November 13, 2018 TUESDAY: After solo trekking for a week in Agonda and then travelling 14 hours in an overnight bus to reach Ambernath late afternoon with a nice back ache....... I'd little physical energy to pack my evening to travel again to and fro four hours all the way to Prithvi Theatre, Juhu. How could I've missed two back to back events!
Another excitement was in sharing some of my favourite Mumbai artists with my nephew, Savyasachi Anju Prabir, who is currently in town on holidays from his Masters degree on Visual Anthropology, Media and Documentaries course in Munster, Germany. Here is a quick review of the two events from my Culture Call lens.
EVENT # 1
Tracing The Era of Hindustani/Urdu Theatre
Shama Zaidi, Jameel Gulrays, and Salim Arif in a conversation with Danish Husain tracing the early days, and the principal architects of Hindustani-Urdu theatre with focus on Mumbai.
The speakers were not formally introduced. That probably because they are well-known personalities in theatre.
Danish Husain of the Hoshruba Repertory began the Urdu Mehfil conversation by first giving the floor to Shama Zaidi - an eminent journalist, theatre and film personality.
To summarise, Shama Zaidi emphasised on how Urdu theatre's origin has been influenced by Sanskrit theatre - and in turn influenced modern Indian theatre including in various other countries.
Salim Arif gave a better perspective to audience about how Parsi companies found the commercial interest in Urdu language although adopted the architectural set up of the theatre from the West. Interestingly, the Hindustani-Urdu theatre did not limit to Mumbai but travelled across the country through these companies.
Jameel Gulrays detailed powerpoint presentation highlighted the influence of Agha Hashar Kashmiri in Urdu-Hindi theatre, in particular Yahudi ki Ladki published around 1915 and later was adopted in Bollywood film, while his first play, Aftab-e-Muhabbat, was published in around 1890s. For an novice like me, I liked his presentation.
Danish Husain facilitated the event by highlighting the historical timeline since late 17th century - taking note of influence of trade, space, theatre companies among others - that shaped Urdu theatre in India.
This is my first time at Mehfil@Prithvi. My knowledge about Urdu theatre history is next to zero. Its a shame that we'd to leave after an hour to grab a quick snack before the next show.
Yet, during my one hour of attendance, I felt that Danish could've moderated the first two speakers' talk - to streamline their thoughts focussed on the topic.
The last part of panel discussion and conclusion that I missed makes me curious to learn more about how Urdu-Hindustani theatre personalities have adapted during the British era and the changes that occurred since then... and its impact till now - in writing as well as in performance approach.
Such a powerful talk one would expect to draw a huge crowd, but less than a dozen audience in the room makes me wonder whatever happened to Mumbai's interest in such cultural events. So, if you are reading this post do spread the word and join this event every second Tuesday of the months and guess what its in bilingual (English and Hindi) and open to all and for free!
Urdu Mehfil is curated by Hoshruba Repertory under the aegis of Prithvi Theatre every second Tuesday of the Month from 7pm onwards at Prithvi House, Janki Kutir, Juhu, Mumbai.
EVENT # 2
A Farming Story by Faezeh Jalali
Jalali's two previous plays - 07/07/07 and Shikhandi - the story of in-betweens had mesmerised me (see my previous Culture Call posts to read its review). She created a tremendous expectations from her earlier hits.
One hour 40 minutes play with a ten minute break, A Farming Story, is an English play written by Vineet Bhalla. A kind of fantasy story about the current state of affairs reflecting on human beings' struggle. As the synopsis reads:
A small community of farming Hummals (human animals) is struggling to survive after environmental conditions have resulted in repeated crop failures. The villagers of this community are in debt to the Estate which owns all the land. Into this world arrive Hummal monkeys, fleeing from devastating forest fires. They hope to find refuge in the village. The villagers are deeply divided about this. When a mysterious disease destroys the community's livestock, the Estate blames the monkeys, who are then, imprisoned. What ensues is a fight not only for survival, but also beliefs of compassion, bravery and wisdom.Their world eerily reflects ours, with all-powerful corporations, environmental damage, genetically modified seeds, abject poverty and mass migrations to cities.
Here's my take: the actors were fabulous. The use of props and stage is just relevant and beautiful. The hairstyle and vintage props couldn't have been more apt. The fundamental challenge I think is with the script. It looked more of a film script. The first 30 min of the play just dragged and it became a long introduction without music, satire and with too much of dialogues. Some elements were not essential.. for example, the fighting sequence absolutely didn't fit in the play.
