You've met Mahmood Farooqui and Danish Husain in Peepli Live. Meet them again, in the avatar of Dastangos.
To describe what it is like to be transported to a world of kings, queens, magicians, wars and intrigues is difficult. Yet Mahmood Farooqui and Danish Husain managed to do just that with minimal props, using only their voices and facial expressions.
India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) brought Farooqui and Husain to the city to perform “Dastangoi” recently. The duo narrated Dastans (stories) of Amir Hamza, the uncle of Prophet Mohammad, as written in the Tilism-e-Hoshruba chapter in “Dastan-e-Amir Hamza”.
The duo's performance evoked a range of emotions in the audience. Loud wah-wahs filled the hall with every shayari delivered and laughter ensued after humorous one-liners were cracked. Farooqui's jibe at our fixation with the English language elicited guffaws.
“We are so used to speaking in broken Hindi and English. But during this performance, you will be showered with chaste Urdu. It all comes down to the same thing. If we speak in pure Punjabi, Bengali or Malaylam, you won't be able to understand a word!”
Dastans are traditional romantic epics. The “Dastan-e-Amir Hamza” is the single longest romance, which is contained in 46 volumes, each of which is about 900 pages long. Remarkable indeed is the ease with which Farooqui has situated this literary form in theatre performance.
Farooqui and Husain were the co and casting director and actor in “Peepli Live”, respectively. Farooqui is also a Rhodes Scholar who has a vast knowledge on history, theatre and Urdu.
Farooqui, in 2007 as part of IFA's extending arts practice programme, researched and explored Dastangoi to revive its lost tradition as a performed art. He has been successful in staging “Dastangoi” in various places across India. Husain, on the other hand, was inspired by the “immense imagination” these stories had in them. An alumnus of Delhi School of Economics, Husain pursued theatre full time in 2002.
“I first watched Mahmood and Himanshu perform in Virasat, Dehradun. That got me interested in becoming a dastango.”
How has the journey of being dastangos been so far? “I don't think we can fully claim that we are full-fledged dastangos. It's a process that will take time,” says Farooqui. Farooqui hopes “Dastangoi” will enhance Indian theatre tradition.
“It will help create a new space between street and proscenium theatre. We can do a baithak or a musical soiree,” a slight pause later,
Farooqui adds, “I am tired of performing for a bourgeois audience.” Move over awesome, ‘wah-wah' is here to stay.