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Why not use storytelling to serve purposes beyond entertainment, says Neelesh Misra

For Misra the idea to tell stories germinated seeing the gradual disappearance of the tradition of storytelling and the shrinking family time.

punjab Updated: Jun 16, 2017 16:14 IST
Mukesh Rawat
Mukesh Rawat
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Neelesh Misra,Yadon Ka Idiot Box,Time Machine
Radio storyteller Nilesh Misra was in Chandigarh for his new programme Kahaani Express with Saavan.(Ravi Kumar/HT)

What are you trying to do? At a time when people hear item numbers, when radio no longer enjoys the attention span it earlier did, you are expecting people to listen stories during a primetime slot? It’s not wise.

This is the reaction that greeted Neelesh Misra in 2011 when he decided to start telling stories on radio. “People laughed at us then,” he says. “But the response that we received from the first week itself, when I read the first story Deewali Ki Raat, has been encouraging.”

Today Misra and his team are arguably at the forefront of oral storytelling that uses radio as the medium. Some of his popular programmes include ‘Yadon Ka Idiot Box’, ‘The Neelesh Misra Show’, ‘Qisson Ka Kona’ and ‘Time Machine’.

His team (the call it mandali) comprises writers from different age-groups, professions, regions, and social strata. Most of them are non-professionals, says Misra, who was in Chandigarh for his new programme Kahaani Express with Saavan on Wednesday.

The programme is inspired by the vibrancy of human life around the Indian Railways and aims to tell people stories of everyday experiences of people traveling in trains.

For Misra the idea to tell stories germinated seeing the gradual disappearance of the tradition of storytelling and the shrinking family time.

“India is a country with some of the oldest storytelling traditions in the world. It’s true that they have vanished and there are a variety of reasons for this,” says Misra. “For me the biggest fault lies with the creative professionals themselves who over the years somehow forgot and did not serve the audience the way they should have.”

He asserts that things changed rapidly with the advent of television in the post-liberalisation era, resulting in declining attention span.

“The whole idea of children being told bedtime stories began to collapse with the coming of television. Working hours increased. A father who returned home earlier at 6pm now returns at 8-9pm. It became the new normal. All this killed the collective family time that people earlier had…time when stories were told,” he said.

But how does oral storytelling stand apart in an age where visual storytelling, be it films, documentaries, or animation, is apparently in currency?

Misra says people like the audio medium because they are able to connect with it better. “Visual storytelling takes the support of faces to tell stories. People have to locate themselves in the story through someone else’s face,” he says.

“On the other hand, in the audio medium people have the liberty to create their own mental images about things and events. It is more personal as it doesn’t rely on a third person to convey the message.”

The stories that the group works on are not always real but are rather based on real-life experiences. At present, they write and narrate stories in Hindi but soon they will start working in Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Maithali, Odia, among others.

On being asked about the future that he would like to see for storytelling, Misra says, the challenge is to take the art to the next level where it serves purposes other than just entertainment.

“Presently stories are being consumed as entertainment. Why not also use them as therapy? Scientific research has established that they can be instrumental in healing patients of mental ailments. I will be happy to provide my stories free of cost to hospitals for this,” he says.

“Over the years, many people have told me that listening to our stories has helped them overcome depression; students have said they were able to concentrate better; there were also those who said their relationships have improved or that they were able to move out of a wrong relationship,” he says.

Education, Misra says, is another important area where storytelling can contribute immensely.

“My daughter will soon turn two. I am planning to start a series of bedtime stories which will be followed by letters to her via stories in the audio medium,” he says.

Preserving the age-old folktales that are in abundance in India’s diverse society is another project that Misra says can be worked upon. “How amazing will it be if we are able to digitally preserve a folktale that is hundreds of years old in the audio format? It will be interesting to work with subject experts, the government or organisation who are in this field,” he says.

On being asked if this format of public engagement can also be used to address important socio-political issues, Misra says he is eager to explore such possibilities.

“In the past, I wrote a story on how children of corrupt people deal with things happening around them? What do they feel about the affluence their parents enjoy through corrupt practices? Does it have a bearing on their relations etc?” he says.

In another story, he tried to portray the societal challenges HIV positive people face once the people around them come to know of it.

“I am certain that much more can be done on this front and I am eager to explore new genres and formats to make my stories more effective,” he says.

First Published: Jun 15, 2017 18:47 IST