I was hoping to see the magic of Jalali. It failed, although not completely.
Something is missing in this play...
One of the female protagonists in a wheel chair brings out an underlying Jalali's signature - gender/women dimension. I didn't find any moment in the play to laugh - though some people in the audience were laughing... it made me wondered what was I missing!
With my expertise in forest land tenure and gender expert, 'A Farming Story' sounds like a perfect fit for any International Development organisations' outreach message. In other words, there was too much moral of the story and theatrical dimension got lost in the process.
As such I'd recommend you to go watch it for the sake of the social equity issues - combining migration, forest fire, GMO, community land rights etc - that this play raises. Yet, this is not a direct political theatre about staging a revolution.
As for theatrical experience this play could've been fit in 45 min. The script is the main culprit.
Otherwise, A Farming Story is a relatively nice play even though nothing extraordinary in the storyline.
Both the events - UrduMehfil@Prithvi and A Farming Story - reminds me of how theatre in India lost its 'social activism' tag, which used to be prominent in 1970 and gradually disappearing by 2000.
Do read this piece 'Staging a revolution: can theatre be an effective form of activism?'.. questioning how the arts effect social change.
Post two back to back events in one evening it was nice to get an opportunity to reflect while we both hogged prawn gassi with appam at Mahesh Lunch home restaurant around 11:45 pm in Juhu! That's only possible in Bombay!
This post is part of Culture Call www.purabibose.com
After a low-key Onam sadya*, I'd a beautiful evening listening to storytelling, i.e. Qissebaazi in Urdu language.
Theatre events in Mumbai used to be known for its punctuality. This is changing rapidly. Today's show got delayed nicely by 20 mins - when it comes to timing I am more Dutch than a Dutch citizen and I arrive 20 mins before time! Anyways, during this 40 mins waiting time I'd a chance to continue playing on phone 'Godot Godot' - with 8 year son of my friend. He acts Pozzo and I'm his Lucky ..
This is my second blog on Qissebaazi already in three months! In May, while dealing with Mumbai summer wave, I'd watched for the first time Qissebaazi and I spontaneously became a fan. Since then I have been following this unique storytelling show in Mumbai, which is directed by Danish Husain under his production company, the Hoshruba Repertory. A few days ago, my nephew suggested a couple of indie Hindi films (a fact that I watched more Iranian & Latino films than Bollywood Hindi films) and one of the suggested films I happen to watch on Netflix was Ankhon Dekhi.. a nice surprise to see Husain in this film and to learn he is also a film actor.
The two performances lined up for today's event at Hive, the Great Eastern Company, Byculla, Mumbai were in Malayalam and Urdu languages. The uniqueness in appreciating this art form of storytelling lies in the idea to bridge the culture gap breaking language barriers. To me Qissebaazi is one of the most creative form of art using storytelling in a culturally diverse country like India, particularly, more so in this current political scenario.
All my indie documentaries under the Landing Together films are multilingual primarily to have a culture of language inclusivity - showcasing diverse ethnic tribal and indigenous peoples' languages bridge nature conservation. For example, when I use different tribal/adivasi languages in my film to narrate a social issue, it brings a deep cultural meaning with power wherein language is not just to share the information/ story, but to show how it shapes protagonist's opinions, perceptions, customs, and builds (or breaks) collective identities. Probably that's another reason why I am better able to connect with Qissebaazi's unique format.
Danish Husain's justification to tell stories in different languages works well because of the way he understands his audience and uses creativity in executing the stories. He does so by dividing each story into two languages. A 'core' language is that of the text, and a symbolic 'bridge' language often either in Hindi or English that helps the audience to comprehend the story.
By bringing stories in original language(s) in front of an urban-literate audience raises a crucial question about their 'languaculture adaptability' i.e. how do audience from culturally diverse background understand a story in a foreign language that belongs to another culture.
Padma Damodaran, opened her story with a Malayalam poem - a tribute to Kerala's fishermen who extended their unconditional support in disaster rescue operations during the recent floods. She picked up a beautiful story, 'Wooden Dolls', written by Karoor Neelakantha Pillai - of course, none from the audience (including me, I was born after his death) knew this famous short story writer. I'm not elaborating the plot here. Padma kept her audience engaged till the end - using Malyalam as core and English as the bridge language.
