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Chandigarh Lit Fest: City Beautiful not isolated from chaos in country, says storyteller Danish Husain

To most newcomers Chandigarh seems like an “island, a breath of fresh air” removed from the chaos surrounding us. But Husain begs to differ.

punjab Updated: Nov 12, 2017 13:51 IST
Aneesha Bedi
Aneesha Bedi
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Chandigarh Lit Fest,haos in the country,Danish Husain
Theatre personality Danish Husain performing ‘qissebaazi’ at Chandigarh Literature Festival in PU on Saturday. (Ravi Kumar/HT)

City Beautiful’s love for Urdu was reflected in the enthusiastic response to qissebaaz Danish Husain’s performance on Day 2 of Chandigarh Literature Festival at the open-air theatre on Saturday. Known to be at the forefront of the revival of dastangoi, a lost art of Urdu storytelling, Husain also regaled the audience with a Sanskrit story.

To most newcomers Chandigarh seems like an “island, a breath of fresh air” removed from the chaos surrounding us. But Husain begs to differ. “Chandigarh is not isolated from the chaos in the rest of the country,” he says with a poker face. His sarcasm is often mistaken for humility, or so his Twitter bio says.

Tale of languages

Husain has taken his qissebaazi, a form of storytelling he invented, far and wide to cities such as Mumbai, Pune, Tripura as well as to New York and Boston. A popular theatre personality, Husain also performed with actor Denzil Smith and musician Beven Fonseca as part of ‘Poetrification’, an ongoing project, on the opening day of the festival.

That’s not all. When it comes to his Bollywood career, you will be reminded of his cameo as a DIG in ‘Newton’, India’s entry to the Oscars this year. Is he happy? You bet. But qissebaazi trumps all.

In 2015, Danish Husain returned his Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar that he received in 2010 from Sangeet Natak Akademi.

“Qissebaazi is storytelling and a form that I have created. We perform in different languages; for those who don’t understand the language of the stories, we make it bilingual. The story has a core language component and a bridge language component. Hindi and English are our bridge languages while others are core. We have a Sanskrit, a Marathi, two Malayalam and scores of Hindi and Urdu tales. And even those who don't know the language, understand our story.”

Such is the power of stories. But as a prominent dastango, Husain feels we are losing touch with our indigenous languages. According to him, the ongoing movement at PU to put Punjabi on the signboards on the campus is “valid”. Distinguishing regional chauvinism from preserving languages, he says bureaucrats need to cater to citizens of a place when talking about placement of text on signboards.

‘Indians resorting to fake news, mass media’

Husain says listening is less strenuous than reading and he wants to impart this idea to the world through his creative expression in a way that the text and performer do not feel different. Dastangoi has helped him achieve that goal to large extent. His own theatre company, The Hoshruba Repertory, is also another feather in the cap of the man who quit a banking job in his twenties.

However, he feels the country is too busy consuming fake news, resorting to “watchdogs” such as the mass media, social campaigns and blatant advertising before using their own minds. But this doesn’t impact or suffocate his medium, he adds.

“Even if I do 10 shows a month, I get an audience of about 3,000. That is too small a number for the government to care about,” said Husain. In 2015, he returned his Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar that he received in 2010 from Sangeet Natak Akademi. This was the time when many writers and poets started returning their Sahitya Akademi Awards following the murders of rationalists Govind Pansare, Narendra Dabholkar and MM Kalburgi.

However, he confesses that he feels fortunate to have been offered roles that he loved, his personal favourite being ‘Aankhon Dekhi’ (2013). He is inspired by actors Naseeruddin Shah and Pankaj Kapur as they have maintained their acting methodology both on stage and in films. The actor was spotted in ‘Dhobi Ghat’ (2010), ‘Alif’ (2016) and ‘Welcome 2 Karachi’ (2015).

First Published: Nov 12, 2017 13:51 IST