Sneak peek into ‘Kathakar 2019’, India’s only oral storytelling festival

A major highlight in Kathakar this year would be ‘Kissey Kahani Aur Adakaari’ session with actor Manoj Bajpayee. Filmmaker Imtiaz Ali will hold a special storytelling session on filmmaking

Danish Husain at Kathakar 2018
Danish Husain at Kathakar 2018

Murtaza Ali Khan

It is that time of the year when master raconteurs from all across the world gather in Delhi to sweep the people off their feet with their storytelling brilliance. Kathakar, which made its debut back in the year 2010, is back with its 9th edition.

India’s only oral storytelling festival, Kathakar is an initiative of three sisters, Prarthana, Rachna and Shaguna Gahilote, who have been instrumental in reviving storytelling as a standalone art form marked by dramatic performances and travelling festivals. “Kathakar is a simple idea of keeping alive the tradition of storytelling because it not just helps us become better communicators especially in a world where we spend more time chatting on gadgets than in person but also helps us understand cultures, languages, landscapes we haven’t seen, areas we may never visit and basic human and animal nature,” explains Prarthana Gahilote.

The festival is organised by Nivesh, in collaboration with Himalayan Hub for Art, Culture and Heritage (HHACH) and Babaji Music. Noted Bollywood singer Mohit Chauhan is the festival's patron. This year a total of 17 post-sunset sessions would be held with focus on India’s rare art forms as well as native tales from not just the host country but also from Poland, Australia, Sweden, Lithuania, Romania, Mongolia, and the United Kingdom. Kathakar has taken huge leaps since its inception about a decade back. “Over the years, the fest has grown not just in terms of audiences but also participating storytellers. It has also found a voice to include newer means of storytelling and included media like music, dance and cinema to tell tales. Kathakar aims to keep stories alive, stories that are native to our land, stories that have roots in our past, and stories that are dying and shall perhaps never be heard again. These stories also help us keep alive our language which has been lost in this world of mass factory production,” opines Prarthana.

A major highlight this year would be ‘Kissey Kahani Aur Adakaari’ session with actor Manoj Bajpayee who would be in conversation with Mohit Chauhan. Filmmaker Imtiaz Ali, who was also a part of last year’s edition, would be returning to Kathakar for a special storytelling session on filmmaking. “Oral storytelling predates any other type of storytelling and maybe it will outdate all others as well. There is a personal aspect to oral storytelling which is precious. Kathakar is an invaluable annual fair of oral storytelling, the only one I know of, and it is a gratifying and rejuvenating experience of stories which is tonic for all people that are interested in stories,” rejoices Ali.

The 9th edition of Kathakar will see Buddhist chanting by Grammy Awardee Monks of Himachal Pradesh’s Sherabling Monastery for the first time. Also, aborigine storyteller Uncle Larry Walsh will recount his indigenous tales during his debut experience with an Indian audience. Well renowned dastango Danish Hussain will present a self-directed adaptation of ‘Qissebazi: A Multilingual Storytelling Orbit’. “Kathakar is truly an exciting and unique effort to get storytellers from all over the world to be on one platform. I am thankful to Kathakar team Mohit Chauhan and the Gahilote sisters Rachna, Prarthana and Shaguna for organising the same. Last year when we came to Delhi with our play ‘Qissa Urdu Ki Akhri Kitaab Ka’ we got a stupendous response. So we are hoping we will repeat the feat. This will be the fourth time I am participating in the festival and it delights me that it is getting bigger and better only,” reveals Husain. Also watch out for women artists Rashmi Mann and Ruchita Tahiliani who will be treating the audiences with some Haryanvi folktales.

Filmmaker Intiaz Ali and singer Mohit Chauhan at Kathakar festival 2018
Filmmaker Intiaz Ali and singer Mohit Chauhan at Kathakar festival 2018

Among the international talent, Kathakar 2019 will feature the Polish harpist Emilia Raiter who sings ballads from her country. Also, UK-based Emily Hennessey will perform Indian folktales. “This will be my 3rd festival with Kathakar. This year I will be sharing a story about Kali. I am fascinated with this great goddess. I will also be telling some of my favourite tales from the Mahabharata. And for schoolchildren, I will be scaring them with some Scandinavian Troll stories and folktales from Britain,” chuckles Hennessey.

Jerzy Szufa is another exciting storyteller who would be performing this year. “In my storytelling performances I combine traditional narrative and Polish folklore with motives of my creation, always seeking to create a meaningful and creative journey in the land of stories. I will be telling a story: of a young lad Kmiotek, who was told to look for a wife in a cave; of a girl Maria, whose tears were changing taste; of the Wieliczka city drowned under the lake, and some more,” reveals Szufa.

In addition to the above, there will also be stories from Australia as well as European countries like Romania and Sweden. Also, Kerala’s traditional Tholpavakoothu puppeteers will enchant the audience with their famed shadow theatre based on Kamba Ramayana. This year, Kathakar would be held from 11-13 October 2019 at Sunder Nursery, a 16th-century heritage park complex adjacent to the Humayun's Tomb.

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