I liked the structure of today's programme wherein Danish did the introduction, followed by Padma's dance-song-story, and finally Danish wrapping up with a nice dastangoi/storytelling from Dastan-e-Amir-Hamza in bilingual - Urdu and Hindi. You might want to attend one of this storytelling events.
On my way back home - two hours train journey - looking at August's beautiful Sturgeon full moon made me ponder on how nature and art has been separated in Mumbai's urban setting.
I wish we can have some daredevil artists taking their art events to beaches, forts and mountain camps and pushing the urbanites out of their pigeon holes to enjoy theatre, storytelling, dance in relatively natural settings.... But, I doubt whether mainstream audience is ready to leave their popcorn comfort zone of watching commercial Bollywood films.
At least I am exploring option to screen my films in open sky theatre.. or forests. Till then time to prepare for my short film screenings, including one in India at Vikalp@Prithvi, Prithvi theatre, Mumbai on Friday, 26/10.
*Onam is a harvest festival originated and celebrated in the southern state of Kerala. Onam sadya is a typical traditional homemade food to celebrate this festival.
Including his poems and travelogues among many other hats, Ibn-e-Insha has also been regarded as one of the best humorists of Urdu. 'Urdu Ki Akhari Kitab' is one of his brilliant work touching on our education system. Though he wrote this book a few decades ago, but it unfortunately continues to be relevant even today. I'd the honour to watch (once again Danish Husain) a play with the same title at Prithvi theatre, Mumbai.
My short-term interest in primary education was inculcated in college while interning at one of the Aga Khan Schools in Dongri, and at TISS with Jeroo Billimoria. I have this paper-back thin worn out book, Urdu ki Akhari Kitab, somewhere in back of my book shelf that I'd bought on my way back from first ever trip to Agra .... would read everything on education system from Paulo Freire, Jean Dreze to Ibn-e-Insha and Pierre Bourdieu.
Those days I was working with Pratham Education Foundation, Mumbai assisting the the Shatak Zhep programme i.e. making Maths a fun subject through play-way in primary municipal schools of Mumbai. Yet, it was just one incident that changed my decision to discontinue interest in education - that early morning of July when I got stuck in one of Pratham's selected Ghatkopar municipal schools in Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar in 1997. The first-hand experience of seeing violence in my fieldwork area was enough for me to change my career trajectory to move out of Mumbai, and focus on tribal development.
Danish Husain super brilliantly directs this play bringing in soft touches of contemporary issues. He acted along with Yasir Iftikhar Khan. The 70 min performance could be categorised as a satire, or stand-up type comedies. Doesn't matter how you identify, it is all about putting the dose in a small capsule that makes you laugh even if its a bitter truth.
Let me put it this way, I was a bit baffled at times when audience continued to laugh... In fact, in the last scene - where one of the characters sitting among the audience challenge Husain and runs behind him to attack - I was wondering what's so hilarious in this, but perhaps that's the reality too, that we continue to laugh even in real life incidences around us! Satirical to the core.
Both Iftikhar Khan and Danish Husain will steal your heart.. i.e. if you allow yourself by being in the show!
You don't need to read the book before you watch this show.. the actors will explain you all about the style Ibn-e-Insha adopted such as asking a few questions after each chapter of History, Science, Maths, Geography...
Varun Gupta on tabla and Shantanu Helrekar on harmonium deliver spot on music. Shantanu's vocal could actually beat Tan Sen - amazing voice. All songs/poems are brilliantly lined up in the script.
The use of audiovisuals in the background kind of merges with the mood of the theme that is presented.
Good work by Danish Husain in giving the due recognition to Ibn-e-Insha's this piece of work, and building those lost connections of our cultural geography.
The Godrej India Culture Lab has been churning out amazing events. I've been missing them due to my travel commitments. This week I'd blocked to paint the apartment, and for the 'Urdu Culture Now' event organized by the Godrej Culture Lab at Vikhroli, Mumbai. Just an hour journey by Ambernath local train, this event was a nice pre-monsoon break that was much needed from my DIY apartment painting mode.
The event was nicely curated by a group of students, including two students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), who were the first batch of Leadership Program Fellows. For me, it's always an honour to meet my humble motivating TISSian Profs Anjali Monterio and Jaysankar.. I still continue to draw inspiration from them and from their dedication in media and cultural studies.
The event was a delicious kichidi of everything - almost everything - that comes under the umbrella of Urdu. It included: art exhibit, panel discussion, performances, and culinary delicacies.
