WHAT IS DASTANGOI ?
As we progress in time, we often forget things of the past and at times lose them forever. They become history. A few chapters in some history book, an article in some journal. At times, not even that. They are gone, lost into oblivion. No guarantee they’ll ever make a comeback. Dastangoi went through a similar fate. An ancient storytelling form that basically originated in Persia, Dastangoi is an art form where stories are narrated to the audience by Dastangos, the one who tells the story. The word Dastangoi has Persian roots. Dastan means tale and goi ‘to tell’, thus making it Dastangoi. With the spread of Islam, Dastangoi reached India through Mughals. It flourished for quite a long time in Delhi and then Lucknow, but by the first quarter of the twentieth century, the art form started losing its popularity and in 1928, when it was performed for the last time, little did people know that the art form would be lost forever. Fortunately, the form was rediscovered and revived by Mehmood Farooqui in 2005 and since then, Dastangoi has become a very popular and important storytelling art form of our times. Primarily, revolving around stories of Hamza Hazrat, Dastangoi has reached beyond its boundaries and different types of stories are being told today. Young Dastangos are trying to experiment with the form and tell stories of different kind that deal with contemporary issues and problems, stories from our own times. Right from Saadat Hasan Manto’s life-story to Gandhi to Alice in Wonderland, the art form has gone beyond its contours and spread itself in different directions. Not just stories, the form has gone beyond the constraints of language and is finding a voice in other languages too, in return helping the dastans from other languages to find their voice.
Danstangoi Gujarati by Mumbai-based theatre director and actor Pritesh Sodha was recently performed at the Prithvi Theatre Festival 2019. RASA AUR DRAMA TIMES speaks to Pritesh Sodha and know what Dastangoi Gujarati is and his work in theatre.
RAD TIMES: Hello Priteshji, Congratulations for the successful performance of your play Dastangoi Gujarati at the Prithvi Festival. What is Dastangoi Gujarati?
Pritesh Sodha: Dastangoi, as you know, basically is an ancient Persian storytelling art form and today is mainly done in Urdu. What I have tried to do is borrow the aesthetics of Dastangoi Gujarati to take these stories to people, why not use the beautiful aesthetics of the form to tell Gujarati stories to people. Also, the form and its aesthetics are such that it is very easier to limit the form to one religion, one community. The costumes, the way of sitting in vajrasana, the sitting arrangement. It is easier to reject something by calling it the ‘other’ these days. I thought why not bring the two cultures closer and try to reduce the distance. Dastangoi Gujarati is an attempt to do the same: Reduce the distance and accept everyone. and tell stories in Gujarati. I love Gujarati; it is my mother tongue. Our language and our stories, in my opinion, are not reaching the audience. People have stopped reading or the reading has become limited to English. I mean, people will read Harry Potter but not literature from their own languages. I thought, maybe we are not presenting these stories in an interesting way. Therefore, we thought why not use an interesting format like Dastangoi to take these stories to people, why not use the beautiful aesthetics of the form to tell Gujarati stories to people. Also, the form and its aesthetics are such that it is very easier to limit the form to one religion, one community. The costumes, the way of sitting in vajrasana, the sitting arrangement. It is easier to reject something by calling it the ‘other’ these days. I thought why not bring the two cultures closer and try to reduce the distance. is an attempt to do the same: Reduce the distance and accept everyone.
RAD TIMES: How did you discover Dastangoi?
Pritesh Sodha: To be honest, I am a big fan of late Ankit Chadha. I once saw his performance in Delhi and I was immensely fascinated by that. I liked the way he told the story and also the form attracted me. That’s how I got to know about Dastangoi. Then I started thinking about doing something similar in Gujarat. It was Hitendra Anandpara who thought of Dastangoi Gujarati. He too liked Ankit very much. He conceived the idea and then we made it together. That’s how Dastangoi Gujarati was born.
RAD TIMES: What was the process of adaptation? How did you select the stories?
Pritesh Sodha: Stories chosen are a mix of both – old and new. We have selected stories by veterans of Gujarati Literature like Pannalal Patel, Zhaverichand Meghani, Dhumketu, Chunilal Madhia and also from new writers like Ketan Munshi and Ajay Oza. The old and the new stories are performed alternatively. And even the performers come from different age groups. Actors like Pratap Sachdeo from the earlier generation and young actors like Pratik Gandhi, the star of Gujarati film industry and Bhamini Oza Gandhi are a part of the team.
RAD TIMES: Have you made any changes to the form?
Pritesh Sodha: No, the format remains the same. Just the language changes. Instead of Urdu, it is Gujarati. Rest remains the same. The white costumes, the cap, sitting arrangement, lighting. Nothing changes. Just the language.
