The act of story-telling is usually synonymous with children but who says adults cannot enjoy this art? Dastaan Goi is a form of oral story-telling in Urdu that has a tradition dating back to the 16th century. It is said to have died in 1928 with the death of the great Dastaan Go Mir Baqar Ali. However the art revived around two decades ago and is now being performed across the world. The team of performers including Mahmood Farooqui, Danish Husain, & Darain Shahidi, the torch-bearers of this tradition who are carrying forward its legacy with panache, hail from India. They gave a taste of this unique form of drama to audiences in Lahore. The event was organized by the Faiz Foundation and held at Alhamra Arts Council on Friday 14th February.
The ambience created on stage was sublime; narrators sat on a white sheet spread on stage, resting on bolster pillows with candles lit on the either side of the sitting area that created a haunting aura, befitting for the enchanting tales that were recited. The ethnic garb of the narrators was characteristic of Lucknow and in keeping with the soulful setting. Their long, white kurtas and caps together with the poetic Urdu gave the viewers an authentic experience of Dastan Goi.
A dramatized rendition of stories from Volume 1 and 3 of the iconic fantasy Hoshruba transported the viewers to a world of sorcery and tricksters, and magical realms spawning vivid imagery of dazzling illusions and diabolic monsters. The central characters included Amir Hamza, the ‘Lord of the Auspicious Planetary Conjunction’ and his accomplice, the master trickster Amar Ayar who are in conflict with the sorcerer emperor Afraysab.
The performance was directed by Mahmood Farooqui and the recitalists managed to engage audience members despite the complex Urdu. They added nuances to their voice and body language while sitting and were powerful in their delivery yet restrained. Danish Hussain was the most animated out of the group, modulating his voice and body language to morph into different characters while his co-narrator continued to relate the account, intonating with great tact in the spirit of the given context and doing complete justice to the spoken word. The stories were told partially in rhyme but for the most part in prose. The tales had the hallmark of Arabian Nights and had chunks of humour especially in the parts of the tricksters that had the audience breaking into laughter quite frequently. They periodically responded to the beautiful language with ‘wah wah’, a customary style of appreciating a work of art of this nature in the Urdu-speaking culture
Dastan Goi, often referred to as ‘The Lost Art Form of Urdu Storytelling’ was also organized last year by the Faiz Foundation and seems to have found a niche in Lahore, where theatre appears to be gaining strength once again. Another troupe from India visited two months ago, under the banner of Motley Theatre founded by veteran Bollywood actor Naseeruddin Shah and his wife. In April an Indian team is scheduled to collaborate with Ajoka Theatre and perform in Lahore.
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