The exhibit corner was small and nice with mix of poster work by Zeenat Kulavoor and Nasheet Shadani, books, Sound Zone, and even a Sticker corner - a sticker with your favourite poet's few quotes made a good take home souvenir. The Ghalib's famous quote printed in Urdu and Roman Script:
hazaroñ khvãhisheñ aisi ki har khvahish pe dam nikle
bahut nikle mere armän lekin phir bhi kam nikle magna
Urdu aur mein
It was Dec 1985: the first anniversary of the Bhopal disaster. My first-ever trip outside Maharastra.
As a 10 year old I was the only child member of a singing group, Lok Sanskriti Kendra, which was somewhat an extension of a cultural wing of a political party. It didn't matter to me.. I was too young to understand politics, but the songs were motivating and I enjoyed the idea of going to places (Bombay mills union or farmer's movement) to sing! Proshanto da and Munni didi received an invitation for the team to sing at an event to mark the first anniversary in Bhopal. I was given a condition that my school class teacher of 5th standard/grade would've to give me permission! My class teacher was Hindi expert and her condition was I'd have to write an essay from my trip experience... something like Back to Office Report, but in Hindi! So I got a week's leave to visit Bhopal.
We did the singing, and also were taken to field visit for meeting the families affected by the gas tragedy. As a child, I must have been in utter shock to see the impact of the disaster and began sobbing. Abba, one of the families who had lost his 8 yr old grandson in the Bhopal disaster, wanted to cheer me up. As an expression of love he gifted me one of his books in Urdu script with poems of Mir Taqi Mir, the 18th century Urdu poet. He made me memorize the name of this poet. He'd written my name in Urdu script on this gift book. It was a rich treasure for me and first familiarization with Urdu script. Urdu is one of the 12+ languages and dialects I think I understand ;-) Comprehending languages marks mastering in listening, talking, reading and writing - some languages I read and write better while others I can express/talk better. Urdu is the language that I am good at listening.. can't read and write, not yet.
The panel included poet Hussain Haidry, artist Zeenat Kulavoor, and Executive Editor of the Wire Urdu Mahtab Alam. I liked the way Annie Zaidi, writer and journalist, moderated smartly the discussion. A good line up but I guess there was no preparation among the panelist on the kind of discussion - it was more impromptu - which is fine, but wasn't knocking intellectual door. One reason I think for relatively weak discussion was that the topic of the panel was too generic.
Hussain Haidry was asked to recite one of his poem by Annie, which he did brilliantly except that the last verse he was unable to recollect. Zeena Kulavoor I think is doing nice work with Urdu script, but she kind of failed to capitalise in sharing her talent - this was despite Annie's moderation in giving her a chance to share/describe with audience different types of formats of script within Urdu. Mahtab Alam tried to touch upon the issue of Urdu as a language and its existence, but overall the panel discussion revolved around Urdu in Bollywood.
Or, perhaps I was expecting a bit too much from this panel.
Danish Hussain created a good mood in the audience. He'd about 20 min slot, which in normal scenario is the time taken by the storytellers to build up a tempo with the audience.
In brief, it was like a peck in the cheek
As an amazing actor, he did his performance flawlessly - sharing information about Dastangoi and its historical transition over the centuries; how in 1881 first Dastan-e-Amir-Hamza stories published making it one of the longest written story; his theatre company the Hoshruba Repertory's approach of using multi-lingual storytelling; and finally throwing few examples of diversity of story telling - dastan-e-rokna, serafa, and aiyyari or trickery - all sweetly wrapped up in the limited given time.
If one digs beyond Danish Hussain's storytelling its also all about making Urdu language public and 'marketable' - I'm using the term that Mahtab Alam had raised in the panel discussion.
It was only a couple of weeks ago that I'd my first chance to see Danish's performance (read my blog Qissebaazi in May 2018). With today's glimpse I'm hoping to see many more in the near future.
Pop-music and Urdu might sound like a strange bedfellows, but that's what Winit Tikoo is trying to proof the otherwise. I am not a pop music person, and anything new takes time for me to sink in.
As such Winit Tikoo's performance was nice, and the audience enjoyed it. Always nice to see people with deep passion. He is one of them striving to compose music of Hindustani/ Urdu/Hindi poets independently as an artist.
The traditional food, dawaat, was a nice arrangement (for an orphan/solo me). Food always is a good excuse to engage people to interact.
