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“Qissebaazi: A Multilingual Storytelling”- Wah, Wah, Wah!

 

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My partner in all cultural pursuits- my brother!

As my father’s sedan snaked through the by-lanes of an extremely crowded Shadi Khampur in West Delhi; I was plagued with doubts on my mission. Fortunately, I had my brother Anhad for company, so the experience seemed more adventure, less horror story. We were looking for a tiny experimental theatre space called Studio Safdar, where an old college friend was performing in “Qissebaazi”, a multilingual storytelling session.

We managed to take our car all the way in, despite being advised to take a rickshaw. Nestled in between a tiny chemist and some dark alleys, we found a bookshop called “May Day”. A board announced that Studio Safdar was located inside. We walked into a small but crowded room that was immediately reassuring. A bookstore on one side and art space on the other; Studio Safdar is an interesting place. It claims to be an “independent space for arts and activism”, established in 2012 by the Jana Natya Manch (Janam), a leading political street theatre group.

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May Day Bookstore, Shadi Khampur

The bookstore itself has plenty of character. An entire wall is dedicated to second-hand classics; and the newer books are unique, independent publications, in a plethora of languages. There is also a children’s section with illustrated books in Hindi and English. The theatre is literally a black box, with a square area demarcated for the performances. The audience sits in two massive steps round the center stage. The space can host around 50 people.

“Qissebaazi” is a storytelling session directed by the famous Danish Hussain, from the Hoshruba Repertory. It has been performed a number of times in Bombay and premiered in Delhi on October 20. It was previously performed with many rounds of storytelling in various languages, but this Delhi performance had only two. The first one performed by Saattvic in Sanskrit and the second in Urdu by Hussain himself.

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A unique theatre space- Studio Safdar

While the audience settled, Saattvic regaled us with his skills on the tabla, an Indian percussion instrument. A compere then explained the concept of the show and gave a brief background of its journey so far. I was afraid I wouldn’t understand anything, as no translations were promised. As soon as Saattvic started speaking, however, it was clear the show would be easy to comprehend.

Both the performers used pure forms of their chosen languages but wove seamless explanations in both Hindi and English; often quite humorously. They frequently referenced current happenings and made tongue-in-cheek political statements. There was liberal use of hand movements and bodily gestures, making it a captivating show.

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Saattvic on the origin of drama in Sanskrit

Saattvic’s story was taken from the introductory paragraph of the Natya Shastra, where he waxed lyrical about the origins and importance of drama. His training in classical Hindustani music held him in good stead as he sang, played the tablas, and energetically performed in tandem.

Hussain’s story about political espionage had an engaging subject, made even more so with his masterful narration. Hussain lived the characters, his sher-o-shayari was melodic, his movements quick and strong and he held the audience in thrall. It was a real pleasure to watch this seasoned artist.

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Danish Hussain narrating a story on espionage in Urdu

The experience would have been elevated with more comfortable seating. There was no intermission through the two long hours, so we couldn’t stretch our legs. The walls were not soundproof as we could hear numerous firecrackers from the road. It was also quite a schlep to reach the venue. Despite these minor problems, the experience was certainly unique.

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With the young star- Saattvic

This was my first time seeing Dastangoi live in action and I was very impressed. Storytelling is a powerful medium in the hands of a good raconteur, and after watching “Qissebaazi”, I can see its lasting allure.

Tickets: INR 200 per person

Performance Rating: 4/5

 

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