Seasoned playwright and radio anchor, Danish Iqbal is an inventive mind rolling on many things creative
I have had to wait for this appointment with Danish Iqbal long enough to make infinity intelligible. Over the past week or so, he has been busy location hunting across Haryana for a documentary on that State’s skewed sex ratio. He is the writer of the documentary being directed by M.S. Sathyu. Before that, he was associated with The Wolf and the North Wind, which was based on his concept and directed by Pramila Le Hunte. Earlier this summer, there was Ek Kutte Ki Kahani, a play staged as part of the birth centenary celebrations of Manto. In between, he was in negotiations with Sayeed Alam for a play on the foods of India. And just before that, Danish was wrapping up….well, suffice to say there are more colours on Danish’s firmament than a rainbow contains.
Some day, he is a playwright, another he writes documentaries. Another day, he turns a producer-director. Yet another day sees him as an author just as many an evening he has been a radio jockey. Some ventures are fulfilling, others leave him a shade disappointed.
So, through this summer of searing heat and fickle rains, I have had to learn to wait my turn. The moment finally arrives on a particularly humid afternoon. Danish comes down some 25 kilometres from his apartment in Greater Noida to Red Cross Road in New Delhi from where we walk down to Le Meridien. He gets talking. There is a new acting course at Jamia Millia Islamia’s famous Mass Communication Centre which he has virtually devised, I learn. Then there are new shades he would like to give to the curriculum at the university. He would like to focus on scripts, dialogues and other unsung heroes of creative pursuit. The pride he takes in talking about it reminds me of a father talking of his growing child. His voice barely rises above barely audible level otherwise. Except, of course, when he talks about teaching at Jamia.
The acting course for all age groups seems interesting, but not as half enthusing as the documentary on how women are procured in Haryana. So, you have written the story, I make the mistake of asking. He is polite but prompt to correct me. “It is not a feature film or a short film. It is a real documentary with real people. There is no script or dialogues. If you do a story for a magazine, you can take recourse to concealing your sources. In a documentary, it is much more difficult to get people to open up.” He is clearly waiting for the ‘real’ documentary with ‘real’ people to get rolling, considering he has been researching for it for a while.
As we settle down at Le Meridien’s ample meeting space, he is eager to talk of Sathyu’s documentary. Gradually as he starts giving out finer details, one notices he is a creative guy with a scientific bent of mind. He ferrets out his words with the tender care of a man chiselling his diamonds. Never given to endless sentences spoken with abandon, Danish’s words can be both disquieting and uplifting, depending on what he chooses to share with you. Prodding him leads me to a progressive discovery of my ignorance. “I am not what they would call an everyday theatre person.” Indeed, he is not. He is remarkably well and widely read. “I have read the Vedas and the Mahabharat. I am intrigued by the character of Krishan ji. I want to do a mythological play. There are hardly any mythological plays though the television serials in the 1980s made the epics very popular. I also have a script ready about a play similar to Gandhiji’s three monkeys. Instead of the monkeys, I intend to name three characters Satwant, Godse and Kasab. This is secularism of another kind!”
As he talks of the play, his voice trails off. There is a touch of wistfulness about it as he has had the script with him for a while yet he is waiting for somebody to bankroll it. Never mind, He is happy to flip pages and talk of Amrita: A Sublime Love Story that has travelled across the country from Amritsar to Hyderabad. The play talks of the relationship Amrita Pritam shared with Sahir Ludhianvi even though she was living with Imroz. “I had sent the script to Imroz Sahab. He did not take much interest in it for a long time until one fine morning I got a call from his end. That is how the play came up.” It subsequently had scores of shows and was even scheduled to travel to Pakistan before being cancelled due to political developments there. Danish, a veteran of 26 plays, bears no grudges. He is happy to talk of the positives. “It was a unique relationship that Amrita shared with Sahir,” he says, changes tracks and happily quotes Faiz Ahmed Faiz.
It does not in the least bit surprise me considering he has been anchoring a show replete with poetry for AIR FM Gold for more than a decade now. In fact, Danish was associated with AIR FM right from 1993, having come to Delhi from Hyderabad. One does not come across such shows anymore, I share my anguish with him. “Poetry is not written in a vacuum. Usually, there is some folklore behind it,” he says, and his voice once again trails off. Though he has had great emotional attachment to FM Gold and regards it to be his baby, Danish is not happy talking about the channel.
The reason being a complaint this April that had been made by some presenters about being discriminated against in work allocation and salaries and being subjected to sexual harassment. Accordingly, duty officers N.K. Verma and Shelly were relieved of their duties with immediate effect and Danish, who played a supervisory role in the administration, suspended pending investigation.
Interestingly, after the case came up, he was given the Gandhian Philosophy Award by AIR for the documentary Sandarbhon ke Akashdeep! This followed the award for the best radio play a few years ago for Jungali Booti.
“It is not proper for me to say anything. Some day, the truth will come out,” is all he volunteers, adding, the investigations have not progressed much. Where he has progressed much is in his career as a playwright. With his play The Wolf and the North Wind going truly international — it is to be staged in Edinburgh this August — and another round of Amrita… on the cards, this is one stage which is not bereft of joy.
As we part ways, he has an ace up his sleeve. “I have also done a two-volume book, ‘Conservation of Built Heritage’.” Danish may not be anchoring any show, but his words are still far from being daft, his thoughts anything but cluttered. Though he refuses to wallow in beguiling nostalgia, he has built a volume of work that would be enviable for some one 20 years older. With stage and students, the famous presenter may have just found his anchor! In the fitness of things, the name of one of his forthcoming plays is Main Gaya Waqt Nahin Hoon! He could whisper, no scream, it about himself!
Real people, really