I loved this event and was glad to see it happening here in India/Vikhroli at the Godrej Culture Lab, which eventually (hopefully) will be a big plus towards building a creative commons.
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you ~ said Maya Angelou.
The art of storytelling is what kept human civilisation's love for culture intact. Stories are like a river it keeps flowing even if it has a barrier it flows by changing the route, but never stops. As someone once told me,
...[If] you want to understand a culture then listen to their stories.
The month of May I'm rarely around in Mumbai, but this year am ready to experience the heat and humidity. Mango allergy (thanks to calcium cyanide chemical used for ripening this commercial fruit) kicked me nicely already this summer. Mangoes and summer month refreshed my childhood memories. During the afternoons - before the days of air conditions and mobile phones - the summer school holidays for us was hanging under the mango, lemon and jackfruit trees with punjabi, marathi, sindhi and bengali friends playing 'story-story' and practicing 'abriti' (a Bengali word for reciting poems). Few days ago, I received a notification about upcoming event Qissebaazi, and I couldn't resist to click @BookMyShow.
About 65km distance i.e. two hours by central local train - that's only one-way journey to listen to a story-telling all the way to Mumbai's Byculla area is something people in my neighbourhood would find hilarious.
This is just to explain you the culture of thy neighbourhood matters...
Interestingly, The Hive @the Great Eastern Home is nicely tucked 5 minutes around the corner of famous Byculla Zoo. The only lovely memories of the zoo are of the two Baobabs, rest of the zoo's fauna hope finds freedom from chains :-) My first time to the Hive (haven't been to their Bandra location, yet) and am totally impressed with the decor and ambience. The seats @the Hive for the performance was all full by the time I arrived and was lucky to find one seat on the front row - an advantage of travelling single ;-)
What to expect when you know nothing about the actors, directors or the stories - I dislike the idea of googling reviews before the plays. The smooth drum beats and soft green lights on the 'stage' background helped audience to calm down - and I was ready to listen. The first story was by the Danish Husain, the director himself.
The interesting part of this storytelling was using multi-lingual - Urdu, Malayalam and Hindustani/ Hindi.
I was told that the trick of listening to storytelling is to maintain the eye contact with the protagonist, which I realised immediately. The audience of about fifty people kept uttering Wah Wah .. just was an indicator how actors managed to engage the audience.
An approach of Dastangoi - the art of storytelling - is about engaging the audience rather than keeping them as mere spectators, which dastango Danish Husain nicely executed in the first 30 mins. The storytelling itself was one tiny bit from dastan e-Amir Hamza's stories. The voice, body language and eye movements and captivating punchlines were completing the words of the story. Just as much exciting it is to know there are thousands of stories to be told from Amir Hamza's work I hope to return to watch Husain's work again. I'm impressed.
The next half an hour was another story telling by Padma Damodaran. Damodaran began her performance - a dance and singing in Malayalam. She stops and engages with the audience to translate the meaning of title - a tale of rabbit - and asks audience to repeat the words in Malayalam (Muyol = rabbit).. and she jokes away smartly hinting to the long debate of North and South India's language culture. What amused me is she was using her entire body, unlike a static storyteller - she was dancing and acting while telling a beautiful story. Though it may appear as a children's story, but you know its so much of those untold stories within the story you are listening leaving it entirely on the audience to interpret - gun control, animal cruelty, love, parent-child relationship.. damn, I am just imagining!
The final half an hour was equally enthralling by Udit Parashar. I am not going to tell his story but let me tell you that never before this show I thought that there can be a story all about 'spitting'. Udit's voice modulation, expression and his style of using minimum movement, yet strategic one kept audience capsized (at least me!). His storytelling ended without any ends, and though the audience gave a loud sound of clapping the murmurs was like, "I want to know how it (the story) ends.... can't we continue!"
Overall, Qissebaazi acts like a teaser to pull you towards the addiction of listening to stories - and it works!
Knowing that after the show I will reach home around mid-night, I'd packed some fresh baked goodies including ginger nankhatai from the famous American Express Bakery (Byculla West).
It was a good idea to munch while travelling back in the Karjat fast local train.. although I knew that the hunger to hear more stories just got worsen after this amazing Qissebaazi performance.
More stories to be continued....
P.S. The crowd was South Mumbaikaris, but the ticket cost at INR 300 was a plus for many to enjoy the show.
I haven't seen the above youtube link of Qissebaazi performance, but you might want to check it.
There is nothing like a live show.