RAD TIMES: I mean, Dastangoi is primarily performed by one or two Dastangos and your team includes about 4-5 actors. How is this different from the traditional format?
Pritesh Sodha: There is no change as such. Though we have more than two performers, the storytelling is done by only two persons at a time. Two performers follow with a new story. We wanted to provide different Rasas to the audience: Bhaya, Raudra. Gujarati Theatre has limited itself only to some rasas. In Dastangoi Gujarati, we have tried to present a variety of stories, emotions, and experiences to the audience.
RAD TIMES: Have you tried to bring in the elements of Urdu in your play. If yes, how?
Pritesh Sodha: No, that is what the main focus is. Gujarati language. As I told you, I love Gujarati and our aim was to present the beauty of our language through the stories.
RAD TIMES: Ohh, Okay. That is interesting. How is the response? How has been the experience so far?
Pritesh Sodha: Wonderful. Bahot hi positive response hai. It is amazing. They tell us that they haven’t seen something like this before in Gujarati. The older people come and bless us. Isn’t it a big thing?
RAD TIMES: I don’t think there has been any such experiment with Dastangoi in Gujarati before this.
Pritesh Sodha: No. Atleast not at this level, with big names of the Gujarati Stage. Actually, there is no storytelling kind of thing in Gujarati theatre. One or two performers narrating a story to the audience is unknown. I don’t think this has happened earlier. I think it is for the first time where actors like Pratapji and Pratik Gandhi are involved.
RAD TIMES: Any further plans with the form Dastangoi?
Pritesh Sodha: Yes, definitely. We have already started working on it. This is just the beginning. A trailer. People have liked the experiment. People want more of this. There are many stories and tales that we’d like to take to the audience, present before them. We have already been selected for the Kala Ghoda Festival next.
RAD TIMES: What else other than Dastangoi Gujarati are you working on presently?
Pritesh Sodha: We have already done 50 shows of Mara Astya Na Prayogo. It is like Gandhiji’s Experiments with Truth. His was Satya, we are dealing with Asatya. 1 Actor plays 36 characters. Today, it is easier and safer to lie than to say the truth. Life has become comfortable under the blanket of lies. The idea is to tell people that if they try to clean the rust that is stuck on their minds because of society, they’ll find Gandhi in themselves. There’s no need to go and find him outside. There’s another play am working on which will be out in December. It is about Narsinh Mehta, the great poet. I have tried to imagine what would happen if he decides to take birth again today. I thought he’d think that if he is to live today, he’ll have to learn English. There is no other way to survive. It is basically a conversation between him – Narsinh Mehta and an English writer. It will be a comedy, a satire of sorts. The concept is being developed. It will be ready till December and out for the audience soon.
RAD TIMES: Seems quite interesting. How do you approach theatre? What is your philosophy?
Pritesh Sodha: I try to keep my plays minimal. Even Dastangoi is like that. Not much is required. All my plays are performed in that way. See, Aaj ki duniya do tarah se chal sakti hai. Minimalism or Maximalism. Keep it minimal and reach people. Or make it maximal, spend money and attract people towards you. (RAD TIMES : There’s no midway.) At least I think so. I like to keep it minimal. It opens up a lot of spaces for me. I started doing theatre on terraces of buildings. We can perform it anywhere. If people want us to perform at their house, we can do it. There is no problem. The thing is to reach people. Minimalism helps a lot in that.
RAD TIMES: You call yourself a theatrepreneur. What is it? Does it have anything to do with your MBA marketing?
Pritesh Sodha:Mujhe theatre hi karna hai aur isise survive bhi karna hai. (laughs) Yes. I thought I have the skills that I got while I was doing MBA: management, Cost sheets etc. and I have always been interested in theatre. Even during college, I was doing theatre. In 2006, when I started doing theatre full-time, I thought why not try using my MBA skill set and do something around theatre. The idea of theatrepreneurship began from there. Other than acting and directing plays, I conduct workshops, do productions for schools and colleges, take theatre to people if they cannot come to us. This helps me in keeping myself occupied with theatre activities and also earn my livelihood. See, I don’t want to work or take up a job in the morning and do theatre in the evening.
Not that take up a part in a film, take up a job. I don’t want to earn crores of rupees. I am happy till I am able to fulfill my needs doing theatre. I want to see what else can be done in the art form and keep doing theatre.
RAD TIMES: Priteshji, at the end of the your TED TALK that I saw on Youtube, you quote Shakespeare’s line All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances and say ‘I’ll just make a little profit out of it.’ I think that is beautiful. It was a wonderful experience talking to you. Thanks a lot.
P.S: Thank you. 😊
I love to read, write, watch and study films.