Two gentlemen dressed in crisp white angrakhas sit back and tell you the most interesting tales.
Dastans if you will, of the beautiful princess Chauboli, those of Mahabharata and even stories about Partition, among many others.
This is part of the ancient art of Persian storytelling known as Dastangoi. Theatre director and writer Mahmood Farooqui has brought back this 16th-century art of storytelling back to Indian theatre spaces.
And city audiences can witness mesmerising performances at the Dastangoi Summer Festival which is being presented by Dastangoi Collective at Akshara Theatre.
Farooqui, co-director of the Bollywood film Peepli Live and author of Besieged, Voices From Delhi, 1857 is known to be the reviver of the art form.
His brainchild, Dastangoi Collective has been putting together many dastans (tales) from Dastan-e-Amir Hamza also known as Hamzanama.
“When I came to do Dastangoi under the guidance of Shamshur Rehman Farooqi, I drew on my theatre experience and made the innovation of having two people perform the dastan unlike the olden times when only one person performed. This innovation made the art more dialogue based and brought it to theatre spaces,” says Farooqui about the revival.
The group, meanwhile, has also written their own modern dastans on Partition and other topical issues.
For example, Poonam Girdhani’s latest Dastan-e-Irfaan-e-Buddh which was staged last month, narrates the tale of Gautam Buddha in the form of Jataka tales.
The script utilises Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit and Pali all at the same time. Girdhani, who has previously performed Dastan Raja Vikram ke Ishq Ki, Dastan-E-Chauboli and Dastan Alice Ki, has penned it herself.
“I have been trained in theatre. So I think in terms of sequences and pauses. When I started writing, I did not know where to start. Later, I realised that one has to tell the story, and not enact on stage,” says Girdhani who is also one of the few women dastangos in India.
On the growth of dastangoi, Syed Shadab Husain says, “Farooqui saab has taken dastangoi to every continent. There are performances held in every part of the country now.
"People like Danish Husain are reviving the art in Mumbai which also has a huge theatre audience. People enjoy watching this kind of humanistic storytelling because of the dialogues and the love for the language of Urdu. We have our regular audiences who enjoy this immersive experience.”
Shadab who is the Head of Operations at the programmes department of India Habitat Centre, has been part of Dastangoi Collective for the last two years. He will be performing for the first time at this festival.
When asked about the challenges of using Urdu in dastangoi, Shadab says, “People tend to think that Urdu is difficult words, not realising how much we use it in our everyday lives in form of Bollywood music and other forms of entertainment.”
At: Akshara Theatre, Delhi, 11-B, Baba Kharak Singh Marg,
Closest Metro Stations: Rajiv Chowk, Patel Chowk and RK Ashram
Dastangoi Summer Festival 2019
Dastan Amir Hamza aur Amar Ayyaar ke Bachpan Ki by Usman and Amina
July 12, 7:00 pm onwards
Dastan Little Prince Ki by Poonam Girdhani & Rajesh Kumar
8:15 pm onwards
Dastan-e-Sedition by Rana Pratap Senger & Rajesh Kumar
July 13, 5:00 pm onwards
Dastan e Partition by Meera Rizvi & Syed Shadab Hussain
5:45 pm onwards
Raag Darbari by Darain Shahidi & Mahmood Farooqui
7: 00 pm onwards