen’s incarceration and Saadat Hasan Manto’s stories of Partition.
Mahmood and Danish were also involved in films, the most famous of which was Peepli Live, which Mahmood’s wife Anusha Rizvi directed. “With Dastangoi and other projects, I had neglected proscenium theatre. But, by the end of 2011 I realised I could divide time better between Dastangoi and theatre,” he explained.
The success of Dastangoi has spurred Danish to return to the proscenium to explore playwrights he admires. He started the Hoshruba Repertory, which has a studio at Shahpur Jat, this year. He surprised critics when he chose Krapp’s Last Tape — an obtuse and difficult script and a dark play — to script his comeback.
“Instead of trying to please many and being unable to do what you want to, it is ideal to please a few and do what you want to do. You may not instantly find an audience but by constantly performing with the same level of labour and thought, you can find the critical mass of audience you need. It’s a long haul, but the dividends are better.”
Currently he is studying the works of Neil Simon, Peter Shaffer, Vijay Tendulkar, Badal Sircar, Tom Stoppard, Harold Pinter and Bertolt Brecht. He is particularly keen on adapting the short stories of Ali Akbar Natiq, the renowned contemporary Urdu writer from Pakistan. Danish is also contemplating writing his own plays.
The Delhi Theatre Circuit group on Facebook, which he started, has become the cynosure of theatre buffs in cyberspace. It is a notice board for theatre events and professionals. The group is a democratic one with 30 administrators. The 4095 members can add others they feel are interested in the art.
“Theatre across the globe is impoverished except in places like Broadway (New York). It is meaningless to ask for support. If you work for funding from day one, you lose control,” he reveals. Danish also lectures and conducts workshops on theatre or using theatre as a medium to convey ideas. “Keeping theatre at the core, these activities will hopefully lead to those with money purses seeing that this is something worth investing in,” he says.